United States Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Section 508 eLearning Support

Creating Accessible Documents with Microsoft Word 2010





Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires Federal agencies to make electronic and information technology (E&IT) accessible to users with disabilities, including:

  • Blindness, color blindness, visual impairment
  • Deafness, hearing impairment
  • Speech impairment
  • Mobility, strength, dexterity or reach impairment

The law includes standards for software applications, operating systems (OS), web-based applications, multimedia and documentation. These standards apply to files made available in Word documents. With Microsoft Word 2010, a user can customize the ribbon adding frequently used commands to a tab or group. Word 2010 enables protected view that prevents files from potentially unsafe locations by disabling editing functions.

Individuals involved in the design, distribution and use of documents are responsible for ensuring that those documents comply with Section 508, but it may not always be clear how to do so. These tutorials will review the features of Word 2010 that can improve the accessibility of a document and provide the steps for using those features.


The goal of these tutorials is to enable VA personnel to produce and distribute accessible Word documents by using the principles of accessibility that will ensure materials are Section 508-compliant; regardless of whether the documents are used for official communication, eLearning course content components or other purposes.

These tutorials reference commercial products likely to be familiar to those taking the course. References to commercial product functionality and providers are included to illustrate application of techniques described, and not intended as either endorsements or critiques of specific providers or products. These tutorials specifically describe steps for using Microsoft Office Word 2010 for Windows, but the concepts found in these tutorials can and should be applied to all brand and document types.

We would like to acknowledge and recognize the Social Security Administration (SSA) for its contribution, as portions of these tutorials include, with permission, information taken directly from SSA’s Section 508 training materials.

How to Use These Tutorials

The tutorials are designed so you can navigate through them using the Next and Previous arrow links located at the top and bottom of each page; or, you may jump to a topic of particular interest using the links in the left-hand navigation sidebar.  The entire set of tutorials may be printed by selecting the link at the bottom of the sidebar.

Several of the tutorials include videos which provide additional information and examples.  To play a video, select its link in the navigation bar. Wait for the video to load and then press the Play button. 

Some videos have accompanying exercise files. You may download the exercise files from the links provided.  Or, if you prefer, you can follow along with your own.

Ensuring Proper Structure

There are several types of structural elements that aid in navigation and organization of Word documents. Providing structure helps all users understand the content in the document. Moreover, structure allows users of assistive technology (AT) to navigate using AT-specific commands to jump to or skip content using structured headings, lists, bookmarks and other techniques. In Word 2010, a user can navigate content by heading, page or object. Therefore, it is very important that content is structured correctly. Within the Word 2010 navigation pane, users can see all the headings of a document, their relative positions and the current location by clicking parts of the pane.  Internal links and bookmarks are also key pieces of proper page structure because they aid users in navigating within a document (i.e., Table of Contents). An AT user relies on the keyboard to activate objects and navigate within a document therefore it is important it is accessible and has meaningful text.  For instance, link text should clearly describe the content to be found or action to be performed. List and sub-list items, which are not properly formatted, may not be rendered properly to AT users because they are not able to detect the hierarchical structure and position of list items. Further information about these topics and others will be described in detail with steps for creating accessible documents.

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