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Accessible Excel workbooks in Microsoft 365

Accessible practices for Microsoft Excel document creation.

Looking for the Office 2016 version? Try Accessible Excel workbooks in Office 2016

Accessibility Checker

Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Power Point) provides a built-in accessibility validator. The checker does not identify all issues, but looks for things such as: missing alternative text, duplicate slide titles, and potential reading order issues.

How to use the Accessibility Checker:

  1. Activate the File Tab > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility
  2. Review the results in the Accessibility Checker pane
  3. Address the listed issues. Helpful information to understand and fix the different issues is provided at the bottom of the pane
Screenshot of Check for Issues menu

The Accessibility Checker is also located on the Ribbon under the Review tab > Check Accessibility. Activate the "Keep accessibility checker running while I work" check box in the checker pane to keep track of accessibility issues in real time.


Avoid using complex table structures in all documents. If tables include nested tables, merged cells, split cells and/or blank rows / columns, they become difficult for screen readers to navigate. When using a table, design it to be as simple as possible. Assign meaningful names to the headers and rows to facilitate user navigation.

Sheet tabs

Give all sheet tabs in your document unique and meaningful names. Ensure that the name given to each tab accurately describes the contents found on the worksheet. This will make it easier to navigate through the workbook. It is best to remove all blank sheets from your document.


Choose fonts and styles that are easy to read.

Use of colour

Use a contrast checking tool to check the contrast of the text (foreground) relative to the background. For most text, the contrast ratio must be 4.5:1. For large, bold text (14 point bold, or 18 point regular), this requirement is relaxed to 3:1. Since it is extremely likely that the sheet will be viewed at low zoom (so as to see more of it), all text should meet 4.5:1 minimum. The WCAG AAA requirement is 7:1 – aim for this.

Do not use colour alone to convey meaning or emphasis in a word, cell or block of text. Patterns may be added to colour for those who are colour blind. Mandatory fields should be identified with an asterisk * and the word “required” rather than being labelled in red.

Non-text elements

Alternative text

Visual elements such as photos, screenshots, icons, videos and 3D models should all include alternative text. Alt text allows people who cannot see the image understand the message and what is important. A good alt text should be concise and to the point. It should not be more than a sentence or two and should include the important information the image conveys. When creating an alt text, do not begin with “this is an image of”. Do begin with “Screenshot of” for screenshots.

To assign alternative text to images:

  1. Select the image
  2. Open the Format tab in the ribbon
  3. Activate the Alt text tool
  4. If an image conveys no meaningful information (i.e., it is decorative or redundant), check “Mark as decorative”
  5. If the image is meaningful, convey in words the meaning, function, or purpose communicated by the image
  6. Activate the Close button
Screenshot of Format Picture sidebar

Charts and diagrams

Ensure complex images and charts provide long descriptions. Complex images include: schematics, plans, diagrams, or any other image that conveys a large amount of information. This is necessary as users who cannot see the complex image will not be able to sufficiently determine its value/purpose.

To add a long description to diagrams and chart, first add concise alt text (e.g. the chart title) as described above. Then, include a longer text alternative below the chart.

See Complex Images for more recommendations.

People who use screen readers sometimes scan a list of links; therefore, ensure link text is meaningful within the context of the document. Link text should accurately reflect the target and purpose of the link. If link text is not provided, users will need to follow the link to determine its purpose, which can present difficulties for users of adaptive technology. An example of appropriate link text would be including the full title of the destination rather than linking to the text “Click Here”.

To add hyperlinks with meaningful text:

  1. Type or paste a web address in your document and press space bar or "Enter" to convert into a hyperlink
  2. Select the link and open the context menu
  3. Activate Hyperlink
  4. Edit the Text to Display field with meaningful text.
Screenshot of Insert Hyperlink dialog

Additional resources

Looking for the Office 2016 version? Try Accessible Excel workbooks in Office 2016

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