How Do I Check Accessibility Issues in Word?


a man sitting at a laptop displaying the Microsoft word logo on it

Checking for accessibility issues is becoming a common practice to ensure that content can be read by most people who will come in contact with it. Microsoft Word and other Office products include options and tips to increase accessibility and improve the content in various ways.

Accessibility issues can be checked in Word using the Accessibility Checker tool in the “Review” tab. Using the tool highlights some common accessibility issues in the document and recommends ways to fix the issues. The tool can also be left on to catch problems as they appear.

While the accessibility checker tool is a fantastic start for fixing accessibility issues, learning some of its nuances and tips for fixing problems is another essential step. Read on for more advice on utilizing the tool properly.

What Is Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Office?

Accessibility checker in Microsoft Office is a tool that can be turned on to locate various issues with accessibility in documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and emails. The tool looks for issues that interfere with specific ways that documents are parsed and recommends ways to fix them.

Increasing accessibility is essential to creating good content that can reach the most people. Including things such as alternative text for images or high contrast between text and backgrounds allows more people to read the document more easily.

The accessibility checker separates issues into four separate categories:

  • Errors
  • Warnings
  • Tips
  • Intelligent Servers

Generally speaking, these are listed in order of importance, with each rising level representing a greater detriment to the document’s accessibility. Errors may interfere directly with how alternative document readers work, while tips are likely to be fine but operate differently than expected.

What Accessibility Checker Looks For

Accessibility checker notices issues by operating on a strict set of rules. How strict the rule determines which of the above categories the error fits into. Some common examples of rules include:

  • Providing alternative text that describes images
  • Using simple tables for arrow-key navigation
  • Utilizing headers and text types for verbal navigation
  • Providing titles for all slides or sections
  • Using distinct colors between text and backgrounds

Woman working at her computer wearing a coronavirus prevention maskMicrosoft has provided the full list of rules the tool looks for and in what category they fit here on their support page.

Errors are issues that make standard tools for reading documents extremely difficult, if not impossible, to use. For newcomers to accessibility, some of these may be surprising; even seemingly small things like including file extensions in names can break programs.

Warnings are slightly better than errors; they are likely to cause issues for most disabled people reading the document, but not all. Issues here include classifications like including proper contrast between text or simplified tables.

Finally, issues classified as tips will not interfere with accessibility but could be made clearer. This includes unique titles for PowerPoint slides, using a logical layout of graphics and text, and properly utilizing headings.

The intelligent services category of Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker is reserved for content that Microsoft automatically helped and made more accessible. While using the tool, these automatic recommendations should be reviewed to ensure they are accurate.

While it is a helpful list that ensures no errors appear through the tool, generally following best practices for accessibility will also help. Some additional helpful guidelines include:

  • Limiting or spreading the use of graphics
  • Use fonts of average size or larger
  • Utilize heading levels in order (Heading 1 precedes Heading 2 and so on)
  • Provide captions for any audio sources during presentations

An additional look at further best practices for documents can be found here.

How Do I Fix Accessibility Issues in Word?

While the accessibility checker tool is fantastic for locating and pointing out issues with accessibility, the tool cannot fix all issues that arise. Luckily, Microsoft Word makes it easy to fix the issues that do come up.

For all newer versions of Microsoft Word, the accessibility checker tool can be accessed under the “Review” tab at the top of the program. If it is not there, you may be running an older version and must follow a different set of steps. Instead, navigate to “File,” then “Info.” A “Check for Issues” button will be there to open up the Accessibility Checker.

After running the Accessibility Checker tool, a side panel will appear in Word that highlights the location and cause of all the issues it found. This side panel also separates issues into the categories of errors, warnings, and tips to make finding what to focus on easier. Microsoft’s support page on running the Accessibility Checker can be found here.

While looking through the side panel, any highlighted issues can be clicked on for expanded information and recommended actions. Accessibility issues can often be fixed in many ways, so spending extra time finding a solution that does not fundamentally change your document is a good idea.

However, if you are interested in just quickly resolving issues, Word also includes the option to simply select the action and continue. This will apply the top fix immediately and resolve the issue. If the change is too severe or not what you had in mind, it can always be undone.

Finally, the Accessibility Checker tool can also be left open and running while writing or editing the document. This is a great idea to do while adding images or reformatting a document to ensure that no major mistakes are occurring.

When the tool is left open, the Accessibility Checker falls into a pull-out menu on the side of the screen that you can reference as you see fit.

Fixing Less Concrete Issues

Some issues found by the Accessibility Checker tool may be more challenging to locate or fix properly. Alternatively, the Accessibility Checker may overlook an issue where there actually is one; in situations like these, it is beneficial to refer to basic accessibility guidelines for fixing issues.

A typical example of this is alternative text for images and graphics. Microsoft Word will detect that alternative text exists and does not include a file extension or name, but that does not guarantee that the text is effective.

Old business woman taking off glasses due to eye strainAlternative image text should be descriptive and straightforward to ensure that people listening through screen readers understand the image’s purpose. Otherwise, the included text serves little purpose. This can be a challenge for those who are used to navigating documents through traditional means. While exploring accessibility options, consider using a screen reader yourself and ensuring that everything makes sense.

Other times, recommended courses of action by the Accessibility Checker tool may not work with your document or ultimately change things too much to be “worth it.” In cases such as these, it is likely that you can still improve the accessibility of the document, but some additional work may be required.

Consider what the issue is actually being caused by; the official tool tends to do a good job of briefly explaining why the issue is an accessibility concern. After reading, brainstorm some options that can indirectly deal with that.

For example, if the issue is due to a lack of contrast between the text and background but neither color can be changed, consider adding a stroke or border around the text. This will improve visibility and is likely to solve the issue.

Recap

Checking for and fixing accessibility issues in Word and other Microsoft Office products can quickly be done using the integrated Accessibility Checker tool. This tool locates specific accessibility issues, separates them into categories depending on how egregious they are, and recommends some ways to resolve the problems.

Accessibility aims to increase the number of people who can interact with the document and is always worth increasing. Going above and beyond what the tool provides is a great way to finish the accessibility of a document.

If you’re looking for a company to help you with your ADA compliance needs, Thrive Web Designs specializes in all ADA website compliance concerns, and can help you bring your WordPress website into full ADA compliance. Otherwise, if you want to tackle ADA compliance for your website, make sure to check out our resource page.

Aaron Day

I've been designing and building sites since 2001, with an emphasis on usability, including website accessibility. Besides helping our clients achieve ADA and 508 compliance, I try to share my knowledge on the subject to others so that the overall internet can be more accessible to all!

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