Images in Word

Provide alternative text for each photo, illustration, chart, graph, infographic, etc. Or make the image silent.

Why Alternative Text for Images Matters

A screen reader can’t interpret an image. It can tell you it has encountered an image, but can’t tell you what’s in the picture. So you must add your own description that a screen reader will speak when it encounters that image. That description is called “alternative text,” or “alt text” for short.

Simple Images with Essential Information

If an image adds important information to a document, include text that conveys as close to the same message as possible. If a short sentence or two will get the point across, you can invisibly embed alternative text in the document.

Add Alternative Text

Important: The following will only work if the image’s position is set to “Inline with Text.” (See below for how to handle images not inline.)

Newer Versions of Word

Some newer versions of Word have different way of adding alt text.

  1. Right click (Macs: control click) on an image in your document.
  2. From the pop-up menu, choose “Edit Alt Text.”
  3. In the “Alt Text” panel that appears, Word may have already filled in a computer-generated description of the image. (On Windows computers, you may have to click a button to have it generate a description for you.)

        

  4. As with the suffragette portrait above, you will want to rewrite the description to make it accurately reflect what you intend to convey.
  5. Some versions of Word now have a box to check to “Mark as decorative,” which is for images whose alt text wouldn’t add anything to the document’s meaning. Checking the box is a way to silence the image for screen readers.

Older Versions of Word

  1. Right click (Macs: control click) on an image in your document.
  2. From the pop-up menu, choose “Format Picture.”
  3. In the “Format Picture” panel that appears, click the icon that says “Layout and Properties” when you hover over it.
  4. Click “Alt Text” and describe the image succinctly in the “Description” box.

Microsoft has changed the route to alt text in Word several times over the years. If you’re having trouble finding it, you may want to check out Microsoft’s alternative text support page. Older versions of Word are address near the bottom of the page. 

Complex Images

If you need more than about 120 characters to provide an adequate alternative, then also include a longer description in the document’s visible text. Charts and graphs often need longer descriptions.

Decorative Images: Older Versions of Word

If you have an older version of Word, it may not have a way to silence a decorative image. Recommendations for how to handle decorative images in older versions of Word vary:

  • Leave the image alone.
  • Place two quotation marks in the Description field, which Microsoft recommends.
  • Put a blank space in the Description field.
  • Set the image position to something other than inline.

If you leave the description field blank or add a space, you may not succeed in silencing the image. The NVDA screen reader, for example, will say “graphic” in either case. Changing the position to something other than inline may be more effective:

  1. Right click the image and choose “Size and Position.”
  2. On the Size and Position window, click the “Text Wrapping” tab.
  3. Select any wrapping style except “Inline with text.”
  4. Click “OK.”

Unfortunately, if you use the accessibility checker built into Word, it may still say that the image needs alt text, even though you’ve applied one of the workarounds for older versions of Word. You’ll have to ignore the checker’s warning for that image.

Video on Adding Alternative Text in Word

The following video from the Microsoft demonstrates how to use alternative text for images in Word.

Further Reading

For more on writing alternative text, in-depth descriptions for complex images, and accessible math, see

These directions are for Office 2016. Other versions of Microsoft Office may work slightly differently.