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How to use Microsoft Office Sway with assistive technology

How to use the free Microsoft Office Sway web application for authoring one-page online documents with assistive technology.

I have been using Microsoft Office Sway for years to design simple one-page documents and other digital projects, and have been consistently impressed with the multitude of accessibility options for viewing Sway documents, including simplified reading displays, a display mode optimized for screen reader users, and the ability to enlarge text within the web browser. While it’s important to be able to access the finished Sway products, it’s also important that assistive technology users can be part of the authoring process and can create Sways on their own. Here are my tips for how to use Microsoft Office Sway with assistive technology to create accessible presentations.

First, what is Microsoft Office Sway?

Microsoft Office Sway is a free web app that allows users to create their own simple webpages and presentations with text, images, widgets, file attachments, and more. It’s a great substitute for PowerPoint or handouts, and it’s by far my favorite Microsoft Office application. I have been able to use it for lots of interesting projects over the years, including a cookbook, a formula sheet, and several different class presentations- all of which have earned a 100%. Users will need a Microsoft account to create and edit Sways, but the Sway itself can be accessed from any device with or without a Microsoft account.

As of 2020, premium features for Sway are now included in Microsoft 365/Office 365 subscriptions so that users can add even more content to their documents (more information is linked below). There is also a free version of Sway that provides close to full functionality for most casual users.

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Examples of content that works well with Sway

Sway documents are similar to one-page websites that generally remain static, meaning that they are not continuously updated, though users can certainly update and edit Sways as they see fit. Sways are not accessible via search engine and are shared via a unique link, or they can be exported in other file formats such as Word.

Examples of content that work well with Sway include but are not limited to:

I have several posts on my website about creative uses for Microsoft Office Sway, which are linked below. My posts on take-away documents and assignments go more in-depth on types of content that can be added to Sways.

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Using Microsoft Office Sway with large print

The Microsoft Office Sway interface uses an outline/storyboard structure where users can drag and drop blocks to rearrange their order and insert content by choosing items from a list of options with icons. My favorite way to enlarge text within the Microsoft Office Sway authoring/editing view is to use the control-+ shortcut within my web browser to increase the size of all display elements, since there is no way to set a custom font size in the Sway editing view. Users can set a larger font size for their finished Sway within the Customize section of the Styles menu, which is visible in the Design view.

For users that prefer to write with large print during the authoring process, I recommend writing the text for the Sway in another application such as Notes or Microsoft Word and then copy/pasting the text into Sway text boxes.

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Screen magnification and Microsoft Office Sway

I prefer to use a Lens view for screen magnification when working with Microsoft Office Sway, since I typically rely on the magnification for smaller menu items or dialog boxes and don’t necessarily need to read what I am typing. With the Lens view, a magnification window follows the mouse pointer around the screen, like a magnifying glass.

Windows Magnifier users can change the Lens size by clicking the settings button in Magnifier and scrolling to the bottom to resize their lens, or by using one of two keyboard shortcuts:

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Using Microsoft Office Sway with a screen reader/text-to-speech

Microsoft Office Sway’s authoring process is accessible for screen reader users as well as text-to-speech users that want to have text read aloud as needed- my favorite way to do this is by using the Speak Text or Read Aloud options that are built into my web browser or keyboard.

Microsoft has released detailed documentation on how to use Microsoft Office Sway with a screen reader, which I have linked below for reference.

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Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Office Sway

Microsoft Office Sway offers full keyboard access and keyboard shortcuts, which can serve as an alternative to using a mouse for screen reader users and can help with completing tasks more efficiently in general. I have linked the entire list of keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Office Sway from the Microsoft website below.

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Other tips for how to use Microsoft Office Sway with assistive technology

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated November 2023; original post published august 2017.

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