MS Word Chapter 5: Images, Shapes, and Smart Art


Section 5.1: Images with Alternative Text (Alt Text).

All images regardless of their complexity need to have an Alt text in some way. Alt Text is a brief description of your image that is 150 characters or less. This Alt Text is meant for any image that has meaning within the context of the document. Screen readers cannot read images to the reader, so Alt text acts as a substitute.

To create your Alt text for a photo,

  1. Right click your image and click Edit Alt Text.

  2. The Alt Text panel will appear on the right side of the screen. In the text box, type in your alt text describing the image.

    An image of a little boy doing his homework at a table surrounded by supplies. It is in the late afternoon.
    Alt Text: An image of 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. It is in the late afternoon.

Section 5.2: Decorative Images

If the photo has no meaning, it still needs an Alt Text, but just mark it as a Decorative Image.

To mark it as a Decorative Image,

  1. Right click on your image and click Edit Alt Text in the pop-up menu.

  2. In the Alt Text Panel on the right side. Check “Mark as Decorative.”

Section 5.3: Long Descriptions

When using complex images, pie charts, or bar graphs, describe it using an alt text and a long description. Long descriptions give you more freedom to explain the image in as much as you need to. 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.

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.

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.

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

Section 5.4: Using Captions

Captions can be used for making images accessible. Any caption made will be read as normal text. It is still recommended to provide the image an alt text with the caption. This is because captions are usually the titles of the picture. A title is not enough to describe the image to a user who is blind. To add a caption an image,

  1. Upload a picture into Microsoft Word.

  2. With the image selected, go to the References Tab, then look for the Captions group.

  3. Click Insert Captions.

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

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

Section 5.5: 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. 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.

Section 5.6: 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 a project, they can disrupt the flow and make the content hard 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 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.

  2. In the Illustrations Panel, click the Shapes Button.

  3. Click Create Textbox in the upper left corner of the dropdown menu.

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

Position Text Boxes Inline with the Text

Text Boxes should be given Alt Text

Section 5.7: Smart Art

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


The Smart Art must have an Alt Text

Section 5.8: Shapes

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. Provide Alt Text to only one of the objects.

Rule 2: Make the shape inline with the text. To do this, right click the shape, go to Wrap Text > In Line with Text.

Rule 3: 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 4: For exporting to HTML and EPUB, take screenshots and supply alt text.

Rule 5: A user must be alerted to meaningful shapes in the document.