Digital spreadsheets are one of the most common ways of working with data. They can be accessible to most students considering a few accessibility issues.

Key tips

  • What is the target audience?
  • What is the goal of the spreadsheet?
  • Verify that the content and how it is presented are suitable for the target audience and it is clear and concise to achieve its goal.
  • Descriptive, consistent and unique naming:
    • Filenames. E.g. “grades_june_2023.xls”.
    • Sheets or worksheets. E.g. “Class 4C”.
    • Tables. E.g. “Student grades”.
    • Columns headers. E.g. “Maths”.
  • Metadata
    • Cover sheet containing:
      • Purpose of the document.
      • Explanation of the data contained.
      • Use and update instructions.
      • Version.
    • Notes sheet.
  • Consistent and simple structure
    • Only 1 table per sheet.
    • Avoid headers of multiple rows, if possible. Better to break up the content into more tables.
    • The first row should be the header containing the name of the columns.
    • Cell A1 should be the title of the sheet (and table)
    • Avoid merging cells.
    • Avoid empty cells, columns and rows.
    • Remove empty sheets.
  • Perform automated accessibility assessments
  • Identify table headers
  • All cells should contain a value. When there is no data a possibility is using N/A.
  • Define names for datasets and cells, where adequate (for reference and structure).
  • Formatting
    • Avoid the use of colour alone to convey meaning.
    • Coherent use of styles of typography.
    • Use enough colour contrast between the text and background of cells.
    • Do not add extra empty rows or columns for formatting purposes.
    • Legibility: use larger fonts and leave space around text; the full cell content should be visible (not clipped). Format cell size by adjusting row height and column width.
    • Freeze columns / rows for easier navigation.
  • Special characters.
    • Make sure that the target audience can understand the symbols used.
  • Images.
    • Provide alternative text to all meaningful non-text elements.
    • Avoid images of meaningful text and images of charts.
    • For complex non-text elements like charts and graphs it might be necessary to include a longer descriptive text or caption.
    • Avoid clutter. If the raw data is not necessary to understand the charts then it is better to place them in their own sheets for the sake of clarity.
    • Make sure that the visual appearance of the charts is accessible, by setting good colour contrast and patterns. Ie. avoiding differentiating data only by colour. Learn more at: Create accessible charts in Excel - Microsoft support.
Meaningful formulas
  • Use formulas when values are likely to change.
  • Do not use formulas for fixed or unlikely to change values.
  • When there are macros, be aware of the security and accessibility issues that those pieces of code may create.
Before publishing
  • Remove personal and sensitive information.
  • Verify hidden data and metadata.
  • Place the cursor at A1 in every sheet before the last save before publishing.