Create accessible spreadsheets using Microsoft Excel
Microsoft Excel spreadsheets are perhaps the most common way to share and manage sets of data, but they are not always accessible for people who use assistive technology. Although the text within Excel spreadsheets can be read by assistive technology, the spreadsheet's more complex sets of information and functions may be difficult for assistive technology to read.
To provide an accessible experience in Microsoft Excel, follow the core guidelines outlined in General guidelines for creating accessible documents. You should also implement as many of the accessibility principles below as possible. For instructions to implement the principles discussed below, see Microsoft's Make your Excel documents accessible to people with disabilities.
For a downloadable cheat-sheet, see the National Center on Disability and Access to Education's section on Excel.
Each Excel file is called a workbook, and can contain multiple worksheets. Each of these sheets contains unique information, so each worksheet should have a name that indicates its contents. It is a good idea to delete blank worksheets.
If your workbook has only one worksheet, you should still give the sheet a descriptive name, typically the same or similar to the information in the file name and the title property for the workbook.
To help people using assistive technology understand the data, define each logical grouping of data as a table with headers for the columns, rows, or both. Defining the headers helps people identify the rows and columns, but in order to define the headers, you must explicitly mark a set of data as a table.
A single level of column, row, or both column and row headers should be defined for each table. Complex tables with more than one row or column of headers need to be simplified or restructured.
Cells are the building blocks of a spreadsheet. The first cell on the worksheet is usually where screen readers start to read. Put important information about the worksheet in this cell.
Sometimes the title of a table is too long to fit in a single cell or visually spans more than one cell. When this happens, you should merge those cells into a single cell to make it easier for screen readers to read.
Avoid having empty columns, rows, or cells. Blank cells can be confusing to people who use assistive technology since the lack of content makes the cell's purpose unclear. Moreover, blank columns and rows may cause people who use assistive technology to think the sheet has ended even when more data is present. If cells do not contain data, indicate this information directly in the cell, for example, with "no data", "0", or "null". If a blank column or row is used to add visual space within a table, consider adding thick borders between the rows or columns instead.
Use more than color to convey meaning. For example, you may use red to indicate an overdue assignment as long as there is another indicator, such as a column to indicate overdue status.
Hyperlinks should make sense on their own. The linked text should describe the destination instead of the URL or "Click here".
Images and charts
Use images, charts, and other visual content sparingly in your Excel spreadsheets because they can cause reading order issues for assistive technology. Add alt text to any images, shapes, SmartArt graphics, or PivotCharts in your spreadsheet to make them accessible. Alt text should describe the content and purpose of the visual content in a sentence or two.
If the image, shape, or SmartArt graphic is purely decorative and doesn't add any information, mark it as decorative instead of adding alt text.
Like other Microsoft Office applications, Excel has a built-in Accessibility Checker tool to help identify potential accessibility concerns.