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Formatting Tables (Word and PowerPoint)

Tables in Microsoft Office documents (.docx, pptx) need to have appropriate structural elements and informational headers in order for users of screen readers to make sense of the information.


Example of Standard in Action

Designating column headers in a table is essential to screen reader users understanding how the information is laid out. Microsoft Word only allows the top row of a table to be designated as a header row. You cannot designate the first column as a header. This process is different in Microsoft Word 2010 for Windows than it is on Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac.

In Microsoft Word 2010 for Windows:
Word 2010 Windows Tables

In Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac:
WORD 2011 Mac Tables

In addition to designating column headers, it is important to ensure that the reading order of the table makes sense. Screen readers read tables from left to right, top to bottom, one cell at a time (no repeats).

To test the reading order of your table in Word, place your cursor in the first cell of the table. Now press the Tab key repeatedly to navigate through the table. This will be the reading order that assistive technologies will use.

Merged, nested, and split cells change the reading order of tables. Make sure you construct your table in a way that accommodates good reading order.

Example of Issue

Let’s pretend that you a screen reader user for just a moment. You’re going to a web site to find out where the biology 205 class is going to be held. You go to a web page or document that has this information in a non-structured table, and this is what you hear:

“Table with 10 columns and 7 rows. Department Code, Class Number, Section, Max Enrollment, Current Enrollment, Room Number, Days, Start Time, End Time, Instructor, BIO, 100, 1, 15, 13, 5, Mon,Wed,Fri, 10:00, 11:00, Magde, 100, 2, 15, 7, 5, Tue,Thu, 11:00, 12:30, Indge, 205, 1, 15, 9, 6, Tue,Thu, 09:00, 10:30, Magde, 315, 1, 12, 3, 6, Mon,Wed,Fri, 13:00, 14:00, Indge, BUS, 150, 1, 15, 15, 13, Mon,Wed,Fri, 09:00, 10:00, Roberts, 210, 1, 10, 9, 13, Mon,Wed,Fri, 08:00, 09:00, Rasid.”

After listening to this information, do you have any idea where biology 205 is supposed to be held? Probably not. When you listen to tables straight through, without going into table reading mode in a screen reader, this type of information can be quite confusing. Even when you do go into table reading mode, it can still be confusing if the table is not marked up properly.

Locating the Issue in Your Course

You will want to look through your course for each instance of a Word or PowerPoint document. You can click through each page in your course to look for these documents, or use the file management tools within your LMS.   In order to test whether your Word or PowerPoint documents have tables without appropriate structural elements

  • Open the Word or PowerPoint Document
  • Select the table to check
  • Confirm that the header row checkbox is selected
  • Confirm that the header row has been extended across the top row.

To test that the table will be traversed in the correct order by a screen reader user,  use the tab test

  • Select the table to check
  • Use the tab and shift+tab keys to move forward and backward through the table.
  • Confirm that the cells of the table are traversed in the intended order.

Resources to Align With Standard

  • The Portland Community College (PCC) Accessibility Guidelines for Online Course Content were developed and implemented in collaboration with Instructional Support, Distance Education, Disability Services, the Web Team, the Library and multiple faculty members. They are based on the WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) AA standards which are internationally accepted, web accessibility guidelines.
  • WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) provides web accessibility solutions to individuals with disabilities. Links provided will give you information about the different types of visual impairments, such as blindness, colorblindness and low vision and how to make the web more accessible to users with visual disabilities.

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