Create accessible documents using Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word and its documents are widely used, including by individuals with disabilities.

As a functional program, Microsoft Word is reasonably accessible. Text from Word documents can be read by assistive technologies such as screen readers or Braille devices.

However, in order for Word documents to be as accessible as possible, authors must follow the core guidelines outlined in the General guidelines for accessible documents. Listed below are the basic steps to implement additional core accessibility principles specific to Word.

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

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

Add columns to a document

Microsoft Word provides built-in options to add columns to a section or entire document, and this method will maintain the proper reading order for assistive technology.


  1. Go to the Page Layout tab on the Ribbon.
  2. Select the columns option under the Page Setup group.

Note: To add columns in only a specific section of content, insert the appropriate break (e.g., section or page) for the current content.

The Word Page Layout tab with the Columns option in the Page Setup group selected and its menu expanded. The Two option of the Columns submenu is selected. The Page Layout tab and Columns option are highlighted.
Use the Page Layout tab to add columns.

Add lists to a document

Word also provides built-in options that group content into unorganized seta (bulleted list) or sequential steps (numbered list).

Lists will not be conveyed accurately by assistive technology if they aren’t created by Word’s built-in tools. Make sure to use the built-in options, otherwise the list will difficult to understand and navigate.

The numbered list and bulleted list options are located under the Paragraph group on the Home tab of the Ribbon.

The Word Home tab with the Bullets option in the Paragraph group selected. The Home tab, Bullets option, and Numbering option in the paragraph group are highlighted.
Use the Home tab to add lists.

Next pages about Word

Structure guidelines     Accessibility tools