PowerPoint slide presentations can be an exceptionally useful tool. They have been used throughout the education and business community for years, and the shift toward remote and hybrid instruction has accelerated their use in school settings. While PowerPoint documents can be made to be accessible, many are not. This week, we will discuss
It seems simple: if information in a document is important, you need to be able to access it. But, sometimes making that happen is not so simple. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores accessible slide presentation documents (like Word) in terms of self-advocacy.
Accessibility, disabilities, and the law
For a review of what the term “accessible” means for individuals with and without disabilities and references to legal requirements relating to accessibility, please see “Self-advocacy September: Making Word Documents Accessible” in the Bridges Blog.
PowerPoints shared using distance technology
As a preliminary matter, please note that documents shared using “screen share” tools on distance technology platforms convert the shared file to a video. In doing so, the accessibility features of the shared document are lost to users of accessible technology, like screen reading software. Thus, screen sharing, alone, does not provide accessibility to blind/low vision individuals using accessible technology, so the relevant document or documents should be sent directly to those users. Alternatively, the original, accessible document could be placed in a shared folder on the cloud, and the link to the document could be shared in the distance technology chat room.
How to self-advocate for accessible PowerPoint documents
Successful self-advocacy for accessibility goes beyond simply asking your teachers for accessible PowerPoints. While accessibility is the goal, many teachers don’t understand the barriers inaccessible PowerPoints pose. They also might be using inaccessible materials that were provided by a publisher, and they might not have any idea how to remediate the inaccessible aspects of the PowerPoint.
First, communicate with your teachers that you understand that they use PowerPoint documents to provide information. Gently let them know that when information is not fully accessible and/or easy to use, the purpose of the document cannot be fulfilled. In other words, you want accessible PowerPoint documents because you want access to the same information other students are receiving.
Next, share that PowerPoint has a built-in accessibility checker. This tool can help identify accessibility problems. Even better, PowerPoint’s Accessibility Checker provides help and guidance for correcting the accessibility problem!
Common issues that impede the accessibility of PowerPoint documents
Missing slide titles
- This makes the document difficult to navigate.
- Additionally, sometimes the PowerPoint looks like it has a slide title, but the title was inserted improperly, so accessible technology cannot identify the text as a slide title.
Duplicate slide titles
- Sometimes there are two, three, or more identical slide titles.
- This impedes navigability because the user cannot easily navigate up and down the document.
- This can be easily remedied by adding “part 1,” “part 2,” etc. at the end of each duplicate slide title.
Missing alternative text
- PowerPoint documents often have MANY graphics.
- Graphics, alone, are not accessible.
Sometimes, graphics contain only text.
- Instead of using the graphic, the PowerPoint document should simply set forth the text.
- If the graphic is important, the teacher should add alternative text (alt text) the sets forth the content of the graphic.
Sometimes, graphics contain a table.
- Instead of using the graphic, use PowerPoint to create an accessible table.
In general, non-text graphics should contain alternative text “alt text.”
- Alt text allows one to use words to describe what is in the graphic.
- In some cases, the graphic is merely decorative, and it should be marked as such.
In many cases, alt text, alone, is not enough.
- Test: would the alt text, alone, be enough information for sighted students; in other words, would you feel comfortable taking ALL the graphics out and leaving only the alt text in the document?
- If no, blind/low vision students should also receive tactile or enlarged graphics so that they may fully access the information conveyed in the graphic.
- Sometimes, PowerPoint documents look fine, but errors in creating the slide cause the slide to read text out of order.
- It can be quite confusing when the slide reads from bottom to far left to top to middle, etc.
- Need a properly-coded header row.
- Tables should not include split or merged cells.
Quick-and-easy steps toward accessibility for PowerPoint documents
While actual accessibility requires FULL accessibility, here are some best practices to get started:
- Use built-in templates: They are located in the ‘Design’ tab (Alt+G)
- Use slide layouts: The layouts provided include titles and other items you can add. Do this when creating a new slide select one of the available slide layouts to fit your needs. Do not make a completely empty slide and then add your content.
- When using tables make sure you identify row and column headers.
- Make sure the reading order is correct (Alt+F10).
- Slide titles: Every slide title must have a unique (and descriptive) name that is not to be repeated.
- Avoid “eye candy” (information that is not useful)
- Make certain colors used provide sufficient contrast based on WCAG standards. You can use the Web AIM Color Contrast Checker
- Provide Alt text: Alt text provides information about what is contained in a non-text content
- Group graphics together: If you have multiple graphics in a slide, grouping them together at the end of the slide can make your slide more accessible
- And, of course: use the PowerPoint Accessibility Checker.
Check out great accessibility resources from the TVI Portal Maryland
Make and Take: Accessible Slide Presentations—Secrets Revealed! YouTube video recording
- PowerPoint document for the Make and Take: Accessible Slide Presentations—Secrets Revealed! presentation
Resources for creating accessible PowerPoint documents:
- Cheat Sheet for PowerPoint Accessibility (Dropbox link)
- Longer version of accessible PowerPoints with step-by-step directions
- Keyboard commands for slide presentations
- From Microsoft: Make your PowerPoints Accessible
- From Microsoft: Using the Reading Order Pane
Use the Free Bridges Helpdesk
Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!
We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.
Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.
Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 305-9199
- Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page or Facebook Messenger
- Voice mail: Call (443) 320-4003, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.