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6 - Table Structure

Formatting tables

Tables are great for organising data and information, but when they’re read by a screen reader, they can be confusing. Tables must never be used to improve the layout of your page and should be used sparingly.

If you are using tables for data or statistics then there are some things you can do in to make them more navigable and accessible:

  1. Use clear and designated column headings.
    Just like you use Style headings throughout your text, use column headers to make your tables consistent and easy to navigate. Make sure that under “Table Options”, you select “Header Row” so that screen readers will identify the top row as column headings.
  2. Make tables as simple and logical as possible.
    If possible, avoid having merged or split cells only in certain columns or rows, because this will be confusing when the content is read aloud. Stick to a standard, evenly laid out format.
  3. Try to make your tables read logically from left to right and top to bottom.
    To get a better idea of how a screen reader will navigate your table, use the tab key on your keyboard to check the order that the cursor goes through your columns and rows.
  4. Add a table summary (alt text)
    To aid people with visual or cognitive impairments you should add an alt text entry for your tables.
    • To add alt text, Select the whole table by clicking the select icon (cross), right click and select Table Properties. In Excel select Table.
    • Click Alt Text
    • Add a title, this could be something like ‘Town Centre Car Parks’
    • Add the description. For example: ‘This table shows all the car parks available in Tunbridge Wells town centre and the available parking options’.

How to apply the correct style to a table

    1. Select the whole table by clicking the select icon (cross) in the top left corner of the table. In Excel you will need to select all the cells that contain the table content.
    2. In Word or PowerPoint, click on the Design tab under Table Tools on the top menu ribbon. In Excel select Format as a Table on the Home tab.
    3. Select one of the table designs. In Excel you should make sure the 'My table has headers' box is ticked when prompted.
    4. Make sure that the Header Row is ticked. First Column should also be ticked if your first column contains headings rather than data.

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