Accessibility in Excel


Not everyone is as gifted as everyone else and sometimes there are users of Excel whose eyesight is not so good. To help Excel users with limited vision, there is the Accessibility utility that allows us the change the Alt text of shapes, pictures, charts, SmartArt graphics . This short article illustrates the utility and how to use it.

Check Accessibility

By accessibility, we mean that someone can read and use our work even if the person in question is impaired in some way. In this context, we are talking about users with vision impairment and the utility we are discussing here is actually a check accessibility utility that advises us to add accessibility features to our work.

Using the Accessibility and Alt Text Utilities

The best way to appreciate the utility is to use it. Create a chart in Excel and call Accessibility before or after you format it how you want it to appear to everyone: size, chart type, colours, titles and so on. The screenshot that follows contains a small amount of data and two ratios. From the ratios, I have created a clustered column chart. Once I had done that I clicked on the Check Accessibility icon on the Review ribbon and it tells me in the dialogue box on the right of the screen that Chart 6 does not have any accessibility information: Chart 6 is the chart in the middle of the screen that has not been formatted yet.

Initiating Check Accessibility

To resolve this problem we need to create Alternative or Alt text for the chart and to do that we right click on the chart in this case; and select Edit Alt Text…

How to start to edit Alt Text

Once you have done that, an Alt Text dialogue box opens up on the right of the screen and you type just a few words to describe what the chart is saying. AS you can see, the dialogue box actually asks you to describe your chart to someone who is blind.

Setting your Alt Text

If your graphic or other visual is purely decorative such as a fancy border or, click the Mark as decorative and then there is no need for Alt text. Otherwise, having typed your Alt text, move on with your next task and it will be saved automatically.

Here is my Alt Text

The following screenshot shows the Alt Text I created for my two ratio clustered column chart and notice I have NOT checked Mark as decorative:

Example of Alt Text

Screen Readers Read Alt Text

How does a user use Alt text? If you are using a screen reader with an Excel file: when someone uses a screen reader to view documents, they will hear Alt Text being read aloud to them. Without Alt Text, they will only know they’ve reached a picture without knowing what the picture shows.

In another part of the file I have been using here, I used two graphical arrows and Accessibility suggested that I added Alt Text to both of them, too. For one of the arrows, I created this Alt Text:

Curved arrow linking the income statement to the ratio section.

And I wrote something similar for the second arrow.


I have to confess I have never added accessibility information to any of my Excel files before but I will be doing so from now on. After all, I have never asked or been told that any of my users has a visual impairment but they might well have and I would like to offer them as much help as I can.

There is no file to download for this page as it is not really appropriate.

5th January 2020