Create accessible spreadsheets using Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel spreadsheets are perhaps the most common way to share and manage sets of data, but for users of assistive technology, they are not always accessible. Although the text within Excel spreadsheets can be read by assistive technology, the spreadsheet’s more complex sets of information and functions may be difficult for assistive technology to read.

To provide an accessible experience in Microsoft Excel, authors must follow the core guidelines outlined in the General guidelines for accessible documents. Authors must also implement as many of the accessibility principles below as possible.

These guidelines and screenshots apply to Microsoft Excel 2013 on Windows. There may be differences when applying the techniques with other versions of Microsoft Excel.

For downloadable cheat-sheets and information about different versions of Excel, please visit the National Center on Disability and Access to Education’s section on Excel.

Provide brief and unique labels for all sheet tabs

Users can create multiple worksheets in one Excel document, also called a workbook. Since each worksheet contains unique information, each sheet should have a unique label.

Workbooks with only one worksheet should still include unique labels. These labels help users identify the content of the individual worksheets.

The label provided for the first worksheet should be the same or similar to the information in the file name and the title property for the workbook.


  1. Right-click on the worksheet tab or use the keyboard commands (ALT, O, H, R).
  2. Then click Rename.

Note: Every worksheet label has a limit of 31 characters.

Screenshot of Microsoft Excel 2013 with half the image showing a sheet tab (sheet 1) selected, context menu open, and rename option selected. The sheet tab and the rename option are highlighted.  In the second half of the image shows the same sheet tab selected and highlighted, but now it has the label "Unique Label Here."
Right-click on the worksheet tab to rename it.

Merge content spread across multiple cells into one cell

Sometimes content is too big or long to fit in a single cell (e.g., title of a sheet or dataset). If expanding the size of the cell is not an option, merge—or “group”—the cells.

Merged cells will announce both the content and the range of cells to users of assistive technology (e.g., “Average Height to Age Chart, Merged cells A1 through D1”).


  1. Highlight the cells.
  2. Select the Merge & Center option in the Alignment group, found in the Home tab.

Note: Cells can be unmerged using the same steps above.

Excel Home tab with the Merge & Center option from the Alignment group selected. The Home tab and Merge & Center option are both highlighted.
Use the Home tab to merge and center cells.

Avoid empty rows, columns, or cells

Blank cells can be confusing to users of assistive technology since the lack of content makes the cell’s purpose unclear to both the technology and the user. If cells do not contain data, the optimum experience for users of assistive technology would be to indicate this information directly in the cell (e.g. “no data”, “0”, “null”, etc.)

Blank columns and/or rows may cause these users to think that the sheet has ended even when more data is present. Always avoid using blank columns and rows.

If the dataset is large and has many cells without data, users might want to leave these cells blank for aesthetic reasons. Do not leave cells blank.

As an alternative, use text to indicate there is no data, and change the text color to match the background. This is not the optimum solution, however, because not all users will be presented the hidden information.

Next pages about Excel

Structure guidelines     Accessibility tools