Creating Accessible Learning Materials – Microsoft PowerPoint

Young Caucasian businessman presenting slide show to male and female colleagues in office conference room.

Welcome back! In Creating Accessible Learning Materials – Microsoft Word, I outlined some ways you can format your Microsoft Word documents to be more accessible. By maintaining the alt text, color contrast, and using the accessibility checker, your document should be accessible to anyone who needs it.

Today, we shift our focus to another program in the Microsoft Office suite, Microsoft PowerPoint. As mentioned, I’ll reference some of the concepts covered in the previous blog post.

Wait, PowerPoints need to be accessible?

If you’ve taken an online or face-to-face course, you likely encountered PowerPoint for both lectures and student assignments. The tool allows course content or assignments to be visually organized and effectively presented.

It’s paramount that all the materials made available in a course are accessible or provided in an alternative accessible format. With the visual nature of PowerPoint presentations, how can a student who is blind or has low vision tell what it contains?

Screen readers read PowerPoint presentations like any other document. Not all presentations are easy for screen readers to process correctly though, so here’s how to format your presentations to be accessible.

Images, text, and color

Images, text, and color work like they do in Word, so you should do the following:

  • Use alt text for any images.
  • Use descriptive hyperlinks.
  • Choose high contrast colors for design and text elements.
  • Use common, easy to read fonts.
  • Check your document with the Accessibility Checker tool.

Unique slide titles and reading order

For someone using a screen reader, navigating a 20- or 30-slide presentation can be difficult. When slide titles only use numbers, they must listen to all the content within the slide to get the context. This increases the time they must dedicate to studying and could lead to the student missing important information simply because they could not find it.

To solve this, give each slide a descriptive title. Slide titles also helps those who need to skim the list to find a specific section. Screen readers will detect the slide titles as a header and allow the user to tab through the categories.

Slide content does not always get ordered from top to bottom, so screen readers might get confused on where to start scanning. Setting the reading order of a slide will allow you to direct the flow of content as it appears to screen readers. Each element– be it a text box or a photo– can be ordered in a list and rearranged to your intended arrangement. This can be accessed through the Selection Panel under “Arrange.”

Built-in slide designs and layouts

Microsoft includes a comprehensive selection of pre-designed slide layouts. Each template has a unique style with accessible fonts, color palette, and reading order. If you start with one of these designs, you can make your presentation accessible from the beginning.

If you don’t fancy any of the templates, or you’d like to make a branded template, you can use the Accessibility Checker tool to verify it’s accessible.

Including accessible videos in your presentation

Supplementing your presentations with video is a good way to engage learners and diversify the type of content you present to your audience. PowerPoint allows you to embed video files into a presentation, but you’ll need to make sure those files include captions to make them accessible for your students.

An easy way to auto-generate captions (or edit them for subtitles) is to upload your video to YouTube. You can embed the video player into your presentation. The viewer or presenter will need an internet connection when accessing the PowerPoint as the video content is hosted on YouTube.

Narrated PowerPoints

Narration can be a very powerful tool to give context and ensure all learners have a greater understanding of the course content.

The narration you include should add to the information on the screen. Ideally, a student with a visual impairment should only have to review your narrated PowerPoint video rather than also reviewing the presentation with a screen reader. When saving your narrated PowerPoint, you can export it as a video and upload it to YouTube so that your speech can be captioned for students with hearing impairments

Conclusion

Hopefully these tips have given you a better idea on how to make your PowerPoint presentations more accessible. Most of the information I’ve shared was provided by Microsoft, and I included their recommended best practices. You can find more information on the article cited in the Resources.

Remember: any steps taken toward making your documents accessible is progress. Do what you realistically have time for and work to incorporate accessibility into the foundation of your processes so that it’s less work in the future. Learners will appreciate the work that you do to make your content more accessible.

Resources

Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible to people with disabilities.
Microsoft Support. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2021.

Author: Kyle Winchell, Instructional Media Support

Kyle enjoys working with various forms of media to help teach, tell stories, and bring experiences to those who may not have had the chance otherwise. Off time is usually spent learning new facts or skills, hanging out online with friends, or spending time with family.

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