Veronica With Four Eyes

How To Create Accessible Assignments With Microsoft Office Sway

I’ve been creating accessible assignments with Microsoft Office Sway as both an instructor and as a student for years, and often get questions from others about how I organize various types of content. Every Sway I have ever created for undergraduate and graduate assignments has earned a 100%, and students appreciate having all of the information they need to complete an assignment organized in one place so that they can write out answers in another document or use a Forms program to submit answers right from their web browser. Here are my tips on how to create accessible assignments and hyperdocs with Microsoft Office Sway that can be used for teachers sharing assignments, as well as students for completing assignments and projects.

What is Microsoft Office Sway?

Microsoft Office Sway is a free web app that allows users to create their own simple one-page websites and presentations with text, images, widgets, file attachments, and more. It’s a great substitute for PowerPoint or handouts, and it’s by far my favorite Microsoft Office application. Users will need a Microsoft account to create and edit Sways, but the Sway itself can be accessed from any device with or without a Microsoft account.

As of 2020, premium features for Sway are now included in Microsoft 365/Office 365 subscriptions so that users can add even more content to their documents (more information is linked below). There is also a free version of Sway that provides close to full functionality for most casual users.

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Why I use Microsoft Office Sway for creating accessible assignments

What makes assignments created in Microsoft Office Sway more accessible than assignments created in other programs? Here are a few unique features that come to mind:

  • Sway can be accessed on any internet-enabled device, which includes tablets, phones, computers, and similar. Sways can be scaled to a variety of device sizes without text or other information being cut off or running off the page.
  • Accessibility View is available for all Sway pages and makes content easier to navigate with a screen reader or screen magnification tool.
  • Since Sway is a web application, documents can be read or edited in any web browser without any additional downloads
  • Users do not have to have a Microsoft account to view a Sway document
  • Sway offers additional features that aren’t available in traditional word processing applications, such as the ability to add multimedia content
  • The Sway editing interface is simple and automatically aligns and formats content with readability in mind

To learn more about how I use Microsoft Office Sway with assistive technology, read my post on the topic linked below.

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Step 1: Gather content

Whether I am converting an existing assignment to be displayed in Microsoft Office Sway or authoring something from scratch, the first thing I do when creating accessible assignments is gather content and figure out what types of content I’ll be including in the finished document.

For my most recent assignment, I included the following content categories:

  • Headings
  • Body text
  • Photos
  • Hyperlinks (to be included with body text)
  • External file

Other categories I’ve included in the past for various assignments include:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Embedded content
  • Graphs and charts
  • Other plug-ins

Each content is added to the Sway document in the form of a Card. One section can have multiple types of cards, such as a heading card, body text card, image card, audio card, etc.

Step 2: Create structure with headings and text boxes

One of the foundations of an accessible assignment is proper heading structure, and Microsoft Office Sway makes this easy for users. Users can insert a heading by selecting the Insert Content/Plus icon and selecting the “Text” option.

Here is how I recommend using each of the headings:


I use the Title heading to type out the name of the assignment that is being displayed. Instead of using a generic title like “homework” or “math assignment”, I prefer to use more descriptive titles such as:

  • The assignment number and date, i.e “Assignment 4.3: Week of 4/3/21”
  • A brief description of the information covered, i.e “Two-Step Equation Practice”
  • Course number and assignment name, i.e “CDS 203: Extension Model”
  • Title of the project, i.e “Environmental Function Needs Review”


Heading 1 is used to label sections of a page and lets users know where to find certain types of content. For example, I can use Heading 1 to label locations for:

  • Word banks
  • Questions
  • Formula sheets
  • Section titles

There are a few different options for writing out questions with the Heading 1 format. Some examples of how I do it include:

  • For short questions, I will write the question number and the text of the question. For example, “1- What does the fox say?”
  • For longer questions that would require a lot of reading, I will write the question number only, and write the rest of the question as a Heading 2 for improved page navigation. In the above example, I would only write “Question 1” as a Heading 1, and write “What does the fox say?’ as Heading 2
  • If I am converting an assignment to Microsoft Office Sway that had a section labeled “Questions”, I would write “Questions” with a Heading 1 label, and add the questions listed in the section in the Heading 2 format.

For word banks and formula sheets, I will create a label with Heading 1 that says “word bank” or another section header, and then write out the content as body text underneath the heading.


When I write out questions, I will include the question number in the Heading 1 style, and then write out the question in the Heading 2 style. This is easier to navigate with a screen reader and allows me to quickly find question numbers.

Heading 2 can also be used to further divide information into sections, or label locations of other types of content. For example, when I was authoring an assignment for one of my programming classes, I used Heading 2 to create labels for background information, figures, and code snippets.


For text that isn’t a heading, body text can be used to write out all other information, such as items in a word bank, paragraphs, instructions, or answers to questions. For my most recent assignment, I used Heading 1 to label different disorders we were writing about, and used body text to type out definitions and other relevant text.

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Step 3: Add descriptive hyperlinks

Sway makes it easy to add hyperlinks to other websites or content that can be opened in a new browser tab, though it’s important that these links are descriptive and tell the user what they will be accessing. Labels like “link here”, “click here”, “here”, or “1” are not particularly helpful, especially for screen reader users.

Examples of more descriptive hyperlinks include:

  • Link to project code on GitHub
  • Khan Academy resources: Solving Equations and Inequalities
  • Read Diary of a Worm on TumbleBooks
  • Bird video on Described and Captioned Media Program
  • Open Desmos Calculator

To add a link to Microsoft Office Sway, select the Link option in the Text card by either highlighting text or placing the text cursor at the desired link location. From there, add a descriptive link title in the Link Text box, and paste the link into the Web Link box. Select OK to insert the link into the document.

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Step 4: Add images and alt text

Microsoft Office Sway makes it easy to insert images without altering the format of text, a known frustration when authoring with Microsoft Word. Instead of inserting an image into a text box, users add images by adding a separate image card above or below the text card.

To add an image in Microsoft Office Sway:

  1. Select the Insert Content/Plus icon at the bottom of a card
  2. Select the “Media” tab
  3. Select the “Image” option
  4. Select the source for an image from the drop-down menu- users can search the web, upload from OneDrive, or upload from their device

To make images accessible to screen reader users, users will need to add alternative text, also known as alt text, which is a text-based description of an image that is recognized by a screen reader. Alternatively, users can make alt text visible to everyone by adding a descriptive caption (also known as an image description).

To add alt text and/or image captions in Microsoft Office Sway:

  1. On the image card, select the “Details” button
  2. Select either the caption or alternative text section
  3. Type a description in the text box of the image that describes any important visual details
  4. Select the “Image” button in the top left corner to save and close the Details menu

Users can insert a variety of images, including photos, diagrams, graphs, charts, and more. To learn more about writing alt text and image descriptions, check out my post on more in-depth topics below.

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Step 5: Add audio recordings (optional)

When I shadowed an elementary school teacher, they asked if we could add audio recordings to a Sway assignment so that students could listen to questions read out loud by their teacher. On other assignments I’ve created, I’ve included audio recordings for narration or adding other content such as music or podcast files.

To add audio recordings to Microsoft Office Sway:

  1. Select the Insert Content/Plus icon at the bottom of a card
  2. Select the Media tab
  3. Select Audio
  4. To add an existing audio file that is already downloaded to the device, select Add an Audio File to open the file explorer
  5. To record new audio, select the Record button

Within the Audio card, users can add additional text such as captions and/or hyperlinks.

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Step 6: Add video content (optional)

Another teacher I shadowed wanted to add videos for students to watch before answering questions, and I’ve also used videos when creating my own assignments in the form of screen recordings.

To add videos to Microsoft Office Sway:

  1. Select the Insert Content/Plus icon at the bottom of a card
  2. Select the Media tab
  3. Select Video
  4. Select a video source from the drop-down menu in the upper left corner. Videos can be uploaded from a device, embedded from YouTube, or shared from other sources

Just like with the Audio card, users can add additional text such as captions and/or hyperlinks.

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Step 7: Add embedded content and/or external files (optional)

Want to attach a PDF? Link to a Google Forms or Microsoft Forms page? Share any other embedded content? Sway has lots of options for sharing external content, and one of the teachers I have worked with would include questions for students to answer and submit with Forms embedded directly into their Sway.

To add embedded content or external files:

  1. Select the Insert Content/Plus icon at the bottom of a card
  2. Select the Media tab
  3. To embed web content, select Embed and paste the Embed code, which should be visible in the third-party application
  4. To add an external file, select Upload and select the content in File Explorer

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Step 8: Edit the design and share the finished Sway

Once all of the Sway content has been added, it’s time to finalize the design and share it! I like to wait until all my content has been added so that I can easily visualize how the different design elements will look with my content. Users can also run the Accessibility Checker to ensure that the document is usable with assistive technologies such as a screen reader, and correct any issues that may come up such as missing alt text.

After everything is finished, select the Share button to generate a link for the Sway that can be copy/pasted into any application. Anyone with the link can access the Sway and view it by default, but cannot edit it. Sway documents are not otherwise public and do not show up in search engines, though for further security authors can require a password for viewing or editing.

Once a link is shared, authors can still edit the Sway as necessary, and the link will not change unless they reset the settings.

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More tips for using Microsoft Office Sway

  • Want to learn more about how I use Sway for educational materials? Read Creating Take-Away Documents With Microsoft Office Sway
  • In addition to being shared as webpages, Sway documents can also be exported as Word or PDF documents with the Export option, though this will not export embedded content or audio/video
  • Users can select the Save as Template option in the Options menu to save their document as a template for future documents, which can be helpful for creating multiple assignments.

How I create accessible assignments as an instructor and as a student with the free Microsoft Office Sway web application