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Creating Accessible Documents in Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is a commonly-used application among individuals with a variety of disabilities, and is reasonably accessible. The text within Excel can be read by assistive technologies such as screen readers and Braille devices.

General Recommendations

  1. Avoid merging cells.This can cause a screen reader user to not know how cells relate to rows and columns.

  2. Avoid using blank cells for formatting purposes. It is generally better to use other formatting tools such as adjusting column width or height.

  3. Include a title before any set of data in a spreadsheet. This title can be in the row above the first row, preferably in cell A1.

  4. Make sure all data rows and columns are labeled as in a data table. Use white text to include headers that might be distracting to sighted users.

  5. A table can also be marked as a named region to enable column and row headers to be read out optimally in screen readers.

  6. Put some text into cell A1.Preferably this should be the title of the data set, but if that is not possible, it should information about the structure and location of data, even even if the color is set to white.

  7. Add an "End of Table" message in the row after the last row of a data table row. The text can be in white.


Multiple Data Sets

  1. If a spreadsheet includes multiple sets of data, they should ideally be split into separate sheets. This allows users on a screen reader more easily navigate to different sets of data.

  2. Make names of sheets meaningful and unique.

  3. Each sheet should follow the recommendations in the section above.


Named Regions and Header Names

Using the Names feature, it is possible to name a range of cells in such a way that header cells are spoken along with the value of the cell. This allows a person using a screen reader to understand the structure of a table more clearly.


Example Table

To clarify the explanations, this sample mock spreadsheet table will be used as a reference.

 Cells A B C D E F
 1 SP16 Grades           
Name  HW#1 HW#2  HW#3 HW#4 HW#5
 Picard, J. 100  90 95 100 85
Riker, W.   90 85 80 90 85
Troi, D.   100 100 95 100 100

Mock Student Grades by Homework:

Please note that in this example table:

  • Cell A1 contains the title "SP16 Grades"

  • Cells A2-F2 contain column headers Name and HW#1-HW#5

  • Cells A3-A5 contain row headers for student names (Picard, J thorugh Troi, D.)

  • The range for this region will be A1...F5.


Chart Wizard

If you are using the Chart Wizard:

  1. Add Alternate Text for any inserted chart, object or image used in Excel.

  2. Use the formatting options in line charts to create different types of dotted lines to facilitate legibility for color blind users.

  3. Avoid using the yellow and bright teal lines; use formatting options to change it to a darker color.

  4. Ensure that charts are legible are grayscale (black and white).

  5. Add a text key for bar charts or change the default colors to a color safe palette.

Use Meaningful Hyperlinks

Adding meaningful hyperlinks in Excel is simple. Include language in your document that conveys relevant information about the destination of the link, highlight that text and right click and select Hyperlink. Include the URL in the Address field and select OK.

Visit Microsoft website for more information about creating accessible links.

how to add hyperlinks in microsoft word

Add Alternate Text for Images & Charts

In most versions of Excel, you can enter alternate text by right clicking an image and selecting Edit Alt Text. Enter information in the Description field.

how to add alternate text for images in microsoft excel

Accessibility Checker

The Microsoft Accessibility Checker report can be used to find common errors like missing image alternate text, merged cells and other issues in an Excel document.

how to do an accessibility check in microsoft excel

Export Excel Data to HTML Tables

If you need to export Excel data to accessible HTML tables, then you may want to use the College of Agricultural Sciences Convert Excel tables to HTML. This tool allows you to cut and paste data from Excel, add captions and summary text then have it converted to HTML.

Even if you don't know much about HTML, you can cut and paste this code into the HTML view of any online blog, content manager or an HTML editor such as Sites at Penn State.