Accessible Forms in Microsoft Excel

How do I create accessible forms in Microsoft Excel?


The Rules of Creating Forms

Rule 1: Every form needs to have a clear and meaningful title in Cell A1.

Example of an inaccessible form without a title.

This form does not have a title. Students who use screen readers may struggle knowing what the content in the form is about. They may not know the worksheet is a form at all. Always include a title to give them a prompt or queue to know what they are supposed to see.

Example of an accessible form with a title and instructions on filling out the form.

This form has a title and gives directions on how to fill out the form. This is accessible to all readers and much easier to understand.


Rule 2: Only have one form on each worksheet

A spreadsheet with two forms on one sheet.

This worksheet has two forms. The key to accessibility is to make this content easy to navigate and understand. The two forms make it very difficult to get around. Screen readers will also not recognize two forms next to each other, so it is best to leave them on separate pages.

A spreadsheet with one form on each sheet.

This worksheet has only one form per page.


Rule 3: Use a simple format

An inaccessible table for a restaurant complaint form in a complex format.

This form is made in a very complex format. This format and many others like it would confuse readers. Screen readers would also have a hard time conveying the information because three columns split into six. People with low vision would struggle to understand the categories and the different data in each one.

A Restaurant Complaint form in a simple format.

This form is made in a much simpler format and contains the same information.


Rule 4: Only shade the cells to define a section. Do not use color needlessly.

A restaurant complaint form with a black line going all the way down the form.

This form is inaccessible. The black line divides the fill in section from the categories. A reader with low vision or uses a screen reader, may fill in information where the black line is. Only use color for defining a section.

A restaurant complaint form with good formatting.

The colors are used only where their section is. This provides a more organized look to the form.

Accessible Data Validation in Microsoft Excel

Think of Data Validation as a way to assist people to filling out the form correctly. They act like post it notes or hints with little instructions. When using Data Validation, be sure to give a clear message and provide all relevant information.

  1. Create your form and click in one of the fill in boxes.

    Military Registration form with the fill in cell for Date of Birth highlighted.
  2. Click the Data Tab, then choose Data Validation

  3. Data Tab in Microsoft Excel.
    Data Validation Button in Microsoft Excel.

    In the Data Validation Box, choose Input Message. Then type in some instructions that will help the reader with the form. Click OK. Your end result should show a yellow square with your instructions inside it.

Data Validation box with Input Message Tab open. Input message section provides instructions.
Military Registration Form with the Date of Birth fill in section highlighted. There are instructions next to it in a yellow box.

How to Provide Clear Error Alerts in Microsoft Excel

  1. Choose a category you want an alert to appear for.

    A form with date of birth fill in section highlighted.

2. Go to the Data Tab, then click the Data Validation Button.

Data Tab in Microsoft Excel.
Data Validation Button with a green checkmark and red sign.

3. In the Data Validation Settings Tab, change them to suit your needs. In Error Alert, type in a clear message on what has to be changed in the file in order to continue with the page.

Data Validation box with settings tab open.
Data Validation Box with Error Alert tab open.

4. If the wrong information is typed into the box, your warning should appear.

Microsoft Excel warning asking to enter a valid date of birth.

Remember, if an input field is required, the user must be alerted.

A registration form that does not have an indicator to fill out all sections of the form.

This form does not have any hints or indications that all the fields need to be completed. Readers may get confused if they have to fill the whole form or not.

Registration form with an indicator that all fields are required to be filled.

This form tells the reader that all fields must be filled to submit the form.

Guide to Form Controls and ActiveX Controls

While form controls like buttons, and check boxes are really cool to use, the are not ideal for accessibility. Most controls require users who can only use keyboard to go through a huge number of steps. Sometimes it can take a very long time for a person to check even one box. This must be changed. Instead of making check boxes and buttons, try creating a more accessible way for information to be submitted. One example is a dropdown menu. Another is to have the user type the information after being given a few choices.

A registration form with check boxes.

This form has a bunch of check boxes to choose from. While this my look simple, it is actually very hard for people with disabilities to use them. It is especially hard for people who can only use keyboards as there are many steps needed to check the box.

A form with a dropdown menu for Marital Status. Single is selected from the menu.

This dropdown menu is a more accessible approach that is much easier to use.

Form for Marital Status has a number of choices. (Single, Married, Divorced, or Widowed)

Another option is to type out the options then have the readers type in their answers.

Another good thing to add in forms is a “Clear Form” Button. These buttons will clear the form instantly with one click.

Military Registration Form with a Clear Form Button.