User Tools

Creating Accessible Tables

This section will take you through the main steps for creating an accessible table.

When tables are not accessible, 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. A well structured table will allow screenreader users to easily navigate and examine data. 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). Keep in mind, 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 post a question on the Production Q&A.
Do not use split or merged cells in a Table. Screenreaders can’t handle it.
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 either removing unnecessary blank cells, rows, or columns, or adding some text indicating the cell is intentionally blank. For example: N/A, “No data” or a hyphen.

Insert a Table

To create and accessible table:

  • Go to the Insert Tab on the Ribbon Menu
  • Go to Table
  • Choose the number of boxes you want across to create columns, and then choose the number of boxes you want down to create rows for your table.

When you add a table to your document, two new tabs appear in the ribbon:

  1. Design
  2. Layout

These are the Table Tools.

We do not add any decorative additions to our tables. They only need to have basic border lines around all cells, and include the accessible formatting outlined below.

Here is a quick demo for How to Insert a Table in MS Word

Create Header Row

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 screenreader user can call up as needed as they navigate the data points.

To set the Header Row:

  • Navigate to the Table Design Tab
  • Select Header Row
  • Enter the text into the top row of the table for each column
  • Your table now has a header row!

Having a Header Row will make it easier to understand the information that the table contains. Some screen readers can be set up to read column names at any time, which can help when working with a large table.

Next, 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.

To enable Repeat Header Rows:

  • Place the cursor in the first row of the table.
  • Right click to open the menu and select Table Priorities
  • This will open the Table Properties dialog box
  • Select the Row tab
  • Uncheck Allow Row to break across pages
  • Check Repeat as header row at the top of each page

Here is a quick demo on How to Create a Header Row for an Accessible Table

Create Table Description and Title

The last step is to enter a description and a title for the table. These should always be included to give context to a table. Descriptions should answer the question: What is the table’s purpose and how is it organized?

For example: A breakdown on the project funding separated by columns for the activity name and cost.

Remember to keep the description short and direct. A good guideline is to keep it around 140 words.

Tables rarely come with a 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. Remember to always include a title. See below for details.

To add a Description and Title:

  • Select the Table
  • Right click to open the menu and select Table Priorities
  • This will open the Table Properties dialog box
  • Select the Alt-Text Tab in the Properties dialog box
  • Enter the title into the title textbox
  • Enter the description into the description textbox
  • Select Ok.

Here is a quick demo on How to Create a Description and Title for an Accessible Table

Insert Caption (if present)

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.

To Insert a Caption:

  • Select the entire table or right click near the edge table to open the menu
  • Select Insert Caption
  • In the Caption dialog box, type in a short description
  • Remove the label (i.e. Figure, Equation, Photo) by selecting Exclude Label from Caption
  • Type or copy and paste the book's caption in the caption field
When you select Exclude Label from Caption the number will remain. This will have to be removed manually after insertion.

Here is a quick demo on How to Insert Caption and How To Deal with Empty Cells

Congratulations! You now have an accessible table! Remember, for even more accessibility, you can break down larger complex tables into smaller ones with headings. If the data in a table is not tabular, then it should be presented as a list or paragraph. Remember not to split or merge cells when creating your accessible table. See presentation for more explanation.

How to Convert a Table to Normal Text

If a table is used as layout, you will have to remove the table. One way to do this is to convert a table to normal text.

To convert a Table to Text

  • First you highlight the table
  • This will open 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.
If you have any questions, check the archive below, if still not clear, post your question on the Production Q&A

Further Help

Q&A Archive

Q: Unsure if the tables were formatted correctly in Appendix A at the end of the book 101 ways to meeting angels by Karen Paolino.

From the Tables section of the wiki: "A caption or description should always be included to give context to a table"

I am interpreting the 'or' in 'caption or description' to mean to include one of the two (either caption or description). But given our past conversation on inclusion of alt text, perhaps i should be including both? Caption and Description? But when I followed the wiki's instructions to add a description, it was greyed out and I was unable to edit it, so only captions are present for the tables.

A: I will fix the wording in the wiki, but every table should have Alt-Text. When it comes to not being able to access the Alt-Text in the table priorities, it looks like this is an issue with they way the document was saved. Just resave and replace the document using the 'Save As' option and double check to ensure it is saving as a .docx file. It will prompt you to replace the file, just accept and replace the file. It should now work!

I creates a short video to illustrate what I mean:

Word is a finicky beast!

Q: Follow up question regarding the song title tables in Four Boys and a Guitar: When I'm making a separate table for each song, I have been putting the song title in the spot labeled "Title" under Table Properties - Alt Text. However, when you look at the tables on the page, there is no visible indication of the song title for each table. I'm wondering if it would improve usability for sighted users to add a level H2 header in front of each table with the song title for that table?

A: Yes, adding the heading and the title in the alt-text priorities works.

Q: I have come to the appendixes at the end of this book and there is a very long and complex table in Appendix D (starts on page 195 of the PDF, titled Mills Brothers Discography–by song title) that I could use some direction on. It's going to take a lot of time and I just want to make sure I'm tackling it the best way before I start. The issue I'm having is the subheadings for each song title. Here's a screenshot of one way I thought of to deal with them. But I'm also wondering if it would be better to create a separate table for each song. What do you think?

A: In this case you should create separate tables for each song title.

Set the heading of the section as 'Mills Brothers Discography–By Song Title

Set each table tile as simply the song title.

Q: There is a table in "The Canadian Prairies" that I am struggling with. The table is extensive and is split into two pages, and the header column is only visible on the first page - should I combine them into a single table?

A:You can combine it into the same table. If you follow the instructions on header rows in the wiki it will be fine:

Q: I am editing a book that has very long tables that are images. I obviously need to convert them to readable tables in Word, but my question is should I create on very large table, or should I cut it down into smaller tables?

A: In this case you can break the sub-sections down into their own tables with each disorder its own table. You can caption each table with the name of the disorder.

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.

Q: I have a question regarding tables in Satan is a Socialist. There are a few simple tables in the book formatted similar to the image of the table below. The tables usually have two rows, one header row and one with all the content. Should I be adding separate rows for each element in the list (e.g. one row for high/low government control, one row for high/low level of entitlements, and so on). Or is this fine as is? Thanks!

A: It looks like none of these are actually tables, but they used tables to create a columns for comparative lists. You can reformat them as nested lists.

Q: I am currently working on "The Red Road and Other Narratives of the Dakota Sioux" and in part 1 there are three lists of tribes presented in tables. The first column contains the tribes name and the second column contains the english meaning of the tribes name. Because there are no column headers, I am wondering if it would be better to reformat the information in normal style?

A: So this is an example of a publisher using a table for layout purposes. If the information is a list, then it must be reformatted as a list to be accessible. See the List section for more information. For example:

  • Title of List
    • First Language; Indigenous Name

Q: I'm working on People, State, and War Under the French Regime in Canada and in the appendices at the end are several images of tables that I'm transcribing into text. I have two questions about these tables (I put the question here instead of the image Q&A because I felt like it was more applicable to tables). Some of the tables have arrows connecting the data in different cells, and a Note at the end of appendix A reads "Figures given with arrows indicate the combined total for the categories in question." I'm not sure how to indicate this in a table.

Second question, in Appendix A, in the second last table the edge of the last column is cut off, so I cant read all the text. I can infer what the words are intended to be? Or I can leave as is which will mean some partial words and individual letters. How should I proceed?

A: It seems like the Arrows are in the Regular column. You can enter them using unicode. are all the codes for arrows.

If you can with confidence fill in those missing letters and words, then go for it!

Q: Can we use lists within a cell in a table? For example, in "I Had the Craziest Dream," some of the tables identify up to five different LP Reissue identifiers. Can I use an unordered list in that case?

A: No. Lists within tables are not accessible. Could you give me a specific example of what you are trying to reformat?

Q: One of the tables in "I Had the Craziest Dream" is formatted a little funky. It looks like this:

I'm hoping you can help me decide what exactly is going on in number 228. I think that it's meant to still be under the song title column? And how should I write that up so it's accessible?

A: Great question! There looks to be 4 columns in this table, (and the publisher used a list to also order the information fun!):

-(Number, Song Title, Orchestra details) Recorded (includes place and year)LabelNumber

It seems to me the best way to do this is as follows (only write the number not list format):

- RecordedLabelNumber
228."I Don't … by Willbur Hatch Hollywood 1958 Warner BrosW/WS-1216, W/WS-1426
issued in album They Sold…--W-1216(mono)/WS-1216(stereo)
issued in album….Hollywood 1961-W-1426(mono)/WS1426(stereo)

Note: I used shorthand in my example. In your version you need to type out the full titles and phrases.

Q: Atlantic’s Last Stop. What is the difference between the title and the caption of a table? What if the caption provided is essentially the title? (For an example, see the table in Chapter 18.)

A: If the caption is a title, then just repeat it in the title in the properties. All accessible tables require titles in the properties as per the wiki instructions.

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

Return to main eText Page

public/nnels/etext/tables.txt · Last modified: 2023/07/27 15:57 by rachel.osolen