Accessible tables


Tables are useful ways of presenting related data, tabular data. And they should never be used for any other purpose. Sighted users scan a table to make associations between the data in the table and its appropriate row and/or column headers. Screen reader users make these same associations, if tables are structured correctly. People with disabilities rely on appropriate table markup and clear relations between header and data cells to understand, navigate, and process information presented in data tables.

Related topics

Key tips

Use predefined table styles

It is advisable to make use of the predefined styles, if this is available in the content editor. Then you may modify the style to suit your needs and preferences. This lower the efforts for producing accessible tables. In any case, it is essential to mark the headers of the table as such, as well as the rows of totals, if the table presents results.

Do not use tables for layout purposes

It is hardly discouraged to use tables for visually arranging images and text or giving the impression that the text in fact laid out is in columns. When creating a table in Word, it is a good idea to first use one of the predefined styles and then modify it to suit your needs and preferences.

Avoid split cells, merged cells, or nested tables

Screen readers read out loud one cell at a time and reference the associated header cells, so the reader doesn’t lose context. The table code needs to be properly structured to allow alternative renderings. Design the tables as simply as possible and split those that are nested.

Table headers

Mark the column headers as such and, if necessary, the row headers as well. The headers should describe the content in each column or row.

These both are essential for some groups of people with disabilities to understand, navigate, and process the table content. Eg. screen readers use the "header" label to properly interpret the table and present it to de user in the most appropriate way.

Consistent cell content alignment

Table cells contain the individual pieces of data that make up the table. Clear and meaningful order and relations in tables help people with disabilities better understand the table contents.
To facilitate reading, it is very important to align the contents of the tables correctly, following the conventions for this purpose:

  • Use left alignment by default for left-to-right languages. This improves the readability because all content will line up.
  • Use right alignment for columns whose cells contain only figures of the same unit and order of magnitude. This makes it easier to read and work with the numbers, because they all line up neatly at the decimal point. I.e. it is easier to add them up when they're right aligned.
  • Center alignment can be used when the content of all cells within a column has the same number of characters. The rule of thumb is only use it when there is a good reason for doing so.

Align the content of cells using the right tools. I.e. in office documents to use the alignment tool group of the layout menu to set the alignment. Do not use justification with tabs or spaces.

Review the accessibility

Always review the tables with ATs and automated accessibility checkers like the Microsoft Accessibility Checker by Microsoft for office documents.