Accessible PowerPoint Presentations

General Information

This guide has tips that you can use to create an accessible PowerPoint presentations. If you would like a downloadable or printable copy of the guide, please see the 5 Tips for Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations handout. If you would like a quick reference sheet when you are working on your own presentations, please see the Accessibility Checklist for PowerPoint Presentation.

How to Set-up Your Presentation

One of the first things you should do when creating a PowerPoint presentation is add a title, subject, and author to the presentation file itself. By adding these items, it will supply additional information for people using screen readers. This information can be added if you select File, select Info, and select Advanced Properties from the Properties menu on the right side of the screen. When it’s time to save the PowerPoint presentation, make sure to use a meaningful name that will allow people using assistive technology to understand which presentation it is.

As you are building your presentation, each slide should have a unique title that can be used to navigate and have a better understand the information being shared. If you have information that spans two slides, you would want to add “continued” to the title on the second slide so people using a screen reader would know that what’s on the second slide is related to the information on the first one. The transitions between slides should be kept simple with little to no animations.

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Use Built-in Slide Designs and Layouts

There are a lot of slide designs, slide layouts, fonts, and colors to choose from in PowerPoint. When deciding which of these to use, you’ll want to make sure they are easy to read and understand. PowerPoint has some built-in design themes that have a high contrast between the slide text and slide background while others will have a low contrast that make it difficult to read the text.

To find the slide options:

Screenshot of PowerPoint with arrows pointing to the Design tab and the slide themes

  1. Select the Design tab in the PowerPoint tool ribbon.
  2. Select the Themes More menu to expand the theme (slide) design options

When selecting a slide design, make sure you pick one doesn’t have distracting patterns or images in the background that make it difficult to read the text. If you plan on projecting your presentation, you might want to select a slide design that doesn’t have a completely white background because it becomes almost too bright to read the text when it’s displayed on the screen.

Like with the designs, PowerPoint has built-in slide layouts that you can choose from. The layouts have content placeholder areas for a title, lists, images, charts, tables, SmartArt, and multimedia.

Screenshot of PowerPoint with arrows pointing to the Home tab and the slide Layout options. The layout options are highlighted.

It is recommended that you use these layouts instead of inserting your text boxes and images on a slide because the layouts with placeholder content areas already have a reading order determined and will make it easier for people using screen readers to navigate and understand the information presented on each slide. If you need to change the slide layout, use the Layout menu and select the one that would better fit your needs. Note: Most of the slide layouts will have a Bulleted List using the built-in feature, so all you’ll need to do is type your information to create an accessible list.

Even when using built-in layouts, it’s important to check the reading order of the placeholders to make sure everything is in a logical order. To do this

  1. Select the Home tab on the PowerPoint tool ribbon.
  2. Select the Arrange dropdown menu.
  3. Select the Selection Panel option. Note: In the Selection panel, the reading order for the items on the slide is in the reverse order, from the bottom to the top. The title, which is the first thing the screen reading software should read aloud, is at the bottom of the list and the content placeholder on the right side of the slide, which should be read last, is on the top.

How to Select Fonts and Colors

Just like in other Microsoft products, there are a lot of fonts, sizes, and colors to choose from on the Format Text tab of the PowerPoint tool ribbon. When deciding which of these to use, you’ll want make sure they are easy to read and to understand.

Examples of a San Serif font like Arial and a Serif Font like Times New Roman with the end strokes of the Serif font circled

When selecting a font, you should use a san serif font like Calibri, Arial, Verdana, or Tahoma. These fonts have a cleaner, modern look without the small features at the end strokes of the letter. It is recommended that a font size no smaller than 28 – 32 points is used within the presentation.

Screenshot of PowerPoint with arrows pointing to selecting the Design tab, selecting the Varients menu, and the Colors menu. The color combinations are highlighted.Adding colored text in a presentation is acceptable, but it shouldn’t be used as the only emphasis for certain text. For example, it shouldn’t be used to tell someone where information can be found, like “The dates in red are still available”. Someone with a visual impairment or is color blind may not be able to tell that color from another one you may have used on the slide.

If you change the colors for the text and/or background from the default colors, make sure that they have a high contrast ratio. You can use the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker to see if the colors you’ve selected have a high enough contrast to meet the minimum requirements of 4.5:1.

Why is Using Built-in Slide Designs and Layouts Important?

  • Having a simple, easy to read presentation will allow everyone who views it to get the most out of the information you’re supplying.
  • By using the built-in slide designs and layouts, people who use screen readers will be able to understand how the information is laid out and allow for easier navigation within the presentation.
  • People with low vision can see san serif fonts and contrasting colors between the text and background a little easier than a serif font with low contrasting colors.

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Use Alternative Text for Images and Graphs

Alternative (alt) text should be used to describe what is important about an image and graphs that you’ve included so someone with a visual disability will receive similar information that a sighted person would.

Alternative (Alt) Text can be found two ways. The first is if you:

Screenshot of the PowerPoint slide with the different ways of adding Alt text mentioned below highlighted.

  1. Select the Picture Format tab.
  2. Select the Alt Text icon in the Accessibility section.
  3. The Alt Text panel will appear on the right side of the slide, type an alternative text for the image in the text box. If an image is decorative, check the Mark as decorative box.

The second way is:

  1. Right click an image.
  2. Select the Edit Alt Text option. Note: In older versions of PowerPoint, you need to right click on the image, then select the Format Picture option, and the Layout & Properties icon in the right panel.
  3. The Alt Text panel will appear on the right side, type an alternative text for the image in the text box. If an image is decorative, check the Mark as decorative box.

Screenshot of an example of Alternative Text for an image - Colorado sunset with mountains in background

Make sure that you include alt text for all images, diagrams, SmartArt, charts, tables, graphs, and embedded objects in the presentation. Note: In newer versions of PowerPoint, Microsoft will auto generate alt text for you, but it will be generic and may not focus on what was important about it for you to include the image.

If you use audio or video components on your slides, make sure you include captions. It is often better to link to online media resources that have captions already included instead of embedding them in the presentation.

Each alt text should be short, concise, and describes what’s important about the image. If the version of PowerPoint you are using has title and description fields, the Description field is what will be used by the assistive technology to describe the image, not the title. When writing the description, keep in mind:

  • You don’t need to include “image of” or “picture of” in the description, the screen reader software will supply that information automatically to the user.
  • If the image contains text, include that in the alt text exactly as it appears in the image.
  • If it is a complex image that can’t be described a few words, you may want to include that information in the paragraph text near the image instead of as part of the alt text.
  • If a diagram or chart is too complex to describe in a short sentence, it would be best to find another way to display the information, such as a data table.
  • If you change pictures after you have already added an alt text description, you will need to add a new alt text for the new picture.

Why is Using Alt Text for Images and Graphs Important?

  • People who are unable to see the image rely on the alt text to describe what information the image or diagram is supposed to convey to them.
  • Screen readers and text-to-speech tools will read the image alt text information out loud.
  • If meaningful alt text is not included, a person using a screen reader will only hear that it is an image not what it is a picture of.

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Alternative (alt) text should be used to describe where your hyperlinks (links) are taking someone. Alt Text for Hyperlinks can be added two ways, the first is:

Place your cursor in the content placeholder area where you would like the new link to be.

Screenshot of the PowerPoint navigation bar with arrows pointing to the Insert tab and the Link icon is highlighted

  1. Select the Insert tab on the PowerPoint tool ribbon.
  2. Select the Link icon. Note: Newer versions of PowerPoint will give you the option to link a recent document.

When the Insert Hyperlink window opens:

Screenshot of the Insert Hyperlink window with the different steps mentioned in 1 through 3 highlighted

  1. Type the information that tells the person where they’re going in the “Text to display” field. For this example, we’ve typed Weather Reports. Note: Please avoid phrases like “click here” or “more information”, because by themselves they don’t provide enough information for someone using a screen reader. If you need help finding something meaningful, visit the website you’re linking to for the name and use that as part of the display text.
  2. Type or copy and paste the URL into the Address text box. For this example, we’ve used the URL for the Weather Channel website.
  3. Click the OK button.

The second way is to:

Screenshot of an presentation with arrows pointing to right clicking the URL, selecting Edit Hyperlink from the menu, and changing the Text to display in the Insert Hyperlink window, then clicking the OK button

  1. Right click on an existing URL on the presentation slide. For this example, we’ve selected the URL for the Weather Channel website.
  2. Select the Edit Link option.
  3. Change the “Text to display” from the URL to something meaningful. For this example, we’ve typed For more information on Weather Reports. Note: Please avoid phrases like “click here” or just “more information”, because by themselves they don’t provide enough information for someone using a screen reader. If you need help finding something meaningful, visit the website you’re linking to for the name and use that as part of the display text.
  4. Click the OK button to save the changes.

Screenshot with examples of Alternative Text for Hyperlinks

You’ll be returned to the slide and the information you typed into the “Text to display” text box will have replaced the existing URL.

Why is Using Alt Text for Hyperlinks Important?

  • All viewers benefit from alt text for links because it provides the destination and purpose of the link.
  • Screen reading software can pull up all the links on a page to help the person navigate it quickly. Having meaningful links will make it easier to find the one they are looking for. If “click here” is used, it won’t tell the person using a screen reader where the link goes.
  • Screen readers and text-to-speech tools will read the alt text information instead of reading the URL one character at a time or trying to pronounce the letters as words. Hear what a Hyperlink Screen Reader example (video) could sound like to someone using a screen reader if the URL is used instead of an alternative text.

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Create Simple Data Tables Using the Built-in Feature

Simple data tables makes it easier to display the results of one or two variables. By using the built-in feature, PowerPoint will do most of the work for you to make it accessible.

To find the Table tool:

Screenshot of the PowerPoint slide with the different ways of adding a table mentioned below highlighted

The Table tool can be found two ways, on the Insert tab of the PowerPoint tool ribbon and the Table icon is in the content placeholder area.

There are a few things that need to be done after a table has been created to make it accessible. The first is to add a Header Row that describes the columns’ contents. Remember to make sure it will display properly, to do this:

Screenshot of PowerPoint with an arrow pointing to the Table Design tab. Adding a Header Row and Table Styles on the Table Design tool ribbon are highlighted

  1. Select the table to make the Table Design tab visible in the tool ribbon.
  2. In the Table Style Options area, select the Header row check box if it hasn’t already been selected. If the table’s first column describes the rows’ contents, make sure that the First Column box is selected as well.

From the Table Design tab, you can also add Table Styles that will visually identify the Header row as important table information. Note: The Table Design and Layout tabs will appear in the tool ribbon only after the table has been selected.

The second thing is to use the Tab key on your keyboard to move through the table to make sure the tab order of the cells matches how they appear in the table.

Please avoid using tables, nested tables, merged cells, split cells, or blank cells for layout and formatting purposes.

Why is Using the Built-in Data Tables Important?

  • People who use screen readers will be notified when a table is used so they’ll know what is read next is part of a data group.
  • At this time, most screen reader software will not be able to identify table headers in PowerPoint, but it’s important to make your presentations accessible because technology improves each day and the next version of PowerPoint may have this ability.
  • If the PowerPoint presentation is saved as an accessible PDF, the table headers will be available for people using screen readers.

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Use the Check Accessibility Feature

You can find the Check Accessibility option in two places, the first is:

Select File in the upper left corner of PowerPoint.

Screenshot of the File area with arrows pointing to the Info section then selecting the Check for Issues menu and the Check Accessibility option

  1. Select Info.
  2. Select Check for Issues dropdown menu button.
  3. Select the Check Accessibility option.

The second is:

Screenshot of Review tab with an arrow pointing to the Check Accessibility icon

  1. Select the Review tab of the PowerPoint tool ribbon.
  2. Select the Check Accessibility icon.

Use the Check Accessibility feature to find and fix any accessibility issues within the presentation. Note: If the Check Accessibility features aren’t available or working correctly, you might be working on presentation that was created using an older version of PowerPoint, you may need to convert it to the latest version and then the Check Accessibility features would work for you.

There are three types of Check Accessibility results – Errors, Warnings, and Tips:

Screenshot of the Accessibility Checker results with Errors, Warnings, and Additional information highlighted

  • Errors are problem areas that make the presentation very difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use and should be fixed right away. Errors can include things like finding missing alternative text.
  • Warnings are suggested areas for improvements to the presentation, that by not fixing them it may cause problems for people with disabilities to use. Warnings can include things like having merged or split cells in a table.
  • Tips are recommendations on how to better organize the presentation. Tips can include reminders to check the reading order on a specific slide.

After the results of the Accessibility Check have been returned, if you click on the issue, it will take you to the problem area. The Additional Information section at the bottom of the Accessibility panel will show why it should be fixed and the steps to do it. Once the problem has been fixed, it will be removed from the results list.

Why is Using the Accessibility Check Important?

  • You’ll know that everyone who reviews your presentations will be able to get the most out of the information you’re supplying.
  • If you’re new to making presentations accessible, the Accessibility Checker will help you fix any problems you might not know are there.
  • Using the Accessibility Check feature is an easy way to make sure all your PowerPoint presentations meet the accessibility standards.

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Additional Information and Resources

PowerPoint presentations work well for face-to-face sessions but sometimes not as well on websites and in D2L courses. There are several reasons why saving the presentation as an accessible PDF is the best option:

  • People who view presentation online would need to have PowerPoint or a PowerPoint viewer on the computer or mobile device they view it on.
  • If the presentation has a lot of slides or images, the file size would be large which might cause downloading and/or storage issues for the viewer.
  • The accessibility features you added to the presentation will still be available in the accessible PDF, including table headers that people using screen readers might not be able to access in PowerPoint. Just make sure that the “Document structure tags for accessibility” has been selected in the PDF options area.
  • By saving the presentation as a PDF, it makes it harder for someone else to change the information on the slides as well.

This was created using tips from the WebAIM PowerPoint Presentation Accessibility webpage, the Minnesota IT Services Office of Accessibility guides, and the Lake Superior College ROAD to Accessibility course. If you are interested in taking the ROAD course, please contact your direct supervisor to ask about taking it as a staff development activity.

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