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SCULPT Tables - structure of tables for accessibility

What is an accessible table?

Tables really should be used for data and not used to facilitate page or document layouts. 

When using tables to present data or information make sure you use a simple table structure with column headers, making sure that the tables don't contain split cells, merged cells, or nested tables (tables within tables).

The Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker (opens in a new window) will list any accessibility issues in your document, including tables.

You can also visually scan your tables to check that they don't have any completely blank rows or columns.

Why do it?

  • Badly created tables can cause difficulties for screen readers or for those tabbing through information on a web page or a document
  • If a table is nested (built within another table) or if a cell is merged or split, the screen reader can’t provide helpful information
  • Blank cells in a table could also mislead a screen reader into thinking that there is nothing more in the table
  • Screen readers use column header information to identify rows and columns

Just imagine

If you could only use the arrow keys on your keyboard to tab through the table, could you logically tab up, down and left to right to get to every single cell logically and easily? If not, its not accessible.

How to do it

Here are some instructions to be able to use column headers in tables (opens in a new window).

Instructional Video: Creating accessible tables in Word

The transcript for this video is available from Microsoft Office create accessible tables (opens in a new window)

quick tip


A quick tip

To avoid frustration there are some things to avoid when creating tables in your document.


image of merged columns


Avoid merging columns, e.g. this is a common example where the whole top row is merged.

image of merged rows


Avoid merging rows, this is often found in the first or last column. If you need to do this you can hide the borders (opens in a new window) instead of merging the cells.

image of split cells


Avoid splitting cells or adding extra cells within cells.

image of a table in a table


Avoid putting tables within tables.

Best practice tables

Make sure you have a table header row and keep table layouts as simple as possible without any merged or split cells. 

best practice table with header row and no split or merged cells


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