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Principles of PowerPoint Accessibility

Four principles of PowerPoint® accessibility

The main accessibility principles involve:

  1. Slide titles
  2. Reading order
  3. Alternative text for images
  4. Self-describing links

Download the Microsoft® Word document version of this topic for Windows® users

Download the Word document version of this topic for Mac® users

Slide titles

Use pre-defined PowerPoint slide templates rather than creating custom templates. These templates have Slide titles built into their structure. Slide titles provide heading structure for screen reader users.

On the Home tab, select layouts from the New Slide or Layout menus and select a slide that includes a title and appropriate structural elements.

If you don't want the title to be visible on your slide, do the following:

  • Windows: Select the Arrange menu in the Drawing pane of the Home tab. Select Selection Pane. Select the eye icon next to the text box to make it visible or hidden.
  • Mac: Select the Arrange menu from the Home tab. Select Selection Pane at the bottom of the menu. Select the eye icon next to the title to make it visible or hidden.

Things to consider when adding slide titles

  • Each slide should have either a visible or non-visible slide title.
  • Use unique heading titles for each slide. If multiple slides refer to the same topic, consider adding “continued” to the end of the slide title or hiding its visibility.

Reading order

By default, a slide's reading order is the order that objects were added. This may not be how you want the slide read. Check the reading order and rearrange it if you need to.

  1. Open the Selection Panel.
    • Windows: On the Home tab and in the Drawing pane, select Arrange. Select Selection Panel.
    • Mac: On the Home tab, select on Arrange. Select Selection Panel.
  2. The Selection Panel lists the objects on the slide. Objects will be read back beginning with the bottom list item and ending with the top list item. Reorder the the objects.
    • Windows: Use the arrows to re-order the objects.
    • Mac: Select and drag the shapes to adjust their reading order. A blue line appears and guides your placement of objects.
  3. Text added in text boxes may not appear in the Outline View. This text can be copied and pasted into the Outline View.
  4. Conversely, slide titles that have been visibly hidden should still appear as text in the Outline View.

Things to consider when setting reading order

  • Make sure your reading order is logical.
  • PowerPoint’s built-in templates have pre-defined reading order. Slides created from a blank slide will likely require you to manually set the reading order.

Alternative text for images

Screen readers use alternative text (alt text) to provide users with information about images.

First ask yourself what the purpose of the image is. If you don't know the meaning or purpose of the image, don't use it! It is clutter and will be overwhelming to those with learning disabilities. Next, add alt text that is simple, succinct, and describe exactly what the image is. For example, alt="photograph of a Cell Dividing". If the image is a diagram that conveys more complicated information a long description or textual format of the material is required.

  1. Format the picture.
    • Windows: Right-click the image, and select Format Picture.
    • Mac: Double click the image so the Format Picture selections appear.
  2. Select the third Size and Properties icon and then drop down Alt Text area.
  3. In the Title and Description fields, type the same alternative text for the image. The alternative text should present the meaning or purpose of the image rather than a literal description of its appearance.

Things to consider when providing ALT Text for images

  • You do not need to include “image of” or “picture of” in the description.
  • Any text within the image must be included in the Alt Text.
  • Keep Alt Text succinct and discuss the image during the actual presentation.
  • In PowerPoint, all images must have alternative text, even if they are purely decorative.
  • Be concise with your use of images and avoid clutter.

Self-describing links

Every link should describe what the user can expect to find when they click it. Web addresses or URL's are not considered informative and should not be used.

  1. Go to the Internet and locate the website you wish to link to. Copy the URL.
  2. Highlight the text in your PowerPoint slide that you want to turn into a descriptive link.
  3. Select Hyperlink.
    • Windows: Right-click the text or go to the Insert tab and select Hyperlink.
    • Mac: From the Insert tab, select Hyperlink.
  4. Type or paste the URL in the Address field.
  5. Select OK.

Things to consider when providing self-describing links

  • The link text should describe where the user is taken. For example: University of Montana Homepage.
  • If you wish to include the URL for users who may print the slides, place the URL in parenthesis next to the self-describing link, right-click the URL, and select Remove Hyperlink. Example: University of Montana Homepage (

Accessibility checker

PowerPoint has a built-in Accessibility Checker that can usually identify issues with any of the items listed above. To use the Accessibility Checker, select File, Info, Check for Issues, Check for Accessibility. When used in conjunction with the Selection Pane, you can better insure accessibility in your PowerPoint presentation. Helpful information related to Why Fix and How to Fix is provided in the Additional Information section of the Inspection Results.

Microsoft® recently added an Accessibility Checker to the 2016 Mac version of PowerPoint. It currently is only available to users of the Microsoft Insider Program. You can join the program by going to the Help menu, selecting Check for Updates, and then checking the box Join the Office Insider program to get early access to new releases. Now go to the Review tab and see if Check Accessibility is available. If not, repeat the steps above and this should resolve the problem. You can open the Selection Pane and the Accessibility Checker side-by-side as you review your slides.

Other accessibility tips

  • Ensure sufficient font size.
  • Provide sufficient contrast between the text and the background.
  • Do not use color as the only way to convey information.
  • Navigating tables in PowerPoint is difficult for assistive technology users; consider providing table data in an Excel or Word file, separate from the PowerPoint slideshow, or provide the data in a list format.
  • Player controls for videos embedded in PowerPoint are currently inaccessible; consider adding a self-describing link to the video on YouTube™/Vimeo® or provide the video file separately from the PowerPoint slideshow. Ensure the video is captioned.
  • Audio files should include a transcript.
  • Users may interact with PowerPoint files in various ways; provide the PowerPoint file itself instead of a PDF to allow for these various techniques.


Marlene Zentz (Senior Instructional Designer & Accessibility Specialist) |  Aaron Page (Accessibility Specialist) | UMOnline | University of Montana | Missoula, MT

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