Fixing common Office document accessibility problems

Accessibility Checker serves as a free tool that helps ensure that Office files are easy to understand by everyone. Use it to quickly fix common Office doc problems that can make your documents, sheets and slides harder to comprehend.

It’s available for Microsoft 365, Office 2021/LTSC and Office 2019. Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, and PowerPoint on Windows, Office for Mac or Office for the web, and Visio on Windows.

To bring up the Accessibility Checker in any Office program (we’ll be using Excel for our example), go to Review | Accessibility | Accessibility Checker.

That opens the Accessibility ribbon (depending on your version of Office) and the right-hand pane. The ribbon has a selection of tools often needed to fix accessibility issues while the Accessibility Pane lists all the problems Office has detected.

Review your accessibility results

After selecting the Accessibility Checker – your results will appear on the right-hand side of the document. Most of the time, you will find that there are no accessibility issues at all, as shown in our Volcano database list.

Alternatively, the Accessibility Check will provide either an Error or Warning for review.

Accessibility Check Levels: Error, Warning or Tip

Each accessibility issue is categorised as an Error, Warning or Tip in descending order of severity.


This is content that will make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to understand or read.

Missing Alternative Text

Perhaps the most common accessibility issue is missing alternative text.  That’s hidden text used by screen readers to describe the image to vision impaired.

If an image is missing an alternative text. Accessibility Checker will verify if an image has alternative text as screen readers speak the alternative text.

Add a description – opens a pane to enter alternative text.

Mark as decorative – tells screen readers to ignore the image because it’s not informative, just pretty.

Exclusive use of color

Another example is if negative numbers are displayed in cells set to Number format with the red color (e.g., 100 is shown red instead of -100).

This will be difficult for users that have trouble distinguishing colors and won’t be able to tell the difference between positive and negative values.

Choose the drop down arrow to go to Format Cell Number, this way you can choose one of the negative number formats that uses a black font, allowing people to distinguish between positive and negative values.


People with disabilities may have difficulty understanding most (but not all) of the spreadsheet’s content.

Hard to read text, contrast.

Such as, Hard-to-read text contrast. Text that lacks contrast with the background is often difficult to read for people with low vision. The more contrast there is between the text and background, the easier it is for people to view and use your document.

The accessibility checker will detail the cells that need to be fixed within the spreadsheet, and also provide a reason behind the warning.

The Accessibility pane has easy access to adjust the Font and Fill Color.

Default Sheet Names

For Office programs like Excel, it’s important that sheet tabs have meaningful names, rather then the usual default of Sheet1, Sheet2 etc. Sheets in the workbook must include descriptive information, and it’s also important that there are no blank sheets.

This is so that it’s easier for people with disabilities to navigate amongst workbooks, having default names will make it trickier and less accessible.

The accessibility checker will detail the tabs that will need to be fixed and also additional information behind the fix and steps to rename the sheet.

Simply right click on the tab and go to Rename, make sure you provide a descriptive rename.

Simple Table Structure

Tables that are used within Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, and OneNote must be kept within a simple structure so that users with disabilities can easily navigate and understand them. Tables must not have split cells, merged cells, or nesting, because particularly merged cells cause screen readers to navigate in incorrect ways, such as repeating or skipping a row.

The accessibility checker will detail the cells that need to be fixed within the spreadsheet, and also provide a reason behind the warning.

The Accessibility pane has easy access to fix the issue, just simply click the downwards arrow and it’ll provide you with the recommended action.

Once you’ve corrected the issue, it’ll be removed from the accessibility pane list of warnings.


The lowest severity of accessibility problems is the Tip. 

Tips include a logical order or structure for tables in Word.  Having document headings with Table of Contents for easy navigation.

In PowerPoint each slide and section should have a unique label.

Old Excel Spreadsheets

If a .xls etc file is opened, there are three warnings that Accessibility checks aren’t available.

Accessibility Checker pane has a warning:

“This document is in an older format with limited functionality.  Consider converting the file to a modern format to enable the Accessibility Checker”

On the status bar you’ll see Accessibility: Unavailable.

File | Info continues to alert and suggest conversion to a newer file format.

Frankly, accessibility is the least of the many good reasons NOT to use the older Microsoft Office formats.  Why Old Office documents should be banned

By selecting Convert, the spreadsheet will quickly convert into a modern format so that the Accessibility Checker can be used.

Limitations of the Accessibility Checker

There are some things that the Accessibility Checker can’t detect.  Microsoft lists two:

  • Color: Information is conveyed using color alone.

For example, using red color to denote an out-of-range value without any text to explain.

  • Closed captions: The Accessibility Checker reports missing closed captions in a video, but if your video already has in-band closed captions, open captions, or has no dialog, then there might be no accessibility issue with the video.

There’s a third that Microsoft mentions but not under limitations.

Alt Text for pictures

The alt text feature tries to add a text label to each image with varying degrees of success.

The Accessibility Checker will remind you to verify the automatically added text.

Accessibility Rules

Microsoft has a list of Accessibility Rules.

How does Microsoft Word handle non-binary grammar like they?
Make subtitles for PowerPoint Videos
Adding Captions in Word

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