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Accessible Hyperlinks (MS Word)

Background and Purpose

For hyperlinks to be accessible by assistive technology, the following considerations need to be made:

  • Hyperlinked text should either be:  Sufficiently descriptive so that users can easily identify, before selecting the link, the location to which the link is targeted, OR, the link’s target should be easily determinable when taken in context with the surrounding content of the document.  Generic phrases such as “click here” should be avoided.
  • Links should have sufficiently descriptive alternative text so that the user knows where the link will take them when the link is “activated.”   (“Activation” of  a link can be accomplished by means such as clicking on it with the mouse or with keyboard navigation.)
  • The hyperlink address (in MS Word) must be entered correctly so that the link takes the user to the correct target.  Two elements must be considered here.  First, does the link take the user to a destination (the link is not “broken”) and, second, does the link take the user to the intended destination?
  • Hyperlinks in a document need to be tagged correctly in the PDF so that assistive technology devices are able to navigate to the link target.

What We Do

Note: This may encompass one or more checkpoints depending on the standard that the document is being run against.

  • Link Alternative Text:  CommonLook Office lists the links in the document and asks the user to verify and/or correct the textual description of each link.  By default, the text that has been hyperlinked in the Word document will be set as the “Textual Description” (alternative text).  If needed, edit the alternative text.
  • Link Context:  The question being asked with this checkpoint is, “Can you tell by reading just the hyperlinked text where the link will take you?”  If the words “Click Here,” or a long URL full of partial words, numbers, underscores, etc., is what’s been hyperlinked then the answer to the question is most likely, “No.”  Change the hyperlinked text so that people can easily tell where a link will take them.
    Tip:  If you want to include the URL, don’t hyperlink it but link “better” (more descriptive) text instead.  That way people using screen readers will be able to hear the good text and follow the link.  You could even go one step further and “artifact” the URL in the PDF so that a screen reader won’t read it at all.
  • CommonLook Office will test the links to make sure that they are not “broken” (that they take the user to a destination).  Note:  CommonLook Office will not verify that the link target is the correct destination.  This must be done by the user.
  • When the PDF is generated, all hyperlinks will be tagged correctly.
  • CommonLook Office will automatically set the tabbing order in the document to follow the document structure.

Screen shot of the CommonLook Office panel for adding or editing Alternative Text to links.

A note regarding Annotation Types (PDF/UA):  CommonLook Office only creates widget (form) annotations and link annotations.  This checkpoint is otherwise not applicable in CommonLook Office.

Guidelines and Standards

This checkpoint is relevant to the following regulations, guidelines and standards:

DocumentPublishedScopeConformance Criteria
Section 508 – 2001 Regulations (USA)2001“Web-Based Information & Applications”Not Specified
W3C WCAG 2.0
(REVISED SECTION 508 – 2017)
2008Web ContentSC 2.4.4
Health and Human Services – HHS (USA)2013PDF File 508 ChecklistID 1.8 – 1.11
ISO 14289 (PDF/UA)2012PDF TechnologySection 7.18.2
Section 7.18.5
Section 7.18.3