Introduction to PowerPoint and Accessibility

Accessibility is fundamentally about making sure people can access the content you create. As a presenter, ensuring your PowerPoint is accessible means that your entire audience is going to be able to fully engage with and learn from the content you are creating.

Any recipient of your presentation should be able to perceive and understand the information within it. Your audience and users may include individuals with visual, auditory, motor, and/or cognitive disabilities. 

Visual information is a significant component of most slideshows, but people will not always be able to see the content on your slides. This includes people who are blind or low vision, as well as individuals with processing disorders that make it difficult to understand and integrate visual information. Ensure that meaningful visual content is also provided in a way that someone could access without vision, either textually or audibly. Visual information doesn’t just mean images or text; if you are using colors, font size, or animations to convey meaning, that information should also be provided in a non-visual format like a written description. 

Some people will have difficulty accessing the auditory component of your slides and presentation. This could be due to deafness, being hard of hearing, having a disability that interferes with auditory information processing, or even being in a noisy environment or not having an amplification system at the presentation venue. You’ll need to provide captions and transcripts for videos and audio files respectively, and make sure you know how to request an ASL interpreter, live captionist, or hearing assistive devices for your presentation if an audience member requests any of those services.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have purely visual or auditory elements in a presentation. As long as you provide the same information in a different format in the same part of your presentation, your slideshow can be accessible as a whole even if specific elements are not. Additionally, not all content needs an accessible alternative; if an animation, image, or audio is purely decorative and conveys no meaning (like a decorative image border on your slide), it doesn’t require description in an alternate format.

PowerPoint Accessibility in Context

To make an accessible PowerPoint, you should consider not just the types of information in the file, but also the ways in which users will access the content. Sometimes people will access your PowerPoint as a file on their computer; other times it will be shown in a live presentation or in a presentation over a conferencing app like Zoom. 

If the PowerPoint will be displayed visually in a live or pre-recorded presentation…

  • Verbally describe all meaningful visual content.
  • Ensure there is adequate color contrast on all slides, and that color alone is not used to convey meaning. 
  • Consider how someone with a hearing disability will access the audio content.
    • If the presentation is accessed as a pre-recorded video, provide closed captions.
    • For live presentations, be prepared to arrange for live captions, an ASL interpreter, or hearing assistive devices if an accommodation request is received.
    • If an amplification system is available for an in-person event, always use it and repeat questions from the audience into the microphone.
  • If the presentation is at an in-person event, review our Guidelines for Accessible Events.
  • Review our Guidelines for Accessible Presentations.
  • Share access to the digital file with your audience.
    • It is a best practice to provide the audience with digital access to your file so they can follow along with your presentation in the way that works best for them. This can benefit individuals with vision impairments, attention disorders, and more. 
    • You may be required to share your content digitally if someone has requested an accommodation for a disability. 
    • A good way to share the file is to provide a short link to the presentation on the title slide that you read out loud at the beginning of your presentation. 

If the audience will have digital access to the file….

  • Follow all guidelines listed in the Components of an Accessible PowerPoint section below. 

Components of an Accessible PowerPoint File

Template and Layout Selection

Before starting to create your PowerPoint, set yourself up for success by choosing an accessible template. 

  • Ensure the template has readable fonts and adequate color contrast.
  • Select a layout for each slide that has enough content placeholders available for all of the content you want to place on that slide.
    • All built-in slide layouts in PowerPoint have content placeholders. A content placeholder is a box with a dotted border that shows you where you can add content on the slide. It may contain text like “Click to add title” or “Click to add text”. The number of content placeholders available on the slide is determined by the slide layout you select under Home > Layout.
    • If no slide layouts are available with a sufficient number of content placeholders, you can add more by following our Adding Placeholders in PowerPoint tutorial.

This screenshot shows three content placeholders:

placeholders on a slide 

Basic Content

The content of your slideshow should be well-structured and logical. For specific instructions on how to accomplish each item in this list on your particular operating system, consult the Microsoft PowerPoint accessibility documentation

  • All slides should have a unique, meaningful slide title. 
    • ​If multiple slides in a row have the same title, add a number at the end to distinguish them. 
  • Add content only to content placeholders; do not use text boxes.
    • Text boxes are not consistently able to be accessed by assistive technology. For details on content placeholders, see Theme and Layout Selection above.
  • Ensure the reading order of content on each slide is correct. 
    • Use the Selection Pane to adjust the slide reading order.
      In older versions of PowerPoint, you may not have this option. Update to a newer version of PowerPoint or utilize the Reorder Objects function to accomplish the same outcome.
    • The item at the bottom of the Selection Pane list will be the first one read by assistive technology; this should typically be the slide title. The item at the top of the list is the last item read. 
  • Ensure all text is in a readable font, sized large enough to read easily, and surrounded by sufficient white space.
    • This is particularly important in live presentations where not all audience members may be seated close to the projector. 
    • Use a simple, standard, and readable font (sans serif fonts are best) in at least 18 point font. Minimize the use of italics and underlining.
    • Provide enough white space to improve your audience’s experience.
  • Ensure all meaningful content has adequate color contrast. 
  • Do not use style alone to convey meaning.
    • Do not use color, font style, font face, visual arrangement, animation, or any other visual attribute as the only method of conveying meaning.
    • For example, do not say “the item in red is the most important” or “define all the underlined words below”. 
  • Use the list buttons to create lists.
    • Don’t just use “*” or “-” to manually make a 'fake list'.
    • Check that you're in a 'real list': hitting Enter should cause a new bullet point or number to appear on the new line.
  • Use informative link titles.
    • Avoid pasting the full URL for a website in your slides unless it is intended to be memorized.
    • Use hyperlink text that provides a meaningful description of the destination.
    • “Click Here” is not a meaningful label out of context. A label like “Giraffe Social Behavior” tells someone exactly what they will find if they click on it.
    • If a link takes the user to a file type besides an HTML web page, indicate the file type at the end of the link, like “CU Boulder Org Chart [pdf]”.
  • Add alt text to all images.
    • Alt text should be shorter than a sentence and describe the meaningful content of the image.
    • Some versions of PowerPoint have a “Title” and “Description” field. If so, ignore the “Title” field and add alt text to the “Description” field.
    • If a graphic is entirely decorative, such as an image used as a slide border or content divider, it should be marked as decorative. This tells screen readers to ignore the image. 
    • Some versions of PowerPoint don’t allow you to mark an image as decorative. If so, type “decorative” in the alt text field.
  • Insert long descriptions for complex graphics where appropriate.
    • If a complex graphic requires more than a sentence to describe, add a short description in the alt text field and insert a longer description in a content placeholder on the slide.
    • You can position the long description off-screen so it won’t appear during a presentation but will be available to screen reader users.
    • Example of an offscreen content placeholder:
      screenshot of offscreen content placeholder describing an infographic
  • Use Outline View to review your presentation content.
    • If content does not appear in Outline View, it could be because it was placed in a text box that was created manually, and needs to be moved to a text box placeholder created by the default slide layout (see the Template and Layout Selection section above.)
    • Note:
      • Alt text for images will not appear in Outline View, but offscreen placeholders will. Alt text should still be added to images even though it won’t appear in Outline View.
      • Changing the reading order doesn’t change the order that items appear in Outline View.

Specialized Content

  • Add table column and/or row headers as appropriate.
    • “Header Row” should be selected if the header cells describe the columns below them. “First Column” should be selected if the header cells describe the rows to the right of themselves. 
  • Animations.
    • If animations convey meaning, that information needs to also appear in written form.
    • This can happen either on or off-screen; see "Insert long descriptions for complex graphics" above for an example of off-screen content.
    • If an animation does not convey meaning, consider not using it, since it may be distracting or induce nausea or disorientation in individuals with vestibular disorders.
  • Graphs.
    • If possible, provide the graph data in a table.
    • Describe the shape and layout of the graph in text (either on- or off-screen).
  • Videos. 
    • Provide caption files for videos. Some versions of PowerPoint allow you to add caption files within PowerPoint; others may require you to burn in or encode the caption files into the video file in advance. For assistance with captioning, please contact the CU Boulder captioning service.
    • Ensure the video has sufficient description of any visual content in the video. If the video does not adequately describe its visual content, consider adding any missing visual descriptions into an offscreen text box for screen reader users. 
  • Notes.
    • Avoid using the Notes field to convey important information.
    • If you want to use Notes, consider duplicating that text in an offscreen content placeholder so screen reader users are more likely to encounter it.
  • Embedded narration.
    • The narrator should describe all visual content audibly as they would in a normal presentation.
    • Provide an annotated transcript for the narration that contains all spoken content and note when each slide appears or when an animation activates.

Accessibility Checker

The accessibility checker in Office products like PowerPoint will identify some of the accessibility problems listed above. The accessibility checker may also offer options for a way to fix the problem. 

However, there are many accessibility problems an automated checker will fail to identify, which is why it is important to learn to identify them or to ask an expert to look over the slides. For example, the accessibility checker will not identify if the reading order is inaccurate, if text color is exclusively used to convey a piece of information, or if there are inaccuracies in captions. In short, always run the accessibility checker to see if it identifies anything, but do not assume it will catch all or even most accessibility problems.

Resources

WebAIM PowerPoint Accessibility article
Microsoft Office PowerPoint Accessibility documentation

Want Additional Support?

If you would like to consult with someone from the Digital Accessibility Office on PowerPoint accessibility, please contact digitalaccessibility@colorado.edu.