Ten Ways to Create a More Accessible Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation

Add a Document Title

  1. Open File Tab
  2. Select "Info" at left
  3. Find "Properties" section
  4. Enter title into the Title field

PowerPoint 2019 Home tab, Info section, Title field in Properties group.

Use Slide Layouts

Use existing Layouts to change the content layout or placeholders. Several are available by default. You can add or edit a Layout from Slide Master View.

  1. Select slide thumbnail
  2. Right click or Shift+F10
  3. Choose "Layout" menu item
  4. Select desired slide Layout
Context menu with Layout option shown. Keyboard shortcut in menu is "L".

When you add a new slide using the New Slide button in the Slides group on the Insert tab, you can select a Layout for that new slide. The possible Layouts will appear as options that you select before the new slide is ready to edit.

Check or Set Reading Order

When you use a Slide Layout from an accessible Theme, the reading order should already be set properly. However, if you add new content to a slide, the new content could be read out of order to a screen reader. This will break the intended interaction between the screen reader user and your slide.

There are two ways to verify and adjust the reading order. The Reading Order Pane is the newest and easiest way, but it might not be available in your version of PowerPoint. If you don't have access to the Reading Order Pane, then use the Selection Pane instead.

The Reading Order Pane

  1. Go to the Review tab
  2. Open the Check Accessibility dropdown menu
  3. Select Reading Order Pane

The Reading Order Pane displays each element on your slide in a list from top to bottom. The order of these elements corresponds to the reading order that assistive technology, like screen readers, will read your content to users.

For example, in this screenshot a screen reader would read the content in Title 1 first, then the first Content Placeholder 5, and so on down the list.

Note: It is OK for items to have the same name on this list. The important thing is that they are all in the right order.

If a placeholder is out of order then you can move it in one of two ways. Either drag and drop it into the right place in the list, or select the item then use the Move Up and Move Down buttons to move the item one place at a time.

Sometimes you will want to hide an item on the list from assistive technology because it is purely decorative. The Reading Order Pane makes this easy. Just uncheck the checkbox next to the item and it will be skipped by screen readers. The numbers of the list will update to show that item is being skipped.

A screenshot of the Reading Order pane. Six items are displayed in a vertical list with checkboxes next to each item.

The Selection Pane

  1. Go to the Home tab
  2. Open the Arrange dropdown menu
  3. Choose Selection Pane

Just like the Reading Order Pane, the Selection Pane shows placeholders for the content on the slide. However, it shows them in the opposite order from the Reading Order Pane, bottom-up!

This screenshot shows the same items as the previous screenshot, they're just in the reverse order. It can be a little confusing to think of the items in the reverse order, so think of it like a stack of pancakes. The first pancake you make goes on the bottom of the stack, then then next one on top of that one, and so on.

You can move items around the same ways as in the Reading Order Pane. Either drag and drop an item into the right order, or select the item then use the Move Up and Move Down buttons to move it one place at a time.

Unfortunately, the Selection Pane does not include an easy way to mark items as decorative like the Reading Order Pane does. However, it does give you the option to hide items visually, which can be useful sometimes. Simply "close the eye" next to the item you want to hide and it will disappear from sight.

A screenshot of the Selection Pane. Six items are shown in a vertical list. The items are in the reversed order from the items in the Reading Order Pane.

Use Unique Slide Titles on Every Slide

Each slide in your slide deck should have a unique slide title, even if the title of the slide will not be visible during your presentation.

Hide Slide Titles Correctly

There are times when a slide title is not visible on a slide. Some slides will only have an image on them. Others may just have one or two points that the presenter wants to emphasize.

It is important for each slide to have a slide title, though. Slide titles are still on the Outline view. If you delete the slide title placeholder or leave it blank then you remove this important piece of content completely.

To hide a slide title, open the Selection Pane:

  1. Select Home tab
  2. Go to Drawing Group
  3. Select "Arrange" drop-down
  4. Choose "Selection Pane"

To the right of each content placeholder is an icon that looks like an eye. This will toggle and make the content invisible or visible. To hide your slide title, just click on or use the Enter key on the eye icon. To make it visible, use mouse click or Enter to toggle the visibility back on.

Selection Pane with Title 1 placeholder hidden. Eye icon looks like a closed eye.

Add Alternative Text to Meaningful Images and Figures

Alternative Text conveys the intended meaning of an image or figure.

In Office 2019/365:

  1. Select the image
  2. Right click or Shift+F10
  3. Select "Edit Alt Text"

PowerPoint context menu, Edit Alt Text option highlighted.

Or open the alt text menu by selecting the Alt Text button in the Format Picture tab in the Ribbon.

Word 2019 Format tab as it appears when image selected. Button in Ribbon labeled "Alt Text" in "Accessibility" Group.

Type alternative text into the Alt Text Field. Note that you can check the box labeled "Mark as decorative" in the 2019 version. Unfortunately, this is not backward compatible.

There is also a button labeled "Generate a description for me". And you can set Office up to do this automatically. If you do, then always verify that the description that Office creates is valid and meaningful. In general it is best to write the alternative text yourself.

Alt Text field containing alt of "12 colored pencils, each a different color."

In Office 2013 and 2016:

  1. Select the image
  2. Right click or Shift+F10
  3. In Format Picture menu select Layout & Properties (the square with a line above and to the side of it)
  4. Expand the Alt Text drop-down
  5. Type alternative text into the Description field

PowerPoint 2016 Format Picture menu.

Identify Column Headers in Table Row

  1. Select Table Design Tools Tab
  2. Check "Header Row" checkbox in Table Style Options Group

Table Style Options Group with Header Row checkbox checked.

When Color Conveys Meaning, Use Color Plus Another Visual Cue

Use markers, text labels or different patterns for charts and graphs

Line graph, 3 lines, one red, one blue, one green. Labeled to the side.
Line graph with 3 lines. Series 1's line is blue, Series 2's is red and Series 3's is green. Each is labeled in a key to the side of the graph.

Line graph with 3 lines. One is blue with triangle markers, one red with diamond markers, one green with square markers.
The same line graph plot now with triangles added to the blue Series 1, diamonds added to the red Series 2, and squares added to the green Series 3.

Use additional formatting for text, or a symbol such as an asterisk

Only color:

Required fields are in dark red
First Name

Color plus another indicator:

Required fields are in red and marked "required"
First Name (required)

Use Good Color Contrast

Check that contrast between text and background colors is at least 4.5:1 for regular text and 3.0:1 for large text.

If you use Office 2016 or older, then The Paciello Group Colour Contrast Analyser lets you easily check color contrast. Office 2019 has a contrast check built into its Accessibility Checker.

Use Descriptive Link Text

Active links should tell people where the link will take them. Make sure that you use descriptive link text to meet this goal.

You can create a link in a couple of ways. To insert a link when link text is not already in the document:

  1. Select the Insert Tab
  2. Choose the Link drop-down in the Links Group
  3. Select Insert Link (may be at the bottom of that menu)
  4. Type your link text in the "Text to Display" field
  5. Type the website address in the "Address" field

To create a link from existing text in a document:

  1. Select the link text
  2. Right click or Shift+F10
  3. Select Link
  4. Choose Insert Link (may be at the bottom of that menu)
  5. Type the website address in the "Address" field

Whichever way you create a link, make the descriptive link text the active link in a document, and put the actual web address (URL) in plain text. This makes sure that people can use the link whether the document is digital or printed.

Word Insert Hyperlink menu. Text to Display field reads "Oklahoma ABLE Tech". Address field reads "http://ok.gov/abletech".

Don't Forget: Check Accessibility with the Accessibility Checker

Microsoft Office has a built-in Accessibility Checker. It is not perfect, but it is useful. And with Office 2019's regular updates it gets better from time to time.

Here's how to start a check:

  1. Select File Tab
  2. Select Info
  3. Activate Check for Issues button
  4. Select Check Accessibility

This will kick off automated checks to look for things like missing alternative text or possible problems with reading order. Don't rely on the checker to find everything, but it is a good idea to make sure it's part of your process to use it.

PowerPoint Accessibility Checker kick off.