I’ve probably watched thousands of PowerPoint presentations over the years and created hundreds of PowerPoints for my classes, conference presentations, guest lectures, and even for PowerPoint parties with friends. I’ve had several people ask me for tips on how to create accessible PowerPoints for audience members with print disabilities, including low vision, dyslexia, visual processing disorders, and similar, and PowerPoint has added a lot of awesome features over the years to make creating accessible presentations easier than ever. Here are my favorite tips for how to create accessible PowerPoints, great for professors, teachers, and speakers.
Use the Accessibility Checker
The Accessibility Checker is a great tool for learning how to create accessible PowerPoints, because it shows the user exactly how they can improve the accessibility of their content for assistive technology users. Accessibility Checker was a game changer for some of my professors when it was first released, as they would often forget to add alt text or image descriptions to slides, which made it more difficult for me to take notes. It’s worth noting that Accessibility Checker does not automatically fix accessibility issues, rather it guides users on how to make changes to their presentation content.
Accessibility Checker can be found in the “Review” ribbon in Microsoft PowerPoint and several other Microsoft applications, including Microsoft Word.
- Designing Accessible Documents With Microsoft Word
- How To Use Microsoft Office Sway With Assistive Technology
- Inclusion in Action: My Microsoft Feature
Add alt text and image descriptions
Alt text and image descriptions make it possible for screen reader users and users with vision loss to identify what is in an image. Alt text is not visible during the presentation and is a short 1-2 sentence description of visual details in an image, while an image description is longer and may be included as a caption for the image so it can be read by anyone, not just screen reader users or people who manually check for alt text. For presenters, it is helpful to include both alt text and image descriptions when possible as they are beneficial for audience members to ensure they understand what is in an image.
Images that are purely decorative and do not provide any meaningful information should be marked as decorative.
To add alt text in PowerPoint:
- Insert an image or other visual content into the presentation
- Right-click or long press on the image and select View Alt Text. Alternatively, select Alt Text in the Picture Format section of the ribbon.
- Type a 1-2 sentence description of the image, or have PowerPoint auto-generate alt text and correct the description as needed
- To view alt text without a screen reader, right-click or long press on an image and select View Alt Text, or use a text-to-speech tool like Read Aloud to read alt text and text content on the page
Image descriptions can be added either as a caption for the image, or included as part of bullet points in a slide with the leading phrase “Image Description:” or “ID:” before the description.
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Write Alt Text And Image Descriptions For Photojournalism Images
- How To Write Image Descriptions For Buildings and Architecture
- How To Create Accessible Pie Charts For Low Vision
- How To Create Accessible Map Charts For Low Vision
- How To Access Images Without Alt Text
When possible, use the default templates
PowerPoint templates are accessible by design, as the majority of templates contain easy to read fonts, straightforward structures that follow a logical reading order for screen readers, and non-obtrusive color schemes that work well for users with colorblindness or other color deficiencies. I recommend sticking with the default templates when it comes to structuring text, and using the Designer feature to change the visual appearance of slides and content.
What if I want to use a custom template?
There are some contexts where someone might need to use a custom template, like a diagram that is confusing to screen reader users or that is hard to z0om in on with low vision. There are two options for this:
- Option 1 is to verify the reading order in Accessibility Checker and group items into logical units, adding alt text that will be read out loud by screen reader users and adjusting the order in the reading pane as needed. The reading pane can be found in the drop-down menu for Accessibility Checker in the Review tab at the top of the screen
- Option 2 is to take a screenshot of the custom designed slide and insert it in a new slide, adding alt text to the image that contains text and/or descriptions of visual elements
- How To Create Accessible Diagrams For Low Vision
- How To Make ASCII/Emoji Memes Accessible For Visual Impairment
- Paper Colors And Low Vision
- Choosing Device Wallpapers and Backgrounds With Low Vision
- How To Create Accessible Assignments With Microsoft Office Sway
- Quick Ways To Improve Accessibility For Virtual Learning Materials
Choose a font that is easy to read
There isn’t a specific font that is considered the “best font for print disabilities”, but there are a few fonts that are known for being great options and easy to read for presenters and audience members. Some examples of popular fonts that work great for PowerPoint include:
- Comic Sans
- Times New Roman
- Bebas Neue (for titles)
- My Eight Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
- How I Document Accessibility Preferences With Low Vision
- How To Make Historical Documents Accessible For Low Vision
Use larger text sizes and keep text to a minimum
Trying to read a large volume of text can be frustrating for both audience members and presenters, so it is better to use large text sizes and keep text on slides to a minimum- I would avoid using fonts that are smaller than 28-pt size when presenting in a large room, and no smaller than size 44 pt when presenting to an audience that primarily consists of people with low vision.
I recognize that copying down information can be challenging for PowerPoints, so when presenting I give audience members access to a copy of a transcript of my presentation or a take-away document that goes more in-depth for resources. My professors will include additional information in the Notes section of each slide when posting presentations for class.
- Creating Take-Away Documents With Microsoft Office Sway
- How I Use Microsoft OneNote With Low Vision
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
- Tips For Screensharing With Low Vision
Avoid excessive animation and provide verbal warnings when possible
Animations and slide transitions can be disorienting for some people with motion sensitivity, so I don’t use any animations in my presentations and provide verbal warnings before advancing to the next slide. Designers should be careful to avoid animations that have a strobe, flashing, or spinning effect, as these are more likely to trigger motion sickness.
Another option is to have animations activated by a click instead of automatically, so that viewers can be prepared for when an animation will activate and look away if needed. When my teachers would use animations on presentations in high school, they would give me a copy of the presentation to watch on my laptop and I would remove the animations or play them slowly on my own device instead of looking up at the board.
Use keyboard shortcuts to streamline the authoring and presenting process
One of my favorite tricks for how to create accessible PowerPoints quickly is to use keyboard shortcuts, which are helpful for screen reader users or people who have trouble identifying icons. I’ve linked a list of keyboard access shortcuts for PowerPoint below from Microsoft Support, though users can also get keyboard shortcuts overlayed on their screen by pressing F10.
- Use keyboard shortcuts to create PowerPoint presentations – Microsoft Support
- Seven Accessibility Features You Didn’t Know Existed In Microsoft Office
- Microsoft Office Specialist Certification and Low Vision
Other tips for how to create accessible PowerPoints
- When presenting, I have a copy of the presentation displayed on my iPad or printed out in full page view so I can reference the presentation without having to turn my head towards the screen
- For the design process, I typically start with the default Office theme and explore visuals in Designer when I am finished writing and inserting content
- When presenting charts or graphs, provide a link to the original data in the slide. This can be a CSV file, Excel sheet, or website link
- I personally find the Cameo feature that adds a camera feed in front of slides to be distracting and hard to follow as a user with low vision, so I refrain from using this
- Before presenting accessible PowerPoints, some presenters will give a visual description of what they look like for audience members- learn more about this practice in How To Create Helpful Visual Descriptions For Visually Impaired Audiences