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When tables are not structured accessibly, the data they contain can quickly become a meaningless sea of numbers, facts and figures to someone moving through them a cell at a time. Readers who cannot see the table cannot use visual cheats like checking the alignment and scanning back to the top headings to orient themselves as they go. Equivalent information needs to be encoded into the table to facilitate comprehension.

Tables are meant to be used for tabular information (data). Tables should never be used to lay out documents. When editing a book, recreate charts and tables using the default functionality of the software, i.e. the Insert Table tool.

Tables have a logical reading order from left to right and top to bottom. Screenreader users can easily navigate to and examine data in tables. There are specific keyboard controls for reading tables that differ to the controls for reading regular text. When non-tabular text is rendered with tables, the reading controls are incorrect. This can make it confusing and difficult to read the document with a screenreader.

Do not present non-tabular information in a table format even if it presented as such in a book, i.e. a grocery list with two columns. Present such information as a list in two columns (see Formatting Columns). Please note, that columns are rarely used when reformatting a book, since they are often just for aesthetics. If this is the case the information is probably best formatted as a list or normal depending on the context. If you are unsure please contact the Project Coordinator.

How to insert a table

Insert a table in Word

Keep your tables simple without any extra modifications.

Descriptions and Captions

Captions come with the table (they’re provided by the publisher.) Descriptions, or Alt-text, is usually not provided by the publisher, and that’s what we add in. Just like with images, you will need to reinsert the captions. See below for more details.

If the table has a title, remove it from the table and style it as a heading.

Descriptions (Alt-Text)

A description should always be included to give context to a table. Never rely on the surrounding text to explain the presence of a table, especially when the table is offset from the content.

Descriptions should answer the question: “What is the table’s purpose and how is it organized?”


"A sample order form with separate columns for the item name, price and quantity."

Remember to keep the description short and direct. A good guideline it to keep it around 140 words. See the Alt-Text page for more information.

Tables never come with Alt-Text description, so you will have to always include it. Some tables will come with captions, but these tables will still need the additional Alt-Text description along with the caption.
Create a description for your table:
  • Right click on the table and choose Table Properties.
  • Under the Alt text tab, insert your description in the Description area.


Captions are provided by the publisher, and are treated the same way as we would a caption for an image with one small difference–the caption goes above the table as opposed to below it.

Add a caption to your table:
  • Select the entire table or right click near the edge of the chart, graph or table, and choose Insert Caption.
  • In the Caption dialog box, type in a short description.
  • For tables, the caption should be above the table.

For more information on Captions in general go to Captions page.

Table Headers

Table cells should be marked as table headers or header rows when they serve as labels to help interpret the other cells in the table. Correctly identified headers provide metadata that the reader can call up as needed as they navigate the data points.

Identify a "Header Row" (usually entire first row)

  • Click anywhere in the table.
  • Go to the Table Tools Design tab at the top of the page. Check the Header Row check box.
  • Type (or retype) your column headings.
  • Press the Enter key.

Ensure ''Repeat Header Rows'' is enabled

This ensures the header row is repeated across pages. Do this even if the table does not go over multiple pages:

  • Place the cursor anywhere in the first row of the table. Right click and select Table Properties from the pop-up menu.
  • Select the Row tab in the Properties dialog box.
  • Check Repeat as header row at the top of each page

Ensure ''Allow row to break across pages'' is unchecked

  • Do not use split or merged cells in a Table. Screenreaders can’t handle it.
  • In Table Properties, under the Row tab, ensure Allow row to break across pages is unchecked (make sure to uncheck this for each row by clicking on Next Row then unchecking, etc.).

Avoid blank cells

  • Do not use blank rows or columns in a table for formatting. Blank cells, rows, or columns could mislead someone using a screenreader into thinking that there is nothing more in the table. You can fix this by: *
    • removing unnecessary blank cells, rows, or columns.
    • adding some text indicating the cell is intentionally blank, i.e. N/A, “No data” or a hyphen.

Further Help

Other tips

Formatting Tip

  • Use Word tools to create desired format, i.e. borders, line spacing, and other cell styles.
    • You can add more spacing by going to Table properties > Table > Options > Set the Top, Bottom, Left and Right margins to add more spaces around the text
  • If you have multiple tables, you can create a Table style and apply this style to all new tables.

How to Convert a Table to Normal Text

  • Sometimes you will need to convert a table to normal text:
    • First you highlight the table
    • This will create the 'Table Tools' section in the ribbon menu
    • Select the 'Layout' tab
    • On this menu select the 'Convert to Text' button
    • This will open a pop up, you then choose the paragraph break option to separate the text and hit okay

Tips for Fitting Large Tables Within Page Margins

  • If the table is very large, or has a lot of information, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that it fits within the page margins.
    • You can use landscape layout instead of portrait for the pages that the table falls on. In order to enable this, you must first put a section break before and after the table, then select the table (and accompanying headings and/or captions), and choose Landscape orientation.
    • If the table still does not fit within the margins, you can also change the size of the pages (i.e. from US Letter to US Legal) by selecting the table and accompanying info, and choosing a different page size. If you want to try this without switching to Landscape orientation, you will still need to add section breaks before and after.
    • If you have done both of these, and the table still does not fit, you can try decreasing the font size.
    • Still having issues? Time to ask for assistance!


Q: In Theomatics, instead of creating tables the author has used images. Should I put a producers note in for each 'table'?

A: Images of tables need to be presented as tables, just as images of text should be presented as text. You can see how to make accessible tables here:Tables. If you have questions about creating tables, let us know! We may need to add in a short alt description if the table is not sufficiently described in the surrounding text.

Q: Theomatics uses tables-A LOT-but it seems like they are not necessary. It appears that tables are used for formatting spacing, as opposed to actually creating a table. For example; the Chapter headings are in tables (which I remove.) But what should I do with the other 'tables'? There are instances in the book where similar information is presented as a list, and not a table. Should I just remove the tables and have the information formatted as 'Normal' with paragraph breaks between each line? I have included a screen shout of a page from the .doc file and the .epub file as examples. UPDATE: I have been thinking more about this as I move through editing other parts of the book. These sections could work as bulleted lists. If you need more examples I can give you other page numbers, or just open the epub yourself. There are oh so many.

A: You've got that right - none of the tables in this book should be there (as far as I can tell). As you say, they've been used for formatting purposes, a big no-no. All the tables should be converted to text within the narrative flow. I don't think these are true lists (a list of items); I would format these as normal paragraph text.

WCAG 2.0 — H39: Using caption elements to associate data table captions with data tables

public/nnels/etext/tables.txt · Last modified: 2020/02/11 13:28 by rachel.osolen