Universal Access: Adding Alt Text to Form Fields in Word

Accessible Forms in Word

Word is a great option to create accessible forms. When set up correctly (which will be outlined below), Word forms are intuitive and easy to use.

Enable Developer Tab

To add form fields to a Word document, you’ll first need to enable the developer tab to display in the ribbon. Fortunately, this is relatively easy:

  1. From Microsoft Word, open the File menu (Alt + F).
  2. In the File menu (Backstage view), go to Options (down arrow and then enter).
  3. The Word Options dialog will open. Go to Customize Ribbon (down arrow and then tab).
  4. In the list below Customize the Ribbon, find Developer and click the the check box to enable it (tab to navigate to “Ribbon Tree View”, then use the down arrow to navigate to Developer and press space bar to enable the Developer tab).
  5. Click the OK button (tab and then enter).

Legacy Form Fields

Now that the Developer Tab is enabled, we can add form fields to our document. Follow the steps below:

  1. In the ribbon, switch to the Developer tab (Alt, then right arrow, and then tab).
  2. In the Developer tab, go to the Controls Group and select Legacy Tools Submenu (tab and then enter). You may also choose to open this via the Alt path which would Alt, then L, and then N.
  3. The Legacy Tools dialog will open. Here you will find options for text box, check box, and combo box. There are the three types of controls we have at out disposal for Word forms. Choose the type of control you want to use (right and left arrows and then enter).

Adding Alt Text

You have your form fields, it is now time to put in your Alt Text. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the context menu on the form field you’d like to add Alt Text to (right click or use shift + F10).
  2. In the context menu, select properties (down arrow and then enter).
  3. The Text Form Field Options dialog will open. Select Add Help Text (tab and then enter).
  4. The Form Field Help Text dialog will open. In the Status Bar tab, select Type your own (tab, then down arrow).
  5. Type your Alt Text in the entry box.
  6. Press the Ok button in the Form Field Help Text dialog (Tab and then enter).
  7. Press the Ok button in the Form Field Options dialog (Tab and then enter).

Writing Effective Alt Text

Now, after all that work you’ve done, you want to make sure you’re adding effective Alt Text that helps your users fill out your form. Below is a link to a Microsoft Article that outlines best practices for writing Alt Text:

Everything you need to know to write effective alt text

Keep in mind when writing Alt Text that a screen reader user will not be able to access any text in the form aside from the Alt Text added to form controls.

Locking Your Document

The last step to make your Form accessible is to lock editing on the form. This will stop your users from accidentally deleting form elements or getting lost in the textual portions on the form. This will also allow users to navigate between form controls using tab and shift + tab. Before you follow the steps below, make sure to save your document.

  1. Once again go to the ribbon and then open the Developer tab (Alt, then left/ right arrow, and then tab).
  2. On the Developer tab, select Restrict Editing (tab and then press enter). You may also wish to use the Alt path to reach Restrict Editing by pressing Alt, then L, then P, and then E.
  3. The Restrict Editing pane will open. Enable the “Allow only this type of editing in the document” check box (tab and then space bar).
  4. A Combo box below the “Allow only this type of editing in the document” check box will become enabled. Select Filling in Forms with the combo box (tab, then arrow keys, and then enter).
  5. Finally, press the “Yes, Start Enforcing Protection” button (tab and then enter).
  6. The Start Enforcing Protection dialog will open. This dialog asks you to input a password to protect your document and stop others from disabling your protection. Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you require a password. If you want to add a password, type out your intended password and then repeat the password in the Re-enter password to confirm field (tab). If you don’t want a password, leave both these fields blank.
  7. Press the Ok button (tab and then enter).

Finishing Up

Hopefully, you were able to follow all the steps outlined above to create form fields with Alt Text in Word. Remember, your alt text cannot be read visually by the end user, so don’t forget about about users who will be filling out the form visually.

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