PowerPoint Accessibility

Please note: All instructions below are designed for Microsoft Office 2016. If you are using an earlier verison, these steps may or may not be appropriate. To get Office 2016, please contact MTSU ITD software. 

How to Start with Accessibility in Mind

Top Tips

  1. Use editable text. If you insert pictures of tables, graphs, spreadsheets, etc., people using assistive technology will likely not be able to access that information.
  2. Use high contrast text and backgrounds. Light text on a dark background works best with projectors.
  3. Remember to darken the room when sharing slides or any information from a projector.
  4. Reduce glare from room lights on the projection screen/surface.

- adapted from Billy Pittard

The Outline View

  • Outline View is a great way to visually check whether all of your text is available to screen reading software.PowerPoint View tab, Outline View button highlighted
  • Make sure all of the slide text content appears in the outline view. Students with visual disabilities may prefer not to bother with the more visual slide view.
  • Recommended best practice: Compose your outline in the outline view, and then move to the slide view to add images and design.

Slide Layouts

  • Use the slide layouts (not the blank one though) provided on the Home tab. This will help to ensure your slide's reading order remains intact.
    • The order that text and objects are inserted into the slide will be the default reading order unless you manually change it.
      PowerPoint Home tab, Layouts button highlighted
  • Don't use animations or slide transitions on the PowerPoint presentation that you post online.

PowerPoint's Built-in Accessibility Checker

 For existing PowerPoint files or any point in the creation process, you can run the built-in accessibility checker for help in finding accessibility issues. Please Note: The accessibility checker only checks .pptx files

Office for Windows 2016

  1. Go to the File tab.
  2. Select Info from the sidebar menu.
  3. Click on the Check for Issues button.
    PowerPoint window, File tab open, Info selected from list, Check for issues button highlighted
    Picture from Indezine article
  4. Select Check Accessibility from the drop-down list.

The Accessibility Checker panel will open to the right of the document. The accessibility checker provides you with a list of errors, warnings and tips.

Office for Mac 2016

  1. Go to the Tools menu
  2. Choose Check Accessibility
    PowerPoint for Mac, Tools menu selected, Check Accessibility option highlighted

The Accessibility Checker panel will open to the right of the document. The accessibility checker provides you with a list of errors, warnings and tips.

Full list of Accessibility Tips and Fixes


Format lists as lists

Page formatting (lists, headings and links) is read aloud to screen reader users so that the content is understood in context. If order is important in your list, make it a numbered list. If order is not important, a bulleted list is a better choice.

  1. Select the text that you want to make into a list.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, select the Number (ordered list) or Bullets (unordered list) icon.

The bulleted (unordered) list in the picture above is highlighted to show that it would be better as a numbered (ordered) list, due to the step-by-step nature of the list. 

Images and Graphics (including graphs, maps & shapes)

Provide alternative text for images and graphics

Alternative text descriptions of images (ALT text) allows screen reader users to benefit from the information being conveyed by an image.

What information should you include or exclude from alternative text descriptions? See the DIAGRAM Center's alt text resource.

  1. Right-click on the image and select Format Picture.
  2. Choose the Layout and Properties (third from the right) icon in the sidebar that opens.powerpoint window with format picture sidebar open, layout & properties tab highlighted and description box highlighted
  3. Enter appropriate alt text in the Description field, not the Title field.
    1. Appropriate alt text is a succinct description of pertinent information about the image. The description should be able to stand on its own to tell the reader why the image was included.
  4. There is no Save button. You can either close the side bar or click on a different picture to add alt text to.

Note: If the image requires more explanation than can be covered in ALT text, refer to Complex Image Accessibility.


Write meaningful links that indicate link's destination

Links are a major method of navigating for everyone. If the links are embedded into meaningful text, they are much more useful.

  1. Type out text that describes the destination of the link.
  2. Select the text, right click and choose Hyperlink... from the menu.

    Word doc with "The MTSU One Stop is a great place to start when asking about anything campus-related." MTSU One Stop is highlighted with Hyperlink selected in the context menu
  3. The Insert Hyperlink window will open.

    link dialog open, URL typed in the edit box
  4. Type or paste the URL of the webpage in the Address field. For the example above, we would type out or paste, "http://www.mtsu.edu/one-stop"
  5. Click the OK button to save the link.

Video: How to make meaningful links

Hyperlink Tips

If you think students will be printing the slideshow and you want them to have the URL, put it in parentheses after the link, but don't hyperlink it.

Screen reading software can pull up all of the links in a page to aid the user in navigating the page more quickly. If a link pulled up by the screen reader is some indecipherable URL or ambiguous phrase like, "click here" the screen reader user will not know where that link goes.


Create data tables with column headers

Designating column headers in a data table (not a table used for layout) is essential to screen reader users understanding how the information is laid out.

Please note: You can only create column headers (not row headers) in PowerPoint.

  1. Place cursor anywhere in the table.
  2. Two Table Tools tabs will appear in the Ribbon.
  3. Click on the Design tab.
  4. Check the Header Row checkbox.PowerPoint window with Table Design tab highlighted and Header Row checkbox checked

Now the cells in the top row of your table make up the headers for the columns below them. Usually, this will make the top row of the table a darker, more pronounced shade.

Ensure a proper reading order in tables

Screen readers read tables from left to right, top to bottom, one cell at a time (no repeats). If cells are split or merged, the reading order can be thrown off.

Read your table left to right, top to bottom (never repeating a cell). Does it make sense? Screen reading software reads tables in this way.

Merged, nested, and split cells change the reading order of tables. Make sure you construct your table in a way that accommodates good reading order.


Don't use color alone to convey meaning

Don't use color alone to make a distinction, a comparison or to set something off or apart from the rest of the web page. If you categorize something by color alone, those who are color blind or blind will not benefit from the color distinction.

Instead, add some text that makes the element stand out to people with a vision impairment. I.e. "Don't miss the deadline!" is better written as "Important note: Don't miss the deadline!because it announces "Important note" aloud to text-to-speech users, instead of using color alone.

Use sufficient color contrast

Make sure there is enough color contrast between foreground (font) color and background color.

For a stand-alone tool that can test things in many applications (not just PowerPoint), try the Colour Contrast Analyzer Tool

  1. Download Colour Contrast Analyzer Tool for Windows or Colour Contrast Analyzer Tool for Mac
  2. Make sure you are in the Result — Luminosity mode, not the contrast result for color blindness.
  3. Click the Foreground eye dropper tool, hover over and click the foreground color to select the foreground color.
  4. Click the background eye dropper tool, hover over and click the background color.

Video How to use the Colour Contrast Analyzer tool


MTSU's standards are to reach a pass in the AA standards.

Avoid these combinations:

  • Red & Black
  • Blue & Yellow
  • Red & Green

Flashing/Blinking Content

Eliminate or limit blinking/flashing content

Any flashing/blinking content (especially content in red) can cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy as well as other photosensitive seizure disorders, so it should be limited and used only when necessary. Web pages that do contain flashing content, should limit the flashing to no more than three flashes per second and not use fully saturated reds in the content.

If you do have content that flashes/blinks more than three times per second, freeze the blinking content momentarily so it falls below the three times per second limit.

If you have a web video with a scene involving very bright lightning flashes (or other scenes with flashes), edit the video so the lightning doesn't flash more than three times in any one second period.

Interactive Elements

Ensure that any action that uses a mouse, can also be completed by a keyboard.

People with carpal tunnel and other mobility issues often cannot use a mouse. While there are more and more input device and software options such as speech to text software and touchpads, keyboard accessibility remains an important input format for many assistive technologies.

Whatever the operation or behavior, make sure a mouse is not required.

Try navigate the web page without a mouse. Use the following keyboard keys to navigate and interact with the web page all of its content:

  • Tab
  • Arrow keys
  • Enter
  • Spacebar 

Keyboard commands clearly provided (and common operating system and browser keyboard commands) may also be used.

Could you complete the course without using a mouse?

Label buttons

All buttons that require interaction with the user should be clearly labeled with real text or alternative text.

Math and Science

Write math and science equations accessibly

Math, science equations, formulas and notations can only be read by JAWS or NVDA in PowerPoint 2003-2016 with MathType 7. Otherwise, be prepared to extract all the content and place it in a file format that is accessible.

Reading Order

Maintain proper reading order in the slides

If you added text boxes to a slide layout or if you used the blank layout, the reading order of your slide could be messed up. A student using a screen reader will be tabbing through your slide to read all of the information. If the tab order is not the proper reading order, the slide will be confusing. To check the reading order of a slide:

  1. Click in the gray area outside your slide or on your slide without selecting any of the placeholders.
  2. Press Tab key. This is the first thing on the slide that would be read by screen reading software.
  3. Press Tab again to see what the second thing read would be, and so on.

Change the Reading Order

On the Home Tab, click on the Arrange menu and choose Reorder Objects.

Reorder the objects.

  • Important: The first object (#1 when you hover your mouse over the object) is read last, so if you want to move an object in the slide to the first position reading order, it would have to be at the bottom of the pile (and the highest numbered object).

Video & Audio

Is the media player keyboard and screen reader accessible?

It is better to link out to media rather than embed it in your PowerPoint. Layers of technology make it difficult for assistive technologies to navigate. If you do embed video or audio, make sure the players are keyboard accessible. Also, be sure to use captioned (always necessary) and/or audio described (when necessary) videos, including a transcript for any audio clips embedded in a presentation.

Additional Resources

My question is not answered here. What do I do?

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Information for this page was adapted from PCC's website and is based on the Creative Commons license.