Day 3 - Making your data accessible

Once you have applied accessible formatting to the text of your document (see the previous blog), it’s time to add some illustrative figures. Whether it’s a table or a chart, follow these simple formatting tips to clearly present your data to the widest possible audience.



How to make tables accessible

Present the data in the most obvious, clear arrangement you can, to help all users navigate your tables successfully.  Use the simplest table layout possible, and keep the layout regular, avoiding merging cells or leaving empty cells.
In addition, be careful in identifying a heading row. Emboldening or colouring text is a common way of identifying heading rows, but this does not identify text as a heading to screen readers. If you do not formally identify headings, users who rely on this assistive technology will hear a long stream of data, mixed into an the order which may well differ to that desired by the creator, and difficult to understand. An example is shown below:

To designate a Header Row ensure the corresponding check box is ticked in Table Tools, Design Tab . There are also options for a Total Row and First Column Row. Each option communicates the location of the Headers. An example is shown below:

Microsoft toolbar screenshot for selecting the Header row and Banded rows within Table Tools

If the table spans several pages, column headings should be repeated at the top of the table on each page. As an example, this is how you do it for a table in a Word document : 

1. Select the Heading fields

2. Select Layout, Select Repeat Header Rows
Microsoft toolbar screenshot for selecting Repeat Header Rows with Yellow circle identifying the location

A screen reader can now read the table in a variety of ways depending on the user settings as the headings have been identified. 
It is also helpful to those using screen readers to include a general description of the chart, to aid navigation. This is how you do it: 

1. Right click the table
2. Select Table Properties by right clicking on the table and then 
3. Select Alt Text at the end of the tabs on the top row

 Microsoft toolbar screenshot selecting the Table properties when right clicking on a table   Microsoft toolbar screenshot selecting the Alt Text in the table tools

Making accessible charts

Many charts rely heavily on colour to identify different data categories. Colours can be perceived very differently by many people and so it is wise not to rely on colour alone to differentiate between data categories. Make sure you do not identify elements by colour alone, but always label with accessible text as well. If you use colour, consider using the same colour with differing shades to enable identification on the basis of the intensity of colour rather than the particular shade. Consider using a pattern fill instead, to identify the different elements for easy black and white viewing. 

Below are some examples of how to do it… and how not to!

Accessible Bar Chart Examples: The data is clear and the displayed in a way that colour is not the only way to distinguish between the categories  

Example Chart showing varied shades of red colour for each column. Column 1 Dark red, Column 2 Medium red, column 3 light red. Another Example Chart showing varied shades of grey showing it is accessible without colour Column 1 Dark grey, Column 2 Medium Grey, Column 3 Light grey   Green Tick in a green circle communicating an accessible object

Accessible Line Chart Examples: Using different line styles means that you can easily distinguish between the data sets without relying on colour. 

Line Chart: 3 lines of different colours Line 1 Red solid line, 2 Green dashed line, 3 Blue dotted line. Another Line Chart printed in black and white, 3 lines of the same colour that are still distinguishable due to Line 1 Grey solid line, 2 Grey dashed line, 3 grey dotted line. Communicating an accessible chart  Green Tick in a green circle communicating an accessible object


Inaccessible Chart Examples: It is difficult to distinguish between segments and lines unless you have the same perception of these colours as the creator of the chart. The text is not close enough to the segments and lines to help identify which is which. 

Screen shot of an accessible chart depicting the menu which appears when the user right clicks on the chart and to select Format Chart. Red cross in red circl communicating an object is not accessible

It is also helpful to those using screen readers to include a general description of the chart, to aid navigation. As an example, this is how you do for a chart in Excel : 
1. Right click the chart
2. Select Format Chart Area 

Microsoft Excel screenshot of a chart  Screenshot of the Excel window that opens when right clicking on a chart with FORMAT CHART highlighted
3. Select Alt Text and enter a description

Screenshot of Excel Alt Text option

The careful choice of colours, use of formal table headers and alt text are small modifications that are not particularly time consuming, but can make all the difference between whether your data can be understood, or not. These are good habits to get into, even if you are not expecting anyone with a sight problem to access your documents. 

For further information on improving tables and figures click here .

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