People who are blind or have low vision can understand your data more easily if you create your spreadsheets and embedded charts with accessibility in mind. If you follow spreadsheet good practices, all users can better understand the story your data tells.
Data is essential for the work we do here at the University, and often published in spreadsheets.
It is important to note that some software produces spreadsheets with accessibility barriers:
- Ribbon style menu layouts (like Excel X.X) may make navigation difficult for screen reader users.
- Graphs and charts without alternative text ("alt text") prevent screen reader users from understanding the specific data or overall information the graph or chart is conveying.
- Large data sets with undefined parameters are not accessible to blind users, low vision users, or users with cognitive impairments.
Dos and Don'ts
Screen readers read the cells in spreadsheets starting from A1 and moving left to right, announcing both the cell number and its contents.
If you follow a few good practices, your data should be accessible to people who use screen readers.
Write a Worksheet Summary
Place a worksheet summary in the A1 cell of every sheet in your workbook.
Include in the A1 cell a general description and instructions on how to navigate the data effectively, such as "This worksheet includes two data tables. The first begins at cell A3 and lists travel expenses. The second begins at cell A50 and lists moving expenses."
Make sure your table summary is descriptive enough to let screen reader users know if there is more than one table on the same sheet.
Don't leave the first cell blank or fill it with data.
Don't insert blank columns or rows to visually indicate different tables located in the same sheet. A screen reader user might encounter a blank cell and believe it is the end of the data set.
Give Each Sheet a Unique Name
Give each sheet (tab) a unique name that describes exactly what information is contained in the sheet.
Don't forget to change the names of the sheets from their defaults ("Sheet1," "Sheet2," and so on).
Write Meaningful Row and Column Labels
Write specific but concise labels, such as "City Name" or "Person Name."
Define parameters for datasets in labels of columns that include header rows, such as the lowest and highest values, or the rows and columns that define the limits of the dataset.
Don't write labels that are too general, such as "Name."
Follow Core Skills Dos and Don'ts
No matter what technology you use to create your spreadsheet, follow the core skills of accessibility.
Most of the good practices used to create accessible tables apply to spreadsheets as well. Especially remember to use cell styles to format column and/or row headings. If you format each heading row manually, people who use screen readers won’t be able to see the difference.
- In some applications such as Microsoft Excel, you can use cell styles (similar to paragraph styles in word processing applications) to differentiate the header row.
- In other software, such as Google Sheets, you will need to place this information in the A1 worksheet summary (see above.)
Differentiate a header row by changing the font weight or background color of the cells.
Avoid very complex spreadsheets. Both sighted users and those who use screenreaders may have difficulty understanding them.
Keep Your Software Current
The accessibility of some spreadsheet software features have improved in recent versions.
Keep your technology as current as possible, and you can safely:
- Freeze column or row headings in long lists of data to allow users to keep both the heading and the data visible.
- Use formulas in cells.
- Apply filters to control the display of content.
- Use pivot tables to present a cohesive story using data when it makes sense for your data and goals.
- Include notes and comments.
Don't be afraid to use some features that used to be inaccessible.