Tables are useful for presenting data or information which are needed to be presented in rows and columns
HTML tables were invented for a reason, which is to display tabular data. As long as you use tables for tabular data only, and never nest a table inside another table, you’re using them correctly and as intended.
- You should never use a table for layout or positioning content.
- Tables should be used for presenting data or information.
- Do not centre text in a table, this could cause accessibility issues as centred text is harder to read. The text should always be left justified
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
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)
A quick tip
To avoid frustration there are some things to avoid when creating tables in your document.
Avoid merging columns, e.g. this is a common example where the whole top row is merged.
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.
Avoid splitting cells or adding extra cells within cells.
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.