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Impact: Low
Effort: High

We encounter table data every day in newspapers, journal articles, reports, and on the web. Canvas uses tables to display student grades in the Grade Center. When we create our own tables, we use them to organize and simplify complex information, thus enabling readers to view large volumes of data in a more economic format.

Unfortunately, screen readers cannot take advantage of this type of presentation. Screen readers pronounce words and numbers in a linear format, one item at a time. To read table data, the screen reader proceeds from left to right, moving down from one row to another. Without appropriate metadata and tagging, the relationship among items in a column or row may be lost. Whether you are displaying table data in a document or on a web page, it is a good idea to also provide a descriptive text summary of the key information shown in the table.


At the time we rated our accessibility activities, most of the faculty-created materials we received did not include tables. For materials that did include tables, we recommended adding an accompanying summary of the information presented in the table. Because this approach was feasible in the majority of cases, we rated this as a low impact activity.

We rated this activity as high effort, however, because it can be time-consuming work, sometimes requiring a redesign of the table structure.


Problems with tables can be the result of inappropriate tagging as well as poor design. The table shown in Example 1 uses a structure in which two rows of data in one column correspond to only one row of data in other columns.

Student Draft Due Date Presentation Date
Mary September 30 October 15
Tom October 15 October 30
Susan October 30 November 15

Example 1

The table in Example 2 eliminates this problem by maintaining a one-to-one relationship among all rows.

Student Draft Due Date Presentation Date
Mary September 30 October 15
Valerie September 30 October 15
Tom October 15 October 30
Dominic October 15 October 30
Susan October 30 November 15
Chris October 30 November 15

Example 2

More Information

  • Read the WebAIM pages on Creating Accessible Tables to understand how screen readers read table data and to learn some of the important HTML tags to use when creating web-based tables.
  • You can find additional information on Creating Accessible Word Documents on the Microsoft Help pages.
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro is the preferred tool for editing PDF files. The versions of the software change regularly, so the instructions for making accessible PDFs that work for one version may not work for another. The Acrobat Help pages to Create and Verify PDF Accessibility apply to Pitt’s supported version as of Fall 2015 – Acrobat Pro DC.
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