Create Accessible Slides in PowerPoint

Posted August 25th, 2021 at 4:17 pm.

Microsoft PowerPoint creates slide show presentations that convey information with a combination of text, images, charts, and tables. Although slide shows are designed to be highly visual, following these accessibility guidelines will ensure that everyone, including those who use use assistive technologies such as screen readers and text-to-Braille devices, can experience and understand the content of your slides.

  1. Choose an Accessible Theme
  2. Use Built-in Slide Layouts
  3. Use Unique Slide Titles
  4. Use Meaningful Hyperlink Text
  5. Use Tables Wisely
  6. Add Alt Text for Images and Charts
  7. Use the Accessibility Checker

For more in-depth information, see Microsoft’s documentation on making PowerPoint presentations accessible.

Note: If you create a PDF copy of your slides to share, use File > Save as Adobe PDF (instead of printing to PDF) to ensure accessibility features are included. Mac users need Office 2016 or 2019 and must select the radio button Best for electronic distribution and accessibility when saving. If you have an older Mac version of Office, open the document in PowerPoint online (part of Office 365) to save it as a PDF.

1. Choose an Accessible Theme

Themes and templates can add visual interest to a presentation. Microsoft’s accessible templates use accessible color settings, contrast, and fonts and have been designed so that screen readers can more easily read the slide content

  1. Click File, then New.
  2.  In the Search for online templates and themes box, type the word “accessible” and press Enter.
  3. Select your template from the results.


2. Use Built-in Slide Layouts

The content placeholders in these built-in layouts contain invisible “tags” or labels such as “Title 1”, “Subtitle 2,” etc. that assistive technologies can use to contextualize content for readers. 

  • Click New Slide and choose a the most appropriate slide layout from the drop-down menu (e.g., Title Slide, Title and Content, etc.). Then add the appropriate content to each placeholder container.  


3. Use Unique Slide Titles

  • Use a unique, descriptive title for each slide. Individuals who use assistive technologies use slide titles to identify and locate slides.
  • If information is spread across multiple slides, add sequence markers to keep titles unique — e.g,, Agenda (1 of 2), Agenda (2 of 2).

4. Use Meaningful Hyperlink Text

Make sure any URLs you add to the document are working hyperlinks with unique “display text” labels that describe the link’s destination.

  • Assistive technologies typically read or present this display text when a link is selected, so it needs to be meaningful without the surrounding text. For example, if all of the hyperlinks in your document use “click here” as the display text, an assistive technology user won’t be able to distinguish between them.
  • Before using a URL as display text, consider a reader’s experience when hearing it read aloud. A short, meaningful URL like brynmawr.edu/LITS might be acceptable as display text, but URLs that are long or contain non-human-readable text — such as https://moodle.brynmawr.edu/course/view.php?id=642 or https://bit.ly/3kSnVB7 — are not.

To insert hyperlinks:

  1. Type the text you want to make a link.
  2. Select that text, then right-click (or control-click) on your selection and choose Link.
  3. The text you selected will be in the Text to Display box; this will appear (and be read) as the link to click on.
  4. Enter the URL that the link should point to in the Address box.
  5. If it is difficult to succinctly describe a link’s destination, you can optionally click ScreenTip and to add information that will pop-up or be read when the cursor hovers over a link.
  6. Click OK.

4. Use Tables Wisely

Some information may be easier for viewers to scan or understand if it is organized in rows and columns. To ensure your tables are accessible for individuals using assistive technologies:

  • Tag the first row of each column as column headers, by positioning you cursor inside the table, clicking Table Design and checking Header Row under Table Style Options. If you don’t like the way the header row is formatted, adjust the formatting settings manually.
  • Keep tables simple. Assistive technologies use headers and cell numbers to identify tabular text and have difficulty representing complex tables with merged or split cells.
  • Avoid blank cells. Use the appropriate null value (0, n/a, etc.) instead.
DON’T use tables for layout — that is, to align and group slide elements. Use Powerpoint’s tools for aligning and arranging objects instead.

6. Add Alt Text to Images and Charts

Alt text (alternative text) describes important images and visual elements on a slide for readers who cannot see them.

  1. Open the Alt Text panel:
    • Select an image, chart or other visual element and choose Alt Text on from its Format ribbon (e.g., Picture Format, Chart Format, etc.) OR 
    • Right-click (control-click) on the visual element and choose Edit Alt Text … from the contextual menu.
  2. Add a short description or check the Mark as decorative if a screen reader or other assistive technology can ignore the image.
  3. Select another image or close the pane.

Tips:

  • Only describe images or visual elements that convey important information. If you can remove the image without changing the viewer’s understanding of the slide content, then it is “decorative” from an accessibility standpoint.
  • Don’t repeat information about the image that is already presented in the surrounding text. Alt text is only necessary if the surrounding text doesn’t describe an image sufficiently; if it does, you can mark the image as decorative.
  • Be concise.

7. Use the Accessibility Checker

  1. Click Review in the top menu bar and choose Check Accessibility. Microsoft will display the results in the Accessibility pane on the right side of the screen.
  2. Click on each Error, Warning or Tip to see:
    • A list of all objects with this issue in your document.
    • More information about the issue and how to fix it.
  3. Click one of the objects in the list; Powerpoint will jump to the slide where it appears and highlight it.
  4. The text beneath the list explains how to fix the issue; in many cases, you can click the down arrow at the end item label in the list for shortcuts to the Recommended Actions.

Filed under: Accessibility,PowerPoint by Ziqi He

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