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How to Create Accessible MS Excel Documents

taught by: Richard Steinberg

Session Summary

Following 9 basic requirements, it's easy to ensure your MS Excel files are accessible to people with disabilities. This presentation will cover static MS Excel files


Accessibility is all about making sure documents and content we share is something that can be understood by people with disabilities. When Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by Congress in 1990, there was no World Wide Web and software for people with disabilities was in its infancy. Since its passage, the law has been interpreted by many courts to include electronic content. 

There are many kinds of technologies to help people with disabilities. Screen readers are a type of software that takes what is on a screen and reads it out loud. Some common screen readers include JAWS, NVDA and on the Macintosh and iPhone there’s VoiceOver. 

We could have an entire presentation on how to work with a screen reader, but that’s not necessary to learn how screen reader users interact with their computers. Sighted people can do a quick visual scan of a page to find items that might be of interest, or to skip items that are unnecessary.

People who are blind can’t do a quick visual scan or use a mouse. A screen reader user will probably use a keyboard to navigate, but it’s not the same way as a sighted person. Using special keystrokes, they can list all the all of a certain element on a screen, for example listing headings, graphics, links, etc.

Microsoft Office provides more tools than ever to improve accessibility. The latest version of MS Office such as Office 365 has ongoing improvements. Unfortunately, a “make accessible” button does not exist, so it’s necessary for us to know how to create accessible documents on our own. 

Most of us are self-taught on Microsoft Office—me included—and none of that self-training included learning how to use all of its built-in tools. If you want to learn how to make Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files that are accessible, you may need to rethink how you use these programs—it depends on what tools you are already familiar with. 

The 9 Basic Requirements for creating an accessible MS Excel file are: Start in A1; stay in the grid; no blank rows, columns, data cells, and hide unused; no merged or split cells in data portion; naming worksheets and table titles; no blank worksheets; using row and column headers; using alternative text; marking end of worksheet, workbook; and taking certain steps before saving.

Practical Skills

  • Introduction to accessibility
  • Introduction to accessibility, Breaking old habits
  • Introduction to accessibility, Breaking old habits, Nine steps to take to create or fix an MS Excel file