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Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations in Office 2016

A good PowerPoint presentation should have a thoughtfully chosen theme with good color contrast and legible fonts, consistent structure for ease of navigation by screen reader users, and alternative text on all images and other graphical content. Other considerations include the handouts and the accessibility of the posted (.pptx or PDF) file after the presentation. 

Note: While PowerPoint 2016 was used to demonstrate these concepts in this tutorial, the concepts can easily be applied to other versions of PowerPoint. See Microsoft's  Make Your PowerPoint Presentations Accessible to People with Disabilities for help with other versions of PowerPoint.

for information about applying to other versions.

Cheat sheet: Creating Accessible Microsoft PowerPoint 2016 Presentations  (.pdf)

View individual segments below, or Play All.

Segment TitleDescriptionVideo
Themes, colors, fonts

When choosing a PowerPoint theme, take care to choose a background that does not interfere with slide text, choose colors that have good contrast, and use legible fonts.

  • Color contrast ratio minimum of 4.5:1 is recommended
  • Choose sans serif fonts, avoid script fonts
  • Recommended font size minimum 24 points, 36 preferred

Link: Color Contrast Checker

Slide Titles

Slide titles are necessary because they provide a way for screen reader users to easily navigate your presentation. All slides must have a unique title, but there are ways to hide the title from the screen if you would rather it not be visible. Check for the presence of slide titles in Outline View:

  1. View > Outline View
  2. Check for the presence of a unique slide title next to each slide number

To prevent the slide title from appearing on the slide you can hide it:

  • Home > Arrange > Selection Pane
  • Click the visibility icon toggle to turn element visibility off

Slide Layouts and Reading Order

Use built-in slide layouts to ensure that your slides have titles and that all content is included in a container, is present in Outline View, and is in the proper reading order. Creating a blank slide and filling it with text boxes and images often results in hidden content and reading order problems.

Any slide that has content outside of designated content areas (containers) will show up in the Accessibility Checker with a warning to "Check Reading Order". You can view the reading order in the Selection Pane:

  1. In slide edit mode click Home > Arrange > Selection Pane
  2. Slide content containers will appear stacked in a list in reverse reading order with the Title container usually at the very bottom (think if it as cards dealt in a stack.)
  3. Click the bottom-most item in the list and use your arrow keys to work your way to the top-most item. This will be the order that your content is read aloud.
  4. To adjust the order, simply drag content up or down in the Selection Pane list. This will not affect the content on the slide, only the reading order.

Alternative text on images

All images should contain alternative text descriptions for screen reader users. To add alternative text to an image:

  1. Right-click the image and choose Format Picture
  2. Click the Size & Properties icon in the Format Picture pane
  3. Click Alt Text
  4. Add alternative text to the Description field

Alternative text should be informative but succinct. Avoid using the words "Image of..." or "Graphic of..." as this will already be announced by the screen reader.

See Alternative Text for tips on writing good alternative textual descriptions.

Descriptive hypertext links

Hypertext links are generally presented as long URL strings by default. These URLs may not make sense when read aloud by a screen reader. Also, participants in a live presentation are unlikely to try to copy a long URL from the screen. It is considered best practice to use descriptive (plain language) links and, if necessary, shortened versions of URL on the visible slide.

To modify the text that is displayed for your link:

  1. Right-click the link
  2. Choose Edit Hyperlink
  3. Change the text in the Text to Display field to plain language
  4. Click OK

Charts and graphs

Charts and graphs require alternative text, and must not use color as the only means of communicating information. Consider including data labels or an accompanying data table as an alternative means of sharing the information conveyed by color.

To add alternative text to a chart:

  1. Right-click in the chart area and choose Format Chart Area
  2. Click the Size & Properties icon from the Format Chart Area panel
  3. Add alternative text to the Description field.

To add data labels or accompanying table to a chart:

  1. Click the chart to select it
  2. Click the Chart Elements button
  3. Select the Data Labels checkbox or the Data Table checkbox as desired
  4. Once the Data Labels are visible on the chart, you can right-click them and choose Format Data Labels to customize the labels.


Keep data tables simple with a proper header row and a uniform number of rows in each column (no merged or split cells.) Tables should have brief alternative text.

To designate a header row:

  1. Place your cursor in the top table row
  2. In the Table Tools menu choose Design
  3. Click the checkbox next to Header Row

To fix merged cells:

  1. Place your cursor in the merged cell
  2. Right-click and choose Split cells
  3. Select the number of columns/rows that should result from the split
  4. Fill in the resulting empty cells with data as needed

Using the Accessibility Checker

The built-in Accessibility Checker can alert you to some common accessibility errors in your PowerPoint presentation, including missing alternative text on images/charts, missing headers on tables, poor table formatting, unclear hyperlinks, and missing slide titles. It will also alert you to any slides that may contain reading order problems.The Accessibility Checker does not check for color contrast or font-related issues so you will have to check these manually.

To use the Accessibility Checker:

  1. Click File > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility
  2. Click each of the errors and warnings to locate and fix
  3. Continue until all errors/warnings have been addressed

Exporting to PDF

When exporting your PowerPoint presentation to PDF be sure to use the built-in Export or Save as Adobe PDF options. Do not try to use the Print option as this will not retain any of the accessibility that you have just built in to the file! Many people try to use the Print function to save the 3-slides per page handout as PDF and this will result in an inaccessible PDF.

To properly export your PowerPoint file:

  1. Choose Export
  2. Choose Create Adobe PDF
  3. Choose whether to export Speakers Notes with your slides

Note: If you will be using the Syracuse University templates the slide titles will have to be manually changed to headings in the PDF. There is a known issue with the templates that prevents titles from being mapped properly to heading tags.

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