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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 zoom in on with low vision. There are two options for this:
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:
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.
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.
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.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published October 2017.
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