Office 365 - enhancing accessibility for users

In December 2016 there was a panoply of updates to Microsoft 365 that will make it much easier to create accessible content using Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Visio.

Initially launched on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (2 December), you may have heard on the grapevine that Microsoft programs have got more accessible but what do that mean in practice?


Here we summarise the accessibility updates:

Hundreds of accessible templates are now available in Word, PowerPoint and Excel on PC and Mac that will be easy to navigate if you’re using a screen reader and keyboard or easy to read with low vision or colour blindness. More templates will be available over the next few months.

Suggestions for alt text – if you create accessible documents with images you’ll appreciate the importance of adding descriptive alt-tags to every image to ensure the document can be understood by people with visual impairments.

The new version of Microsoft 365 provides more controls for adding alt-text and the Microsoft Vision Cognitive Service will provide automatic suggestions whenever you insert an image.

Link Gallery – an easier way to add a hyperlink descriptions – in the same way that it’s essential to add alt-text to images you also need to add a meaningful description to any hyperlinks you include in your document. Link Gallery is available in Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook and Office Mobile applications and automatically adds the file or webpage to your document.

Accessibility Checker easier to find and use – you may not realise t but Word and other Microsoft programs have an Accessibility Checker. It’s very handy for building Accessible Word documents and Accessible PDFs and is now in the Review section of Word, previously it was tucked away in the File section.

Assistive technology friendly -- Microsoft 365 is now more compatible with assistive technology, particularly screen readers with keyboards, a combination commonly used by many visually impaired people.

Learning tools – Word for PCs now has a Read Mode which makes documents far more accessible for people with dyslexia or learning disability as it can

·       Read text aloud

·       Increase spacing

·       Break words into syllables


Even with these new tools that Microsoft have introduced the technology only takes the accessibility of a document so far. You still need to make sure that the English is very plain or even better, Easy Read.

The Alt text suggestions will probably get better over time. Current technology will only offer rudimentary descriptions.

However, progress on accessibility is definitely heading in the right direction and maybe sometime in the future, an original Word, PowerPoint or Excel document will be accessible without any additional work.

But until Artificial Intelligence can improve the accessibility of language (likely decades away) there will still be a need for human accessible information experts!

Find out more

If you would like to find out more about our accessible information service visit our sister website