Yesterday, DigiKnow looked at the MS Word Accessibility – Use of White Space. Today, we continue on with floating objects and text boxes.

Before we delve into the accessibility side of things, lets first look at what floating objects and text boxes are and where they are used.

Floating Objects and Text Boxes

Things can float in MS Word. Floating objects include pictures, shapes, smart art, charts, tables, text boxes, text art and videos. Examples of these floating objects can be seen below.

Credit: Pexels Hot air balloons floating in the air 
(example picture)
Credit: Pexels Hot air balloons floating in the air (example picture)
(example shape)
(example shape)
(example SmartArt)
(example SmartArt)
example Chart)
(example Chart)
 (example Table)
(example Table)
(example Textbox)
(example Textbox)
(example TextArt)
(example TextArt)

Whilst the above examples are mostly visual information, there is some text in floating text boxes. Why are text boxes used?

Quotes are typically shown in text boxes, as is important information. Text boxes can be used to visually highlight important notices.

Are floating objects good or bad?

In relation to accessibility, floating objects and text boxes don’t work well. Why? Let’s break it down.

The page in MS Word containing text is considered a Document Layer. Floating objects and text boxes appear on a Drawing Layer above the document layer.

Imagine a sheet of glass (drawing layer) sitting on a page of text (document layer). On the glass, you add an image or text box and can move this item either in front of or behind the text.

JAWs (screen reader) does have keyboard commands which lists the objects within a document. The drawback is that JAWs may not be able to read the floating objects in relation to the content around them or in the correct sequence. Not all screen readers can detail objects within a document.

If using floating objects is MS Word documents, these may not convert well in to other formats, i.e., PDF, Braille or large-print formats.

To overcome this barrier, avoid floating objects. Make objects inline.

What is meant by inline?

Inline defined: arranging the parts or items in a line, sequentially.

If you think about the drawing layer above the document layer, by making an item inline, it’s pulling the item on to the document layer and among the text. This is now visible to assistive technologies.

If the item is taller than the text, it pushes the text to the bottom of the line whilst the item remains inline with the text. An example is shown below.

(example of an inline circle used with text)
(example of an inline circle used with text)
What just happened?

To make an image inline, one needs to choose from the options within Wrap Text.

Insert an image or shape into MS Word and view the Wrap Text options in the Format Tab. Options can be seen below:

MS Word - Format Tab
MS Word – Format Tab

If the image/text box is not In Line With Text (the first option), then it’s on a drawing layer and considered a floating object. Thus, less accessible.

MS Word - Wrap Text drop down options
MS Word – Wrap Text drop down options

Below, you will find an exercise which you can download. Follow the instructions to make objects inline and to experiment with other Wrap Text options.

Do practice moving these over text to see the result.

In the next exercise, you will find an alternative to floating text boxes for important notices and/or quotes. You can format this to suit yourself.

This DigiKnow blog should help you make MS Word documents more accessible to wider audiences whilst using best practice.

Tomorrow is the last day of this weeks MS Word Accessibility blog-a-thon where we look at the Accessibility Checker in MS Word. We saved the best for last. Do join us tomorrow.


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