Accessibility Tip of the Week: Working with tables in Microsoft Word

This week Robert Hardy, our district website accessibility specialist, shares about working with tables in Microsoft Word. Please call Robert with any accessibility questions at Ext. 6105. He is more than happy to talk by phone or schedule a time to meet with you.

One way to make your content more accessible, is to include tables alongside graphs or charts. Including a table not only enhances the accessibility of the document, it also allows data to be easily extracted for future use.

When adding a table, it is important to take a few steps to ensure the table is accessible.

Use True Tables

Be sure to use true tables within your documents, rather than tables built using the tab key. To add a table in Microsoft Word, go to Insert > Table and select your table size.

Mark table row and column headers

When reading a table, users will glance up or to the left to see column or row headers. These titles allow a reader to comprehend relationships within the data.

Unfortunately, unless table row and column headers are programmatically defined, they are inaccessible for a screen reader user. Thankfully, marking them correctly is relatively straightforward.

To mark a column or row title in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint:

  1. Select the table.
  2. Go to the Table Design ribbon.
  3. Ensure Header Row and First Column are selected appropriately. Header Row signifies a row of column titles, while First Column denotes row titles.

"3 tables. The first table has no shading, and the text "Table with no headers" is written beneath it. The second table has the top row shaded in. The text "Table with header row" appears below it. The third table has the top row and first column shaded. The text "Table with header row and column" appears below.

If your table spreads over multiple pages, you will also want to ensure Repeat Header Rows is selected under the Table Layout ribbon.

Avoid blank or merged cells

If you are converting your final document to PDF, it is recommended to avoid blank or merged cells in your table. Blank or merged cells can confuse Adobe Acrobat, creating tables that are misleading or downright inaccessible. Populate blank cells with meaningful data, or with a placeholder such as inserting three hyphens in the cell. If your table has merged cells, usually contained within a header row, consider if the table can be broken into two simple tables.

For tips on working with tables in other software suites, please refer to the district’s Website Accessibility Resources page. If you have additional questions or tips, please reach out to Robert Hardy at extension 6105.