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Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker – here’s how to use it

If you are subscribed to Microsoft Office 365, you may have noticed an alert appearing recently when launching an Office application such as Word or PowerPoint. The message is about a new update to the built-in document accessibility checker. In Microsoft’s What’s New In Office 365 page, the update is described as follows:

“One-click fixes for accessibility issues: The Accessibility Checker is better than ever with updated support for international standards and handy recommendations to make your documents more accessible.”

Screenshot of Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker update message

Given that many people aren’t aware that Microsoft have had an accessibility checker tucked away in Office for some time now, let alone how to use it, I thought it’d be a good time to pull together the common questions I’m asked about it.

What is the Accessibility Checker?

The Microsoft Accessibility Checker is a feature included in Microsoft Office that allows users to check the accessibility of their documents. When the check is used, it provides a list of potential accessibility issues with suggestions on how to address them. The user is then able to fix the issues to make the document more accessible to people with disabilities.

Which versions of Microsoft Office have the Checker?

The accessibility checker was first introduced in Office 2010.However the feature was difficult to find in earlier versions so many people did not know it was there. This has been improved with Office 365. The feature is currently available in the Windows and Mac versions of Office.

Which Office applications have the checker?

The checker is currently available in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more recently Outlook. This means you can check documents, spreadsheets, slides and e-mail for accessibility issues and follow the recommendations to fix them.

Does the accessibility checker conform with WCAG?

Given that Office is an authoring tool rather than a website, a more applicable standard would be its compliance to the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0. ATAG essentially looks at whether a tool can be used by a person with a disability, and whether that tool can produce accessible content based on WCAG. In both cases, the answer for Office on Windows is broadly yes, but people with disabilities have reported issues using Office on Mac, iOS and Android due to incompatibilities with assistive technologies. The Checker itself though is available on Office for Windows and Office for Mac. As such, Office for Mac still remains broadly compatible with the second part of ATAG 2.0.

While ATAG is the more applicable standard when discussing authoring tools, WCAG still plays an important role. As such, the accessibility requirements for document formats such as Word and PowerPoint will sound very familiar to people when compared with WCAG: images need alternative text, videos need captions, tables need headings and documents need to be structured correctly using styles – just to name a few. The accessibility checker is useful in that it can check a document for issues that are in common with WCAG along with additional advice related to Microsoft-specific features.

How can I use the accessibility checker?

If you are using the latest version of Microsoft Office, the Checker is now quite easy to find and easy to use. The instructions provided by Microsoft are as follows:

  1. On the ribbon, click the Review tab.
  2. Click Check Accessibility.
  3. Review your results. You’ll see a list of errors, warnings, and tips with how-to-fix recommendations for each.

If you are using an older version of Office such as 2010 or 2013, here’s how you can find and use the Checker in Word, Excel or PowerPoint:

  1. Click File > Info.
  2. Select the Check for Issues button. Tip: To the right of the Check for Issues button, under the Inspect heading, is a list of any potential issues.
  3. In the Check for Issues drop-down menu, select Check Accessibility.
  4. The Accessibility Checker task pane appears next to your content and shows the inspection results.
  5. To see information on why and how to fix an issue, under Inspection Results, select an issue. Results appear under Additional Information, and you’re directed to the inaccessible content in your file.

Is the latest Checker update important?

The recent update to the accessibility checker makes the interface much easier to cross-check and fix accessibility issues with your Word, Excel, PowerPoint or outlook document. However, the more important benefit to using the latest Office 365 version is that it is now able to provide guidance on more issues. If you are regularly providing documents to people with disabilities, it is strongly recommended that you update to Office 2016 or Office 365 with the latest updates to maximise the effectiveness of the Accessibility Checker.

Additional information on the accessibility features of Microsoft products can be found on the Microsoft Accessibility website.

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