Accessible Images, Shapes, and Smart Art in Microsoft Word

How do I use accessible images, shapes, and smart art in Microsoft Word?


Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Accessible Images with Alt Tags.

  1. Open a blank document in Word.

  2. Go to the Insert Tab, find the Illustrations Panel and select Pictures.

    Location of the Illustrations Panel in MS Word.
  3. Insert your photo. Then go to the Picture Format Tab.

    Picture Format Tab in Microsoft Word
  4. In the Accessibility Section, click Alt Text.

    Alternative Text Button in Microsoft Word
  5. Go to the Alt Text Side Bar and explain the photo in under 150 characters.

    (Example) An image of a little boy doing his homework at a table surrounded by supplies. It is in the late afternoon.
    (Example) A little boy doing his homework at a table surrounded by supplies. It is in the late afternoon.
    Alt Text Panel, A little boy doing his homework at a table surrounded by supplies.

If you are using a picture that does not need alt text and has no particular meaning, just check “Mark as Decorative”.


Guide to Accessible Long Descriptions

When using complex images like pie charts or bar graphs, it is better to use a long description rather than Alt Text. Alt Text is meant to be brief, while long descriptions give you a bit more freedom to explain the image. There are many ways to create a long description including:

  • Describing the complex image in text below the image.

  • Adding a link below the complex image.

  • Providing the data from the image in text form.

Make sure the long description is visible to all users. Even if they are links, or buttons.

A pie chart of the most popular sports without a long description.

This pie chart is missing a long description. This will be an issue to readers who cannot see at all or can see very little.

A pie chart of the most popular sports with a link to the text description.

This pie chart is now accessible due to it having a link. The link will take the reader to a long description or index when clicked.

A pie chart with a long description of the chart underneath it


This pie chart contains a long description that tells the screen reader and reader exactly what is on the pie chart. This will make it much easier for the reader to understand the chart, and the statistics, and learn at a faster pace.

A pie chart of the most popular sports with the alt text panel open.

This pie chart is also accessible because it provides Alt Text directing the readers attention from the pie chart to the table. A reader may have a difficult time reading a pie chart, to remedy this, create a table underneath the chart with the same information. This will give them the ability to get the information they need.

Step-by-Step Guide to using Captions

  1. Upload a picture into Microsoft Word.

    An image of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci
  2. With the image selected, go to the References Tab, then look for the Captions group.

  3. References Tab in Microsoft Word

    Click Insert Captions.

    Insert Caption Button in Microsoft Word
  4. The Captions Box should appear. In the Caption box, type in the name of your image.

MS Word Caption Box labeled Figure 1 Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci

5. You now have an accessible captions for your image.

The Mona Lisa with an accessible caption saying Figure 1 - Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci

Guide to Watermarks and Backgrounds

All creators should avoid using any watermarks or backgrounds that distract from the actual text or image of a document. It is best to simply not use them at all. One of the most common examples of a water mark is when a person creates a draft, confidential, or . Instead of using a watermark, just type up at the top, “This document is a draft”. This will make it easy for a screen reader to read the warning or information to a reader.

Why Accessibility Matters essay with an inaccessible format for a watermark

The “Draft” watermark going across the page is very distracting and takes away from the importance of the text itself. Do not use watermarks in this way.

Why Accessibility Matters essay with an accessible format for a watermark

This draft tells the reader at the top, before anything is read, that it is a draft. If you have a draft, confidential papers, or top secret information, place the queue at the top of the paper.

Guide to Floating Objects

Its better to not use any floating objects in Word. Floating objects are not part of a documents structure. When they are brought into an essay or article, they can disrupt the flow and make it very difficult to read. JAWS 18 and newer can read some floating objects at their anchor or insertion point. However, they cannot read text boxes (the alt text is not automatically read). JAWS users can also use Control>Shift>O to access a list of floating objects. The issue here though is that they can easily be read out of order or violate the flow of the text. NVDA can also read some floating objects in the drawing layer, but only if they are inline with the text.

Inline Objects are more accessible for readers. The only way you can use Floating Objects, is by making sure they are inline with the text. If this cannot be done, do not use Floating Objects.

How to make Text Boxes Accessible

Generally, screen readers cannot access the text box. Despite this, there are still ways of making a text box accessible to all readers.

  • Create a warning or alert to the reader that there are text boxes and how to access them.

  • Position Text Boxes inline with the text.

  • Text boxes should be given Alt Text.

To create a text box, use the following steps.

  1. Go to the Insert Tab.

    Insert Tab in Microsoft Word
  2. In the Illustrations Panel, click the Shapes Button.

    Shapes button in Microsoft Word
  3. Click Create Textbox in the upper left corner of the dropdown menu.

A textbox with the text - The sentence is inside a text box

A text box is used above. There really was no reason to put it inside a text box. Placing it on the document itself would have meant the exact same thing.

Why Accessibility Matters essay without a text box

There is no text box used and the text is on the document as it should be.

Create a Warning or Alert to the Reader that there are Text Boxes

Text boxes with out a warning or notice of their existence

These text boxes do not have any warning or alert. Now the screen reader will look past them and the readers would have no idea they are there.

Text boxes with a warning

These text boxes now have that important warning, including instructions on how to access the text boxes.

Position Text Boxes Inline with the Text

A text box inside a paragraph of text

This example has the text box appear out of line in the paragraph. The result is a mess in format, poor design, and difficult to read text.

A text box inline with the text paragraph

This text box is now inline with the text. It causes very little disruption to the format and look of the page. To make your text box inline with the text, click the text box. Then click the Layout Options button, finally, click Inline with text.

Text Boxes should be given Alt Text

Text box with an Alt Text Panel open, no Alt Text is written

Alt text for a text box is not read automatically, but you should still create an alt text for readers. Its always good to get into this habit, especially since technology improves at a rapid pace.

Text box with Alt Text labeled as Text Box 1

This text box has alt text and it describes, in short, what the content is in the text box.


Making Smart Art Accessible in Microsoft Word

In order for Smart Art to be accessible, only two rules must be followed.

  • The smart art has to be inline with the text.

  • You must provide an Alt Text for the smart art.


The Smart Art has to be Inline with the Text

Smart Art inside multiple paragraphs of text

When the Smart Art is not inline with the text, it integrates itself into the text. This causes a huge mess of space. The smart art forces all of the words to clear away and it blends itself poorly into the paragraph.


Smart Text is inline with text

This Smart Art example shows it outside of the text. The Smart art does not interfere with anything and adds a good look to the page.


The Smart Art must have an Alt Text

Project Water Cycle Smart Art without Alt Text

There is no Alt Text, so the reader and screen reader will ignore this image and move on. There is important information in the graph, so always include an Alt Text.

Project Water Cycle Smart Art with alt text showing the 5 phases. Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, Infiltration, Runoff

An Alt Text has been included in the Word Document. The alt text explains exactly what is in the graph and describes the graph itself.


Making Shapes Accessible in Microsoft Word

Shapes cannot be read by screen readers because it is considered to be floating content. Each screen reader treats shapes differently. NVDA announces the shape as “slash”, but does not read the alt text. JAWS announces the type of shape and the size, but does not read the alt text. VoiceOver automatically reads the alt text and announces that it is a shape, but not what shape. In short, there is no good way for shapes to be read yet. When creating shapes, follow these rules to make them more accessible.

Rule 1: The individual shapes may not be meaningful, but the overall drawing might be.

Rule 2: Provide Alt Text to only one of the objects.

Rule 3: Make the shape inline with the text. To do this, right click the shape, go to Wrap Text > In Line with Text.

The shape is not inline with the text. With the shape overlapping the text, the shape could interfere with a person ability to see the text.

The shape is now inline with the text. This presents a more organized look for the page, and nothing is distracting the viewer.

Rule 4: It is always recommended to add Alt Text to a shape. To do this, right click the shape. Then click Edit Alt Text. In 100 characters or less, describe your shape.

Rule 5: For exporting to HTML and EPUB, take screenshots and supply alt text.

Rule 6: A user must be alerted to meaningful shapes in the document.