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Creating Accessible Content

This guide will show how to create accessible document in various formats.

MS PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint is one of the most popular tools for creating slide show presentations. It is often used to organize thoughts for a meeting or lesson, to present key points in a live presentation, and even to create handouts. This topic outlines how you can make PowerPoint files more accessible on the web.

Templates & Themes

The first step in creating a PowerPoint presentation is choosing a slide theme or template. The Design tab contains many built-in Themes and color Variants that can be used to change the look of a presentation, as well as the ability to create custom themes.

Some of these templates have low contrast between slide text and the slide background, and a few may also have busy backgrounds that can make text even more difficult to read. Be sure to choose a theme with good contrast and with simple backgrounds. If the presentation will be viewed on a projector, the contrast and readability may need to be even more pronounced.

In addition to built-in and custom themes, there are thousands of templates available for download. You can search for a template by selecting File > New, and then describing the template in the Search field. Add the word "accessible" to the search for templates that are tagged as "accessible" by the creator. While this doesn't guarantee accessibility, it increases the likelihood of finding a good template. If in doubt, Microsoft has identified several templates that are optimized for accessibility.

Slide Layouts

The most important part of PowerPoint accessibility is the use of slide "layouts." Used correctly, these will ensure information on the slides have the correct heading structure and reading order.

Most slide layouts include a slide "title," usually at the top of the slide. They also typically contain one or more "placeholder" areas where you add content like lists, images, and tables to each slide. The title will be presented as a heading to screen reader users and will be the first thing read on each slide. If each slide has a descriptive title, this will make it much easier for screen reader users to read and navigate the presentation.

Create a new slide

Although you can change the layout of a slide at any time, it is usually easiest to choose your layout when creating a new slide. You can add a new slide from the Home or Insert tab. If you choose the New Slide icon, PowerPoint will usually create a new slide with the same layout as the currently-selected slide.

You can also select the slide layout while creating a new slide. In Windows, select either the small arrow or the text "New Slide" right below the icon, and a menu will drop down with all the available slide layouts. Select one of these options to create a new slide with this layout.

Change slide layout

To change the layout of an existing slide:

  1. Select the slide you would like to change.
  2. On the Home tab, select Layout.
  3. Choose the desired layout from the dropdown.

This new layout will be applied to the selected slide, and PowerPoint will try to move the slide contents to the correct place in the new layout. If you're moving from one pre-built layout to another, this usually works fairly well. But if you apply a layout to a slide that wasn't structured correctly in the first place (e.g., pictures and text boxes added to a blank slide), it may take some work like cutting, pasting, and deleting unnecessary boxes to apply the correct layout.

Slide Master

It is possible to make changes to all slides within a presentation, like changing the text size of all slide titles. You can also make changes to a specific slide layout or even create new custom layouts. All of these changes are possible in the Slide Master view. This view allows you to create accessible layouts that meet the needs of the presentation while maintaining a proper heading structure and reading order.

To open Slide Master, select the View tab > Slide Master.

The different layouts that are available in the presentation will be displayed in the left-hand sidebar. The first slide in this sidebar is the Master Layout. Changes made to the Master Layout will usually be applied to every slide in the presentation. Below this Master Layout are the different individual layouts. Changes made to one of these will be applied to every slide that uses this layout.

To create a new slide layout, select Insert Layout, and then Rename to give the new layout a descriptive name. You can then insert placeholder objects, change the size and position of objects on the slide, etc.

Once all the changes are complete, select Close Master View on Windows or Close Master on Mac. Changes made within this view will automatically be applied throughout the presentation.

Slide Reading Order

Although it is best to use slide layouts when possible, there may be times when you need to add content to a slide when it would be impractical to create a new slide layout. By default, a screen reader will read the slide title first followed by other content in elements defined in the slide layout. Then it will read any additional content on the side in the order it was added to the slide. If you add content with this principle in mind, it should be presented to screen reader users in a logical order.

You can check or change this reading order by selecting Home > Arrange > Selection Pane. The Selection Pane will appear in the right-hand sidebar.

The pane will show every object on the slide. Highlighting an object in the pane will also highlight it in the slide. The reading order for the elements in this page is bottom to top. At first, this may seem illogical, but it helps to think of these objects as layers on a slide. The first object on the slide will be read first. If another object is added to the page on top of the first object, it will be read next by a screen reader (and will also cover the first object visually). To reorder an item, simply click and drag. PowerPoint for Windows also has up/down arrow buttons that can be used to reorder items.

The Arrange dropdown menus also includes options to reorder a single object. This will change the visual position on the page as well as the reading order.

  • Bring to Front moves an item to the top layer, meaning it will be read last by a screen reader.
  • Send to Back moves an item to the bottom layer. It will be read first by a screen reader.
  • Bring Forward moves an item up one layer, or later in the reading order.
  • Send Backward moves an item down one layer, or earlier in the reading order.

If you use these options, be sure to check the Selection Pane to ensure the reading order makes sense.

To the right of each item is an icon that looks like an eye (). Clicking on this icon will hide the object visually in the slide, but it will still be read by a screen reader.

Set the reading order of slide contents

Use the Accessibility Checker and the Reading Order pane to set the order in which the screen readers read the slide contents. When the screen reader reads this slide, it reads the objects in the order they are listed in the Reading Order pane.

  1. In your presentation, select Review > Check Accessibility.

  2. In the Warnings section of the Accessibility pane, select the Check reading order category. Any slides where the reading order of slide elements does not seem logical are listed in this section.

  3. For a slide in the section, select the drop-down menu arrow next to it and select Verify object order to open the Reading Order pane.

  4. All the elements on the slide are listed in the Reading Order pane. You can drag and drop elements up and down to change the reading order. To move multiple elements, press and hold the Ctrl key and select clicking the elements, and then move them together.

    Note: You can also group items together so they're read together instead of individually. To group elements, select them in the Reading Order pane, then select Format > Group > Group.

 

For more information, see Make slides easier to read by using the Reading Order pane.

Use built-in slide designs for inclusive reading order

PowerPoint has built-in slide designs that contain placeholders for text, videos, pictures, and more. They also contain all the formatting, such as theme colors, fonts, and effects. To make sure that your slides are accessible, the built-in layouts are designed so that the reading order is the same for people who see and people who use technology such as screen readers.

  1. On the View tab, click Normal.

  2. In the Thumbnail pane, locate the place where you want to add the new slide. Right-click, and select New Slide. Click the new slide to select it.

  3. On the Design tab, expand the Themes gallery, and select the slide layout that you want. PowerPoint automatically applies this layout to the new slide.

  4. Go to the new slide, and add the title and content that you want.

 

 

Alternative Text for Images

You can create alternative text (Alt Text) for shapes, pictures, charts, SmartArt graphics, or other objects in your Office document. Alt Text helps people with visual impairments understand pictures and other graphical content. When someone uses a screen reader to view documents, they will hear Alt Text; without Alt Text, they will only know they've reached a picture without knowing what the picture shows.

You can use the procedures in this article to help you learn how to add alternative text to a shape, picture, chart, SmartArt graphic, or other object.

Add alt text

  1. Do one of the following:

    • Right-click the object and select Edit Alt Text.

    • Select the object. Select Format > Alt Text.

  2. In the Alt Text pane, type 1-2 sentences in the text box to describe the object and its context to someone who cannot see it.

Mark visuals as decorative

If your visuals are purely decorative and add visual interest but aren't informative, you can mark them as such without needing to write any alt text. Examples of objects that should be marked as decorative are stylistic borders. People using screen readers will hear that these objects are decorative so they know they aren’t missing any important information. You can mark your visuals as decorative in Excel, PowerPoint, and Word.

  1. To open the Alt Text pane, do one of the following:

    • Right-click an image, and then select Edit Alt Text.

    • Select an image, select Format > Alt Text.

  2. Select the Decorative check box. The text entry field becomes grayed out.

Toggle Automatic Alt Text on and off

If you don't want automatically generated alt text to be added to inserted pictures, you can turn off the automatic alt text option. If you change your mind later, you can just as easily turn it back on.

  1. Select File > Options > Ease of Access.

  2. In the Automatic Alt Text section, select or unselect the Automatically generate alt text for me option, and then select OK.

Tables

There are ways to identify row and column headers in a data table that make the contents of the table much more accessible to screen reader users.

To create a table to organize information or data on your PowerPoint slides, use Table Styles to format the table, and then change the layout.

Add a table

  1. Select Insert > Table > Insert Table.

  2. In the Insert Table dialog box, select how many columns and rows you want.

  3. Select OK.

Add table styles

  1. Select the table.

  2. Select Design and choose from the Table Styles. Hover to preview styles.

    Select More More button to see more Table Styles.

In the Table Styles section, select a style where the table headers are clearly identified visually. Make sure the style has good contrast.

Change table layout

  1. Select the table.

  2. Select Layout.

  3. Choose from the different groups to make changes:

    • Rows & Columns

    • Merge

    • Cell Size

    • Alignment

    • Table Size

Splitting a table over two slides

If your table is too big for one slide, split the table over two slides and add a transition.

  1. Paste the full table onto one slide.

  2. Right-click the slide thumbnail and select Duplicate Slide.

  3. Delete the appropriate rows or columns from each slide.

    Select the rows or columns, right-click, and select Delete > Delete Rows or Delete > Delete Columns.

  4. Add a transition to move from the first slide to the next.

    Select the Transitions tab and select the transition you want.

  5. To see what it looks like when presenting, select the first slide, select Shows Slide Show View button in PowerPointSlide Show, and then click the slide.

Use table headers

  1. Position the cursor anywhere in a table.

  2. Select the Design tab.

  3. In the Table Style Options, select the Header Row check box.

  4. In the table, type the column headings.

Links

PowerPoint automatically creates a hyperlink when a user pastes a full URL onto a slide and presses Enter or Space. Raw URLs may not make sense to screen reader users or others, so make the link text descriptive.

To change the link text right-click the link and select Edit Hyperlink. On Mac, right-click the link and select Hyperlink > Edit Hyperlink. A dialog will appear. Click in the Text to Display field at the top of the dialog and enter descriptive link text.

Note

If you are creating a presentation that is intended to be displayed electronically and in a printout, you may want to include the URL and a description in the link text. For example, "WebAIM Introduction to Web Accessibility (webaim.org/intro)."

Tip: If the title on the hyperlink's destination page gives an accurate summary of what’s on the page, use it for the hyperlink text.

Add hyperlink text and ScreenTips

  1. Select the text to which you want to add the hyperlink, and then right-click.

  2. Select Link. The text you selected displays in the Text to display box. This is the hyperlink text.

  3. If necessary, change the hyperlink text.

  4. In the Address box, enter the description address for the hyperlink.

  5. Select the ScreenTip button and, in the ScreenTip text box, type a ScreenTip.

  6. To apply the changes, select OK > OK.

Check Accessibility

To help ensure that your Office files are accessible, use the Accessibility Checker, a free tool available in Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, and PowerPoint on Windows, Office for the web, or Mac, and Visio on Windows. It finds most accessibility issues and explains why each might be a potential problem for someone with a disability. It also offers suggestions on how to resolve each issue.

Although the Accessibility Checker catches most types of accessibility issues, there are some issues it's not able to detect. That's why it's important to always review your work visually to find the issues hiding from the Accessibility Checker. To learn more, go to Accessibility Checker limitations.

Accessibility Checker rules

The Accessibility Checker verifies your file against a set of rules that identify possible issues for people who have disabilities. Depending on how severe the issue is, the Accessibility Checker classifies each issue as an error, warning, or tip.

  • Error. Content that makes the document difficult or impossible to read and understand for people with disabilities

  • Warning. Content that in most (but not all) cases makes the document difficult to understand for people with disabilities

  • Tip. Content that people with disabilities can understand but that could be presented in a different way to improve the user’s experience

  • Intelligent Services. Content that is automatically made accessible by AI, and that you should review for accuracy and context

Accessibility Checker limitations

There are some accessibility issues the Accessibility Checker isn't able to detect. Also, some issues listed in the Accessibility Checker findings aren't necessarily accessibility issues that need to be fixed.

  • Color: Information is conveyed using color alone.

  • Closed captions: The Accessibility Checker reports missing closed captions in a video, but if your video already has in-band closed captions, open captions, or has no dialog, then there might be no accessibility issue with the video.

Use the Accessibility Checker

  1. On the ribbon, select the Review tab. If you're using Outlook, note that you'll only see the Review tab when writing or replying to messages.

  2. Select Check Accessibility.

  3. Review your results. You'll see a list of errors, warnings, and tips with how-to-fix recommendations for each. See Rules for the Accessibility Checker for more information.

Fix recommendations with ease

To easily address accessibility errors and warnings, select an issue to open the Recommended Actions list. You can apply a one-click fix by selecting an action, or select the arrow button next to an action for more options.

Don't see Accessibility Checker?

If you don't see the Check Accessibility button on the Review tab, you might have an older version of the app. Follow these steps to open the Accessibility Checker.

  1. Select File > Info.

  2. Select the Check for Issues button.

    Tip: To the right of the Check Accessibility button, under the Inspect heading, is a list of any potential issues.

  3. In the Check for Issues drop-down menu, select Check for Issues.

  4. The Accessibility Checker task pane appears next to your content and shows the inspection results.

  5. To see information on why and how to fix an issue, under Inspection Results, select an issue. Results appear under Additional Information, and you’re directed to the inaccessible content in your file.

 

Convert PowerPoint to PDF

PowerPoint is effective for face-to-face presentations, but it is usually not the best format for content on the web. The file can be large, and users must either have Microsoft Office or a plugin in order to view the file. PDF is often a better format to present PowerPoint presentations electronically. The file size is relatively small, distracting slide transitions are usually removed, and everyone has a PDF reader.

When you save presentation as a PDF file it freezes the formatting and layout. People can view the slides even if they don’t have PowerPoint, but they can’t make changes to it. To save your PowerPoint presentation as a PDF:

  1. Select File > Export.
  2. Click Create PDF/XPS Document, then click Create PDF/XPS.

  3. In the Publish as PDF or XPS dialog box, choose a location to save the file to. If you want it to have a different name, enter it in the File name box.

  4. Optionally, if you want to change what the final PDF file is like, do any of the following:

  • At Optimize for, select Standard for higher quality (for example, if you want to print it). Select Minimum size to make the file smaller (for example, if you want to send it as an e-mail attachment).

  • Click Options to set how the presentation will appear as a PDF. Here are some of the available options:

    • To save the current slide only as a PDF, under Range, select Current slide.

    • To save specific slides as PDF, in Slides(s), enter the slide number range in From and To boxes.

    • If you don't want to save slides, but instead only save comments, handouts, or Outline view, under Publish what, select an appropriate option. You can also specify the number of slides to appear in Slides per page dropdown box, and modify the order (Horizontal or Vertical).

    • You can choose to include frame slides, hidden slides, comments, ink, non-printing information such as Document properties or Document structure tags, in your PDF by selecting the appropriate options.

    • Click OK.

  1. Click Publish

Other Accessibility Principles

  • Make sure text is not too small, especially if the presentation will be viewed on a projector.
  • Do not use color as the only way to convey information.
  • Transitions and animations should be simple.
  • Complex or automatic transitions and animations can be distracting.
  • Use clear and simple language. If you have embedded video, ensure the video is captioned.
  • If you have embedded audio, include a transcript.