Headings in Word

This information relates to criterion 1.3.1. Info and Relationships, which states:

Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text.

When a sighted person looks at a Word document, they take in lots of visual information, often subconsciously, about its structure. Headings and subheadings are useful in helping us to make sense of the information, especially if the document is long.

Headings are often larger than the rest of the text. They might be bold. They are sometimes a different colour. All these things that make a heading leap off the page, are visual cues. A blind person cannot see them.

For somebody who uses a screen reader, structural information such as headings, is very important. In Microsoft Word, headings can be recognised by a screen reader and read out to the user, but only if they are created correctly. The following sections, with short how-to videos, will show you how.

Choosing a design

This part isn't strictly necessary, but if you want your document (and any related documents) to have a particular style, this is a good starting point.


Selecting a heading

This is the most important part for screen readers. It's actually quite useful for other people too but if you follow these instructions, your document will be accessible for screen reader users.


Modifying a heading

Once you have correctly identified all your headings and marked them correctly, you may want to change the way they look. This is where you will save time. Because you have correctly marked each heading, you only need to format one of each level. The rest will automatically change to match as you go. Just follow the instructions in this video.


How JAWS reads headings

Finally, it might be helpful to compare two documents that look identical. The only difference is in the way that headings have been created. One is accessible and the other isn't.


You can download a free trial version of JAWS, which will run for 40 minutes at a time. After 40 minutes, if you want to continue, you just have to restart your computer. Then you can have another 40 minutes. If you do this, the following commands may be helpful in testing your headings:

Note: The JAWS key is usually the INSERT key on a standard keyboard.