Last week, DigiKnow addressed some accessibility best practices when using MS Word. Not only did it introduce why document structure (aka navigation) and use of styles is important in MS Word documents, it also highlighted that visual data (pictures, charts, etc.) cannot necessarily be viewed by people living with visual impairment and for users of assistive technologies (i.e., screen readers such as JAWs), screen readers can only read text, not groups of pixels that create visual content.

This week, DigiKnow continues using MS Word to highlight accessibility best practice in relation to tables, hypertext links, the use of space, floating objects/text boxes and adding in an accessibility checker to your Toolbar and how to use this.

Each of these subjects are quite long and DigiKnow have opted this week for a blog-a-thon. Each topic will be presented daily this week.

Let’s get started!

What are tables?

Tables are widely used for the purposes of data analysis, communication and research. Tables can be simple or complex. Tables should organise data in a meaningful way.

An example of best practice is where tables can be used to display tabular data, i.e., sales or grades.

An example of bad practice is where tables are used to improve the layout of a page (or website).

Tables become problematic when used for layout purposes and when also mislabeled. Screen readers and Text to Speech adaptive technologies tell users the table contains ‘X’ number of rows/columns. How these are read by adaptive technologies may decrease the impact of the information (if it’s relevant to the core subject).

Best practice should be applied to ensure information in tables is relevant and presentation is accessible to a wider audience. Audience members using adaptive technologies should not be at a disadvantage.

Creating and using tables for accessibility

To insert a table in a document, place your cursor where the table it is to appear on the page. Go to the Insert Tab:

Insert Tab (MS Word)
Insert Tab (MS Word)

Click the Table icon down arrow:

Table drop-down options (MS Word)
Table drop-down options (MS Word)

This presents a drop-down menu containing a ‘grid’ where you highlight squares to create a number of rows/columns for the table. When the mouse-button is clicked, the table inserts on the page.

By default, tables fill the page from the left margin to right. Rows/columns can be added or subtracted later. Height and width of rows and columns can be changed later also.  

Example table, 2 rows by 2 columns
Example table, 2 rows by 2 columns

Empty tables are inaccessible.

Tables created in MS Word require a designated Header Row. The header row contains the information or identity of content held in particular columns, i.e., forename, surname, date of birth, etc. This is important for users of adaptive technology.

Select the table. In the Design Tab, review the attributes. You can see in this instance, under Table Style Options, the option for Header Row is selected.

Design Tab (MS Word)
Design Tab (MS Word)

Tables can have captions attached (like Alt Text on images), this may be a brief overview of the information contained in the table, i.e., a list of grades for first year students. This gives users of adaptive technologies an idea of what information to expect within the table.

To caption a table, right-click the table and select Table Properties.

Drop-down options menu from right-clicking table
Drop-down options menu from right-clicking table

Choose the ‘ALT text’ tab and fill in the Title and Description, when complete, click OK. This is good practice which benefits everyone.

Table Properties box, Al Text tab where Title and Description should be completed to caption the table
Table Properties box, Al Text tab where Title and Description should be completed to caption the table

When the first row is completed and repeated on all pages, the top row becomes the Header Row (as it was selected in the Design Tabsee above).

Table with information
Table with information

Right-click the table and select Table Properties. In the Table Properties box, the header row should be repeated on all pages (as highlighted in red below).

Table Properties, Row Tab with "Repeat as Header Row at top of each page" selected
Table Properties, Row Tab with “Repeat as Header Row at top of each page” selected

The table can be populated with data.

MS Word does have an Accessibility Checker to help. This will be covered later in the week. We hope you can join us again tomorrow to continue with MS Word Accessibility – Hyperlinks.


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