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Digital accessibility guide

Explore how to create, design and structure your content to ensure that is is accessible to your students.

Create accessible Excel Workbooks and Spreadsheets

Creating accessible Excel workbooks and spreadsheets will help users of assistive technology access and navigate the content included in Excel files. You can learn and implement simple but impactful good practice around accessibility to help unlock your content to everyone and maintain longevity of your files.  

Tables in Excel

Tables in Excel need to be identified as such by ‘marking them up’. This means code is added to the tables in the background to help software recognise them as such and understand the content. You will almost always need to mark up tables in your Excel files as they will contain your data sets. 

Mark up

To mark up data in Excel as a table: 

  1. Select the cells you want to include in the table.  
  2. On the Insert tab, select Table.  
  3. In the Create Table dialog, select the My table has headers check box. Select OK.  
  4. Type descriptive names for each column in the table.  

My table has headers image

Rows and Columns

  • Remove blank rows and columns to reduce cognitive load. If you need to create space, use row height and column width instead.  
  • Avoid hiding rows and columns. If you ned to hide some information, give guidance in a cell in Column A, above any tables, on which rows and columns are hidden and how to unhide them. 

First column and header row 

To specify the first column and header row in an existing table:  

  1. Place your cursor anywhere in your table.  
  2. In the table, type the first column content and column headings.  
  3. Select the Design tab. In the Table Style Options group, select the First Column and Header Row check box. You will see the first column and header row added to your table.  

Header and column table

Define named regions

All tables should have one named header (top) row. All columns must have text in the header row (or Excel will give any columns that don’t a default name when they are identified as part of a table). In addition, header names must be unique – a table can’t have two columns with the same text in the header row. 

To define named regions for cell ranges:  

  1. Select the range you want to name, including the row or column labels.  
  2. In the Create Names from Selection dialog box, designate the location that contains the labels by selecting the Top row, Left column, Bottom row, or Right column check box. Select OK. 
  3. Select Formulas > Create from Selection.  

Create Names from Selection dialog box in Excel

Filters and Freeze Panes

Filters and freeze panes are usually used to assist with viewing sheets with large data sets. However, these viewing options obscure data and can make page navigation difficult.

If you do need to use filters or freeze panes, inform users, and give instructions on how to turn them off. 



To turn filters off: 

  1. Select the top row of your sheet. Menu to find filter menu
  2. In the Home tab, select Sort & Filter > Filter. If there is no check mark next to the Filter option, Filters are turned off. 


To turn freeze panes off:

  1. Select the entire sheet from the top left corner. This is the “Select All” button. 
  2. In the View tab, select Unfreeze Panes. 



Worksheets affect how users will access and understand your content. Some tips include: 

  • Give your worksheets unique, descriptive names to help users understand and navigate contents more easily.  
  • Delete blank worksheets. This will help reduce cognitive load for users trying to find the data relevant to them. 

Data sets

Creating data sets appropriately is important in ensuring users can access and navigate your content effectively. Some tips include: 

  • If you have multiple data sets to include in your workbook, split them into individual worksheets to allow screen reader users navigate more easily from one set to the next.  
  • Position tables against the left-hand edges of each sheet. Do not leave a blank column as a gap. 
  • Consider the use of cells in column A on each worksheet. They should tell a user what information is contained on that worksheet. Generally, this is the title of the table in the worksheet, a short description of any notable information, such as frozen panes, filters, and symbols, as well as any data referred to in the worksheet that can be found elsewhere in your workbook. 


Avoid blank cells

Cells that do not contain any data can be a barrier for assistive technology users to understand where the table starts and ends. 

If the following points are met, blank cells should not cause accessibility issues: 

  • There is only one reason a cell in a table may be left blank. 
  • The table is marked-up correctly. 
  • There is a note above the table, in a cell in column A, explaining that some cells are left blank and why. 


Ensure to wrap text within cells. This will make the text in cells visible and clearly spaced out. 


Excel Tips [online], 2021. [online]. Accessibility at Penn State. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021]. 

Make your Excel documents accessible to people with disabilities [online], 2021. [online]. Microsoft Support. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021] 

Making spreadsheets accessible: a checklist of the basics [online], [2022]. [online]. Government Analysis Function. Available from: [Accessed 12 Sep 2022]. 

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