University of Utah

Improving Accessibility of Word Documents for Effective Learning Experience Design

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Word documents are widely used in online course instruction, but they are not always accessible. Ensuring the accessibility of course resources is critical to providing all students with an equitable education. This article will discuss how to improve the accessibility of Word documents, which will contribute to the effective design of online courses.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • Understand the importance of making Word documents accessible in online courses
  • Identify accessibility issues in Word documents and how to fix them
  • Stylize text correctly for screen readers
  • Add alternative text to images in a Word document

Background Information

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), online course materials must be accessible to students with disabilities. Accessibility in Word documents involves making content available to all learners, including those with visual, auditory, and physical disabilities. Properly designing Word documents ensures students with disabilities have access to the same course content as students without disabilities.

Best Practices

  1. Use appropriate text styling: Use the appropriate text styling for the content in the document. Using title, headings, and body text styling correctly will help ensure that the document is correctly stylized and screen readers can accurately differentiate between different sections in the document and types of text.
  2. Add alternative text to images: Right-click on each image and click Edit Alt Text. Write a description that accurately reflects what a sighted user would see. If an image is decorative or not needed to understand the course content, mark it as decorative.
  3. Use accessible fonts: Avoid using decorative or hard-to-read fonts. Choose simple, easy-to-read fonts such as Arial, Verdana, or Times New Roman.
  4. Use color effectively: Avoid using color as the only way to convey information. Use high-contrast colors and patterns to make content easy to read.
  5. Use tables appropriately: Use tables only for tabular data, not for layout purposes. Add table headers and summaries to make them easier to navigate.

Examples and Applications

Example 1: A Word document is being used to provide students with a reflection prompt. To make the document accessible, the document designer would add headings to the document, use simple fonts, and add alternative text to any images used in the prompt. They would also ensure that the document is formatted correctly and does not rely on visual cues such as color to convey information.

Put Into Practice

To practice applying these best practices, you can use the Microsoft Accessibility Checker to view accessibility issues in a Word document, visit the How do I improve the accessibility of a Word document guide.

FAQs and Common Challenges

What are some common accessibility issues in Word documents?

Common accessibility issues in Word documents include improper text styling, lack of alternative text for images, and the use of color to convey information.

How can I make sure my Word documents are accessible to all students?

To ensure your Word documents are accessible, use appropriate text styling, add alternative text to images, use accessible fonts, use color effectively, and use tables appropriately.

Are Word documents the best type of file for my students?

Because of their mutable nature, Word documents are often not the best choice when it comes to accessibility. You can make Word documents accessible and share them with students when necessary (like for interactive activities or documents that need to be edited by students); but otherwise, you should export your Word document as a PDF for the highest accessibility, compatibility and security.


Designing accessible course resources is critical to providing all students with an equitable education. Ensuring the accessibility of Word documents involves making content available to all learners, including those with visual, auditory, and physical disabilities. Applying best practices, such as using appropriate text styling, adding alternative text to images, using accessible fonts, using color effectively, and using tables appropriately, can significantly improve the accessibility of Word documents. By following the instructions provided in this article, readers can make their Word documents more accessible for all students. While Word documents are not considered the “holy grail” of accessibility (see PDF documents and their accessibility benefits), sometimes, their use is required for course instruction. Word documents should only be used and distributed to students when needed, you can always “Save As” Word documents as PDFs to preserve their content and accessibility for your students.

Further Resources

For more information on making Word documents accessible, visit Microsoft’s support article.


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