Accessible Tables & Charts

Groups gathers in Holloway Commons

Tables and charts are used frequently when creating materials and communicating information. However, tables and charts can present a wide range of potential accessibility barriers. Tables and charts are often intended to be a visual means of displaying information. While this visual means of organization can be helpful for some, it can also present a big barrier to individuals who access content in non-visual ways. Tables and charts can still be used to display data, but when doing so it is important to create the tables in the most accessible way possible.   

Importantly, tables and charts should not be used for document formatting. Sometimes in designing a document, rather than changing the page layout, the designer will simply create a table (often deleting the boundaries of the table to avoid a visual cue) and add the content into the table. This may visually look like there are multiple columns, but this makes the content very difficult to navigate. Additionally, this will make potential remediation later much more challenging. It is best to just avoid tables and charts for formatting.  

Tips for Creating Accessible Tables and Charts 

  • Keep tables and charts simple – It can be tempting to include all relevant data within a single table. This, however, can result in a complicated table that can be difficult to navigate. Instead, it is best to ensure tables are simple and only include essential information.  
  • Do not merge or split cells – Merging and splitting cells can make navigating a table challenging. It will also make remediating a table later even more of a challenge. Instead, ensure that columns and rows stay intact.  
  • Include Alt-text to describe content AND structure – When you create a table you will have the option to include alt-text. Alt-text should be included and importantly it should include information about the content and the structure.  
  • Designate a header row – When creating a table, it is important to designate a header row. This ensures that the top row is appropriately labeled.  
  • Include column headings – Column headings help ensure that the information in each column can be easily referenced. Heading should be included for each column.  
  • Repeat column headings on each page – Once there are column headings, these headings should be repeated on each page. Long tables that may split over multiple pages can be difficult to navigate without repeating the column headings. For long tables that break over multiple pages, you may want to consider if the content can be represented using simpler tables.  
  • As needed, provide written descriptions of the table content – Providing multiple representations of content can be a great way to help ensure tables are more accessible.  Using multiple representations of content does not mean that you can create tables that do not meet accessibility best practices, but it does provide additional context and meaning to those who might need it.  
  • Consider breaking complex tables into multiple tables – If there is a lot of information that needs to be shared, consider breaking up large tables into smaller ones. This could include reporting data around a single focus.  
  • Avoid using tables for layout – As previously mentioned, tables should not be used for layout. If there needs to be a layout change, this should be done by altering the page structure or using an accessible template.