Creating Accessible Tables in Word

Creating Accessible Tables in Microsoft Word Documents

Published: Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Humboldt State University, 2011

Working with tables in Word? Tables are very useful for displaying a large amount of data in an organized manner, such as your course schedule, office hours, etc. In order to make a table accessible for individuals who are blind, have a visual impairment, or a learning disability, provide row and column headers. The text-to-speech software by default will read the information in a table horizontally, cell by cell, row by row.

Here are a few important tips you want to consider when creating accessible tables in Word:

  • Do not use tabs or spaces to create tables. It may look like a table; however, it does not have the structure, and it will not be recognized as a table and therefore not be accessible or readable by assistive technologies.
  • Tables should be used to present columns and rows of data. Simple tables created in Word using the technique described below are accessible without modifications, and current screen reading software reads these simple tables quite well.
  • Do not use the Draw Table tool in Word to create tables. Screen reading software continues to have difficulty reading complex tables created in Word using the Draw Table tool because these types of tables usually have cells of different heights or a varying number of columns per row. The screen reading software cannot give the individual context for the table data because it is not possible to associate cells with the row and column headers.
  • Add Row and Column Headers to tables to distinguish the heading text from the data area of the table. Screen readers read simple tables efficiently when the column or row headers are clearly defined.
  • Repeat Row Headers if the table spans more than one page. Tables that are contained on multiple pages should have the header row repeated on each page.

See the California State University Accessibility Professional Development Resources for more information/training on creating accessible instructional materials:

2 thoughts on “Creating Accessible Tables in Word

  1. Thank you for this succinct explanation of how to make a table in Word accessible. I am currently teaching an online course and have a student with low vision who can negotiate Word docs in prose, but does not do well with charts and tables. The university does have a service that will transcribe conventional tables into an accessible format, but it often takes too long to get the material back in a timely manner. This sounds like I can do tables myself!
    Do you have any recommendations for charts? I do describe any graphics I use in a text format, but a chart (such as a Venn Diagram) is tricky. Even if a student with low vision has a conceptual knowledge of the diagram, using a lot of prose to say “these components are separate, these overlap” etc. is difficult. Are there any methods to transpose such a chart? Another aspect to the instruction I am giving to my student is that she is in a teacher education program. She is well on her way to becoming a secondary math teacher! (grades 6-12) Any suggestions on techniques she might be able to use for herself to help her create tables and charts for her own students? I am thinking again of a Venn. Is there a standardized template of a certain size she could use in a typing program that would notify her of the “end” of the circle, so she could “return” and keep typing within the frame and not go outside the lines? This would be very useful to her and to our program as we continue to expand to include a diverse group of apprentice teachers.

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