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Microsoft Excel(v.2010)

Providing Text Alternatives for Images and Graphical Objects

When using images or other graphical objects, such as charts and graphs, it is important to ensure that the information you intend to convey by the image is also conveyed to people who cannot see the image. This can be accomplished by adding concise alternative text to each image. If an image is too complicated to concisely describe in the alternative text alone (artwork, flowcharts, etc.), provide a short text alternative and a longer description as well.

Tips for writing alternative text (use “Description” in Excel 2010)

  • Try to answer the question "what information is the image conveying?"
  • If the image does not convey any useful information, leave the alternative text blank
  • If the image contains meaningful text, ensure all of the text is replicated
  • Alternative text should be fairly short, usually a sentence or less and rarely more than two sentences
  • If more description is required (e.g., for a chart or graph), provide a short description in the alternative text (e.g., a summary of the trend) and more detail in the long description, see below
  • Test by having others review the document with the images replaced by the alternative text

Alternatively, you can include the same information conveyed by the image within the body of the document, providing the images as an alternate to the text. In that case, you do not have to provide alternate text within the image.

To add alternative text to images and graphical objects
  1. Right-click the object
  2. Select Format Picture
  3. Select the Alt Text option from the list
  4. Fill in the description.

If an Excel 2010 document is saved to HTML, the Title and Description fields are combined into a single entry within the HTML <alt> tag. [Tested: September 30th, 2010]

Format Your Cells

As you begin adding content, your spreadsheet will require structuring to bring meaning to the data, make it easier to navigate, and help assistive technologies read it accurately. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ensure that you properly format the cells.

Named Styles

You should make use of the named styles that are included with the office application (e.g., “Heading”, “Result”, etc.) before creating your own styles or using the character formatting tools directly. Named styles help your readers understand why something was formatted in a given way, which is especially helpful when there are multiple reasons for the same formatting (e.g., it is common to use italics for emphasis, Latin terms and species names). For more information on formatting using named styles, see Formating Text.

Note: While office application suites support headings in much the same way, the named styles often differ.

Formatting header and result cells brings order to the spreadsheet and makes it easier for users to navigate effectively. For example, you can format header rows and columns using “Heading” styles to apply bolded, enlarged, and italicized text (among other characteristics). You may also want to format cells containing results of calculations to appear bold and underlined to help distinguish them from the rest of your data.

To format a cell with default named styles
  1. Highlight the cells that you want to format
Note: to apply a style to an entire row or column, select the row or column indicator and follow the next steps
  2. Go to menu item: Home
  3. In the Styles section, select the Cell Styles icon
  4. Select the desired formatting style from the drop-down menu

Note: To modify a style, right-click the desired formatting style from the drop-down menu and select Modify. Changes made to the style will affect all instances of the style within your workbook.

Other Cell Characteristics

Ensure your cells are formatted to properly represent your data, including number and text attributes.

To format cell characteristics
  1. Highlight the cells that you want to format
  2. Go to menu item: Home
  3. In the relevant sections (e.g. Numbers, Font, etc.) make your adjustments

Note: When formatting your spreadsheet, it is best to avoid merging cells. At times, it may seem easier to present your data by merging cells, but this can make it more difficult for users of assistive technologies and people navigating your spreadsheet using the keyboard.

Use Cell Addressing

Define Names

Naming the different data ranges within your spreadsheet makes it easier to navigate through the document and find specific information. It can also be use as a navigation. When using the shortcut Ctrl + G a dialog box will open and layout all the names define in the cells. When selected and the OK button is pressed it will navigate to the located place.

By associating a meaningful name to a data range, you will be enhancing the readability of your document. These named ranges can be referenced in multiple locations of your document and within calculations and equations.

To define a name
  1. Highlight the cells you would like to name
  2. Go to menu item: Formulas
  3. In the Defined Names section, select the Define Name button
  4. In the Name text box, enter the name for the data range
  5. In the Scope drop-down list, select scope within which the name can be referenced
  6. Select OK

Create Accessible Charts

Charts can be used to make data more understandable for some audiences. However, it is important to ensure that your chart is as accessible as possible to all members of your audience. All basic accessibility considerations that are applied to the rest of your document must also be applied to your charts and the elements within your charts. For example, use shape and color, rather than color alone, to convey information. As well, some further steps should be taken to ensure that the contents are your chart are appropriate labeled to give users reference points that will help them to correctly interpret the information.

To create a chart
  1. Select the data that you want to include in the chart
  2. Go to menu item: Insert
  3. In the Charts section, select the icon of the type of chart you would like to insert
  4. Select a Chart Type from the Chart Gallery in the drop-down menu
To add titles and labels
  1. In the Chart Tools menu section, go to menu item: Layout
  2. In the Labels section, select the type of title or label you would like to define (e.g., Chart Title, Axis Titles, Data Labels)

Note: It is a good idea to use as many of the titles and labels available in this section as possible.

To apply a predefined Chart Layout
  1. In the Chart Tools menu section, go to menu item: Design
  2. In the Chart Layouts section, select a Quick Layout from the scrolling Chart Layouts gallery
To change to a different predefined Chart Type
  1. In the Chart Tools menu section, go to menu item: Design
  2. In the Type section, select the Change Chart Type icon
  3. In the Change Chart Type dialog, select a chart type from the left pane
  4. Select a Chart Design from the right pane
  5. Select OK
To apply alternative text to a chart
  1. Right-click the chart

  2. Note: Make sure you are right-clicking the whole chart, not just an element within the chart. It is possible to add descriptions to the many elements that make up a chart, but this is not recommended.

  3. In the Format Chart Area dialog, select Alt Text
  4. Enter a Title in the Title box
  5. Enter a longer description of the chart contents in the Description box
  6. Select Close

Other chart considerations

  1. When creating line charts, use the formatting options to create different types of dotted lines to facilitate legibility for users who are color blind
  2. Use the formatting options to change predefined colors, ensuring that they align with sufficient contrast requirements (see Formating text, below)
Selecting charts with the keyboard:

You can select charts from selection pane.
This can be launched with keyboard sequence ALT+H,FD,P

  1. Press ALT+H and realease the buttons

  2. Type press FD 

  3. Then Type P

This is a toggle command, so if the selection pane is already visible, it gets hidden after this.

When the selection pane is active, by default the first object (chart or shape) will be highlighted. You can select it by pressing enter or tab to move to other options or use the arrow keys.

Provide Structure for Tables

Excel 2010 includes an “Insert Table” feature, but this works by applying cell formatting to spreadsheet cells. As such, it is not a structural feature in the same way that tables are in Word 2010 and PowerPoint 2010.

Use Other Content Structuring Features

While cell formatting is the most common method of structuring documents, other content structuring features should be used where appropriate:

Document Title

In case the document is ever converted into HTML, it should be given a descriptive and meaningful title.

To change the title of the current document
  1. Go to menu item: File
  2. Select Info from the list in the left window pane
  3. In the right window pane, select the Title text box
  4. Enter the Title

Note: The Title defined in the properties is different than the file name. It is also unrelated to the template name, discussed above.

Avoid “Floating” Objects

Avoid placing drawing objects directly into the document (e.g., as borders, to create a diagram). Instead, create borders with page layout tools and insert complete graphical objects.

Make Content Easier to See

Format of Text

When formatting text, especially when the text is likely to printed, try to:

  1. Use font sizes between 12 and 18 points for cell contents.
  2. Use fonts of normal weight, rather than bold or light weight fonts. If you do choose to use bold fonts for emphasis, use them sparingly.
  3. Use standard fonts with clear spacing and easily recognized upper and lower case characters. Sans serif fonts (e.g., Arial, Verdana) may sometimes be easier to read than serif fonts (e.g., Times New Roman, Garamond).
  4. Avoid large amounts of text set all in caps, italic or underlined.
  5. Use normal or expanded character spacing, rather than condensed spacing.
  6. Avoid animated or scrolling text.

But can’t users just zoom in? Office applications do typically include accessibility features such as the ability to magnify documents and support for high contrast modes. However, because printing is an important aspect of many workflows and changing font sizes directly will change documents details such the pagination, the layout of tables, etc., it is best practice to always format text for a reasonable degree of accessibility.

To change the text size for a default named style
  1. Go to menu item: Home
  2. In the Styles section, select the Cell Styles icon
  3. Select the style to modify from the list
  4. Right-click and select: Modify
  5. In the Style dialog, select the Format button

  6. In the Format Cells dialog, select the Font tab
  7. In the Size text box, type the desired size or select it from the list
  8. Select OK

Use Sufficient Contrast

The visual presentation of text and images of text should have a contrast ration of at least 4.5:1. To help you determine the contrast, here are some examples on a white background:

  • Very good contrast (Foreground=black, Background=white, Ratio=21:1)

    Example Text

  • Acceptable contrast (Foreground=#767676, Background=white, Ratio=4.54:1)

    Example Text

  • Unacceptable contrast (Foreground=#AAAAAA, Background=white, Ratio=2.32:1)

    Example Text

Also, always use a single solid Colour for a text background rather than a pattern.
In order to determine whether the Colours in your document have sufficient contrast, you can consult an online contrast checker, such as:

Avoid Using Color Alone

Color should not be used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element. In order to spot where color might be the only visual means of conveying information, you can create a screenshot of the document and then view it with online gray-scale converting tools, such as:

Avoid Relying on Sensory Characteristics

The instructions provided for understanding and operating content should not rely solely on sensory characteristics such as the color or shape of content elements. Here are two examples:

  • Do not track changes by simply changing the color of text you have edited and noting the color. Instead use Google docs: Spreadsheet’s review functionality features to track changes, such as revision history.
  • Do not distinguish between images by referring to their appearance (e.g. “the bigger one”). Instead, label each image with a figure number and use that for references.

Avoid Using Images of Text

Before you use an image to control the presentation of text (e.g., to ensure a certain font or color combination), consider whether you can achieve the same result by styling “real text”. If this is not possible, as with logos containing stylized text, make sure to provide alternative text for the image following the techniques noted above.

Make Content Easier to Understand

Write Clearly

By taking the time to design your content in a consistent way, it will be easier to access, navigate and interpret for all users:

  • Whenever possible, write clearly with short sentences.
  • Introduce acronyms and spell out abbreviations.
  • Avoid making the document too “busy” by using lots of whitespace and by avoiding too many different colors, fonts and images.
  • If content is repeated on multiple pages within a document or within a set of documents (e.g., headings, footings, etc.), it should occur consistently each time it is repeated.

Navigational Instructions

Provide a general description of the spreadsheet contents and instructions on how to navigate the data effectively. The best way to do this is to make a cell at the beginning of the data (e.g., A1) with this information. It will be the first cell accessed by assistive technologies. For example, the first cell might read: "This worksheet includes two data tables. The first begins at cell A1 and lists travel expenses. The second begins at cell A50 and lists moving expenses."


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