We hope you had a lovely Easter break. The last blog post (pre-Easter) was on the theme of Tabs and Accessibility in MS Word. This week, we would like to elaborate on the use of Tables.

It would appear tables fall out of and into vogue from time to time. Currently, they are en vogue. The tables have turned… Tables can be confusing as to whether they are good or bad. It depends on where and how they are used.

Tables in Word and PowerPoint are OK if used simply. However, tables used on web pages are difficult, partly because how they’re viewed on different devices. And accessibility can often be questionable. However, as we are specifically talking about Word, tables are in our good books, but what are tables?


Columns and rows are used to create tables. Each column / row intersection is a table cell and all of the cells make up a grid. Each cell has a column / row address. Many different types of information can be held in a cell (but only one type of information at a time).

Below, you will see an example table:

Student NamePhysicsChemistryBiology
Example table showing student results

You will see columns neatly titled at the top and the information set out underneath. This could be added to with more students and subjects. Tables can be used to display information and charts or graphs can be created. One consideration is table size and complexity. Lots of information may be better displayed using charts or infographics.

Why would I use tables?

How many times have you needed to place text into tabular data? Of course you can use tabs to place text but a table might make it easier and neater in terms of alignment, accessibility, etc.

Did you know text on a page can be converted to a table? It’s really simple and quick to do. You can learn to convert text to tables in this Go back to basics with Word: Tables web page.

Tables and their content can also be converted to text, i.e., remove the table but keep the information.

You’re welcome!

The Go back to basics with Word: Tables web page also shows you how to modify the layout and look of tables. Remember this is purely visual, you also need to consider other audience members.

To help you use Tables in MS Word, we found some great online resources:

This brings us on to the tables and accessibility issues.

Accessibility and tables

You will need to consider audience needs if tables are used for design layout. For example:

  • Users of screen readers and text to speech technologies need to engage table reading and keyboard navigation commands to ‘view’ the table content.
  • Formatted headings (styles) should not be used in tables. Headings as styles are part of a documents structure and navigation.
  • Again, users of screen readers and text to speech technologies will have difficulties with nested table content as cell coordinates are repeated. It will be confusing which table is being read and the sequence of information.

With the above points in mind, lets look at good and bad practices.

Bad practice:
  • nested tables (tables within tables)
  • omitting table header row
  • lack of cell spacing
  • omitting ALT Text and Captions
  • lack of contrast and suitable colour of table / content
  • extraneous returns / spaces in table cells to place content
  • screen grabs of table content, i.e., rubrics / timetables (as images)

We have already stated nested tables can be confusing for users of screen readers and text to speech technologies. However, screen grabs of tables are totally inaccessible when the content appears as an image.

To know whether a table is more accessible, can the text be edited or selected and copied? If the answer is no, it’s not accessible! The table needs rebuilt. Unfortunately, we have been this all too often.

Moving on to good practices.

Good practice:
  • identify table header row
  • repeat header rows on additional pages
  • editable text / content
  • use cell padding to add space
  • add in Table ALT Text and Captions
  • consider colour and contrast of table and content
  • use of alignments to place content in cell

By following these good practices, you are improving the accessibility of tables to wider audiences. In terms of text, colour and contrast, remember to follow the  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We know these guidelines refer to web content accessibility standards but any digital information shared with anyone should really use these guidelines as a basic standard.

Before we sign off this week, we’re listing some of our previous accessibility blog posts from the Hacking Accessibility series. Do have a look through these to help your understanding:

Next time

Our blog post next Monday will look at the using some of the MS Word proofing tools to improve accessibility.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are now released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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