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How To Create a 508 Compliant Microsoft Word Document

By using the built-in features within Microsoft Office, to include Word, you can avoid many of the most common mistakes related to accessibility. It is just as easy to build a 508 compliant document as it is to create a non-compliant one. In fact, using many of these built-in features makes creating a document much easier and faster. Follow the below guidelines and then visit the links on the right for more information and some video tutorials. The blue italicized items in the left table apply to all Microsoft Office documents, to include Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Learn once and apply it to all. When you click on the tutorials and checklists, those links open in a new tab in your browser window. This will allow you to view that content and then click back to this page in the original tab. Click on any image to see a larger version of the image and then the back arrow in the browser to return to this page.

Best Practices and Most Common Issues related to Word Documents

TOPIC​DOs ​DON'Ts​Visual Example (click images to enlarge)
Style Headings

​Use the built-in style headings to create a visual heading in your document. Styles can be found on the Home tab within the Styles panel.

​Do not manually create a heading by simply bolding or changing the font size or color.


Bulleted & Numbered Lists​Use the built-in list feature for bulleted and numbered lists. Lists can be found from the Home tab within the Paragraph panel.​Do not create a list by typing the number at the beginning of every line or typing a hyphen as an example.Lists Menu Item
Hyperlinks​​Create hyperlinks using descriptive words for the hyperlink. Hyperlinks can be inserted from the Insert tab and then Hyperlink on the Links panel. Always double check that your hyperlinks work.​Do not use "Click here" or "More" as hyperlinks.

DAU Homepage (link states where it goes, not just Click Here)

Hyperlink menu item


​Alt Text and CaptionsInsert Alternative Text (Alt text) and captions for informational images and tables. For Images, right click on the image and choose Insert Caption.  Right click on the image and choose Format Picture and then, click the third icon over and click on ALT TEXT. For tables, right click on the table and choose Table Properties. The 5th tab is for ALT Text.​Do not provide alt text or captions for non-informational or simply decorative images. When you run the accessibility checker this error should be ignored. The checker can only identify that the image does not have a tag. It does not know that it is a non-informational image. for informational images, the text should convey the same message as the image.


Image Right-Click and Format Picture Menu           


​Multiple ImagesIf you have multiple images or objects that are layered over one another combine them into one image. You may be able to do this using the Group option or using a third-party tool such as SnagIt.​Do not overlay or group several objects next to one another so they appear as one object.​Not available
Color to Convey MeaningWhen using color to convey meaning, add a non-color method as well such as text as shown in the visual example column.Do not use color alone to convey meaning.​


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​FontsUse fonts that are clear and legible (e.g., Arial or Times New Roman), generally in the 10 to 14 point range. The spacing in the document should be enough to show paragraph breaks clearly. Spacing between lines should be at least 120% of the font size. This is the default in Word.​Do not use fancy fonts that are more decorative than functional. This is especially important in headings.Not available
Table of ContentsUse the built-in Table of Contents feature to build a table of contents in a document. The Table of Contents feature is found on the Reference tab within the Table of Contents panel.​Do not type a table of contents manually.Table of Contents Menu Item
​Tables​Only use tables to represent tabular information. Ensure that there are row and column headings and do not merge cells.​Do not use a table for aligning text or non-tabular data. Do not merge cells.Not available
​Comments and Track ChangesFinalize your document by removing all comments and accepting or rejecting track changes. Under the Review tab, ensure you are seeing all markup and that none display in the document. ​Do not have comments, annotations, or tracked changes within your final document.Track Changes Menu Item
​Color ContrastsUse a strong color contrast between text and backgrounds. Black and white is always a good choice. This is not usually checked via Microsoft applications. It requires a visual check. The video in the right column under Videos on color and contrast has a brief but good explanation.Some examples for Don'ts: Do not use white text on a light gray background. Do not use red and green text and highlighting together. Do not use red text on a black background. For more details, see the short video.​​Not available
​Accessibility CheckerAlways run the accessibility checker when you are finished with your document to see if any issues are identified, then remediate those items prior to publishing your document. You access the checker by clicking File, the Info menu option will display and then select Check for Issues drop down and select Check Assessibility.​Don't assume your document is good, always run the checker as a double check.Accessibility Checker Menu Item


MS Office Accessibility Checker - Understand the inspection results

After Accessibility Checker inspects your content, it reports the inspection results based on the severity of the issue found, categorized as follows:

  • Errors. Issues that are reported as errors include content that is very difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to understand.

  • Warnings. Warnings, in many cases, mean that the content is challenging for people with disabilities to understand.

  • Tips. Tips let you know that, even though people with disabilities can understand the content, it could be better organized or presented to improve their experience.


 For a more detailed checklist of the items to review in your document:

Word Document 508 Checklist

Section 508 Basic Authoring and Testing Guide Word 2013 Checklist from the CIO Council Best Practice Committee (AED COP).

Accessibility Checker

Microsoft has a built in accessibility checker.  The checker only works in Microsoft Word 2013 or 2016. It does not work on documents that open in Compatibility Mode. The Accessibility Checker can be accessed at DAU with your Word document open, click File from the ribbon, click Info from the drop down menu on the left. Under Inspect Document click the drop down arrow Check for Issues then choose Check Accessibility. This will bring up the Accessibility Checker panel up on the right side of your document.


For more detailed tutorials on how to create 508 compliant Word documents:

Word 2013 & 2016 Requirements to Make a Word Document Accessible (6:43)

This video describes the seven requirements for making a Word document accessible.


Word 2013 & 2016: Accessible Documents: Templates & Styles, the Basics (8:59)

Before you type the first word in a document, a number of decisions and specifications must be made. This module shows you how to build the proper template, using the correct styles, to ensure your document is accessible every time.


Word 2013 & 206: Accessible Documents: Lists, columns, and Tables of Contents (5:27)

 In this module, we describe how to use the tools included in Word to make lists and columns readable by every user. The module also describes how the table of contents, when organized correctly, can be used for quick navigation. The Accessibility Checker can be accessed at DAU with your Word document open, click File from the ribbon, click Info from the drop down menu on the left. Under Inspect Document click the drop down arrow Check for Issues then choose Check Accessibility. This will bring up the Accessibility Checker task pane up on the right side of your document. In the below video they use a different manner to bring up the Accessibility Checker task pane that we do not have here. Once the task pane is open the function is the same.


Using the MS Word 2013 & 2016 Accessibility Checker (7:28)

Once you have created your MS Word document using the guidelines at the left, be sure to run the Accessibility Checker from within Word to see if there are any identified issues.


Word 2013 & 2016: Accessible Documents Colors and Contrasts (4:39)

Appropriate colors and contrast are necessary for people to see our words and understand their meaning. This module goes over the basic rules, and provides resources that help you create a document with correct color and contrast every time. 


Other Resources

SSA Alternative Text Guide- Excellent resource on alternative text. Provides examples of good alt text and bad alt text for different images clarifying that the alt text is meant to convey the same message that the image itself conveys. If there are critical or meaningful elements in the graphic, they should be called out in the alt text.