At the time of testing (January 10, 2011), Excel 2007 provides a set of accessibility features that is sufficient to enable the production of accessible digital office documents. However, Excel 2007 does not include an accessibility checking feature.
You should use these techniques when you are using Excel 2007 to create documents that are:
If you are creating forms, web pages, applications, or other dynamic and/or interactive content, these techniques will still be useful to you, but you should also consult the W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) because these are specifically designed to provide guidance for highly dynamic and/or interactive content.
The default file format for Excel 2007 is Office Open XML (XLSX).
In addition, Excel 2007 offers many other spreadsheet processor and web format saving options. Most of these have not been checked for accessibility, but some information and/or instructions are available for the following formats in Technique 12 (below):
We have tried to formulate these techniques so that they are useful to all authors, regardless of whether they use a mouse. However, for clarity there are several instances where mouse-only language is used. Below are the mouse-only terms and their keyboard alternatives:
Following these techniques will increase the accessibility of your documents, but it does not guarantee accessibility to any specific disability groups. In cases where more certainty is required, it is recommended that you test the office documents with end users with disabilities, including screen reader users. The application-specific steps and screenshots in this document were created using Microsoft Excel 2007 (ver.12.0.6545.5000, Windows 7, Jan. 2011) while creating a XLSX document. Files are also easily saved as other file formats (see Technique 12, below).
This document is provided for information purposes only and is neither a recommendation nor a guarantee of results. If errors are found, please report them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All office documents start with a template, which can be as simple as a blank standard-sized page or as complex as a nearly complete document with text, graphics and other content. For example, a “Meeting Minutes” template might include headings for information relevant to a business meeting, such as “Actions” above a table with rows to denote time and columns for actions of the meeting.
Because templates provide the starting-point for so many documents, accessibility is critical. If you are unsure whether a template is accessible, you should check a sample document produced when the template is used (see Technique 11, below).
Excel 2007’s default template for new documents is a blank page. The basic installation also includes other blank office-related documents. These are all accessible by virtue of being blank.
It is possible to create your own accessible templates from scratch in Excel 2007. As well, you can edit and modify the existing prepackaged templates, ensuring their accessibility as you do so and saving them as a new template.
Note: Only use these steps if you have an accessible template available (e.g. that you previously saved). Otherwise, simply open a new (blank) document.
In order for assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers) to be able to present your document accurately, it is important to indicate the natural language of the document. If a different natural language is used for a paragraph or selected text, this also needs to be clearly indicated.
At this time, it is not possible to indicate the natural language of selected cells within an Excel 2007 workbook. [Tested: Jan 10, 2011]
When using images or other graphical objects, such as charts and graphs, it is important to ensure that the information you intend to convey by the image is also conveyed to people who cannot see the image. This can be accomplished by adding concise alternative text to of each image. If an image is too complicated to concisely describe in the alternative text alone (artwork, flowcharts, etc.), provide a short text alternative and a longer description as well.
Alternatively, you can include the same information conveyed by the image within the body of the document, providing the images as an alternate to the text. In that case, you do not have to provide alternate text within the image.
As you begin adding content, your spreadsheet will require structuring to bring meaning to the data, make it easier to navigate, and help assistive technologies read it accurately. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ensure that you properly format the cells.
You should make use of the named styles that are included with the office application (e.g., “Heading”, “Result”, etc.) before creating your own styles or using the character formatting tools directly. Named styles help your readers understand why something was formatted in a given way, which is especially helpful when there are multiple reasons for the same formatting (e.g., it is common to use italics for emphasis, Latin terms and species names). For more information on formatting using named styles, see Technique 9.
Note: While office application suites support headings in much the same way, the named styles often differ.
Formatting header and result cells brings order to the spreadsheet and makes it easier for users to navigate effectively. For example, you can format header rows and columns using “Heading” styles to apply bolded, enlarged, and italicized text (among other characteristics). You may also want to format cells containing results of calculations to appear bold and underlined to help distinguish them from the rest of your data.
Ensure your cells are formatted to properly represent your data, including number and text attributes.
Naming the different data ranges within your spreadsheet makes it easier to navigate through the document and find specific information. By associating a meaningful name to a data range, you will be enhancing the readability of your document. These named ranges can be referenced in multiple locations of your document and within calculations and equations.
Spreadsheet applications support various types of charts, which can be used to display your spreadsheet data in meaningful ways for your audience. It is important to ensure that your chart is as accessible as possible to all members of your audience. All basic accessibility considerations that are applied to the rest of your document must also be applied to your charts and the elements within your charts. For example, use shape and color, rather than color alone, to convey information. As well, some further steps should be taken to ensure that the contents are your chart are appropriate labeled to give users reference points that will help to correctly interpret the information.
Excel 2007 includes an “Insert Table” feature but this works by applying cell formatting to spreadsheet cells. As such, it is not a structural feature in the same way that tables are in Word 2010 and PowerPoint 2010.
While cell formatting is the most common method of structuring documents, other content structuring features should be used where appropriate:
In case the document is ever converted into HTML, it should be given a descriptive and meaningful title.
Avoid "floating" elements such as floating images, objects, tables or text boxes.
Similarly, avoid placing drawing objects directly into the document (e.g., as borders, to create a diagram). Instead, create borders with page layout tools and insert complete graphical objects.
When formatting text, especially when the text is likely to printed, try to:
But can’t users just zoom in?Office applications do typically include accessibility features such as the ability to magnify documents and support for high contrast modes. However, because printing is an important aspect of many workflows and changing font sizes directly will change documents details such the pagination, the layout of tables, etc., it is best practice to always format text for a reasonable degree of accessibility.
The visual presentation of text and images of text should have a contrast ration of at least 4.5:1. To help you determine the contrast, here are some examples on a white background:
Also, always use a single solid color for a text background rather than a pattern.
In order to determine whether the colors in your document have sufficient contrast, you can consult an online contrast checker, such as:
Color should not be used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element. In order to spot where color might be the only visual means of conveying information, you can create a screenshot of the document and then view it with online gray-scale converting tools, such as:
The instructions provided for understanding and operating content should not rely solely on sensory characteristics such as the color or shape of content elements. Here are two examples:
Before you use an image to control the presentation of text (e.g., to ensure a certain font or color combination), consider whether you can achieve the same result by styling “real text”. If this is not possible, as with logos containing stylized text, make sure to provide alternative text for the image following the techniques noted above.
By taking the time to design your content in a consistent way, it will be easier to access, navigate and interpret for all users:
Provide a general description of the spreadsheet contents and instructions on how to navigate the data effectively. The best way to do this is to make a cell at the beginning of the data (e.g., A1) with this information. It will be the first cell accessed by assistive technologies. If you are using this cell for a label or data, you can attach a comment note to the cell containing navigational instructions.
At this time, Excel 2007 does not offer a mechanism to check for potential accessibility errors in your document prior to publishing. [Tested: January 10th, 2011]
In order to get some indication of the accessibility of your document or template (see Technique 1), then you may consider saving the file into HTML or PDF in order to perform an accessibility check in one of those formats, as described below.
Another option is to save the document into HTML format and use one of the web accessibility checkers available online. Such as:
If you saved your document in tagged PDF format, you can use the following tools and steps to evaluate the accessibility of the PDF document:
In some cases, additional steps must be taken in order to ensure accessibility information is preserved when saving/exporting to formats other than the default.
PDF documents are not always accessible. Accessible PDF documents are often called “Tagged PDF” because they include “tags” that encode structural information required for accessibility. To evaluate the accessibility of your PDF document, see Technique 11 (above).
Disclaimer: This list is provided for information purposes only. It is not exhaustive and inclusion of an application or plug-in on the list does not constitute a recommendation or guarantee of results.
If you are interested in what features are provided to make using Excel 2007 more accessible to users, documentation is provided in the Help system:
Authors: Jan Richards, Sabrina Ruplall
This document was produced as part of the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project. This project has been developed by the Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University as part of an EnAbling Change Partnership project with the Government of Ontario and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Accessible Digital Office Documents (ADOD) Project by Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Updated: 08 Feb 2011