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Web Accessibility: PowerPoint Documents

If the PowerPoint presentation is for Purdue University purposes, consider using a Purdue-branded PowerPoint template.

If you prefer to use your own template (Penn State, n.d.):

  1. Use a color scheme that has enough contrast between the text and background.
  2. Verify that each slide has a title and that it appears only once.
  3. Check the reading order of all slides.
  4. Ensure that all images/shapes have alternative text.
  5. Ensure that any tables have headers in the top row or column.
  6. Use Microsoft Office's built-in accessibility checker to check for any issues.

This will help provide a consistent layout and make the document easier for users of assistive technologies to navigate.

Note: your instructions will vary depending on which version of Office you have.

Color scheme

Use a color scheme that provides enough contrast between the text and the background (Penn State, n.d.). To check if you’re using the right amount of contrast, refer to the tools listed in the color section of the Web Accessibility: Resources webpage.

To select a PowerPoint theme, go to the Design tab and choose from one of the pre-existing themes (NC State University, n.d.).

Slide title

When creating new slides in PowerPoint, choose one of the pre-formatted layouts. This will ensure that the information presented will have the correct heading structure, list styles, and reading order (NC State University, n.d.).

To create a new slide (NC State University, n.d.):

In Powerpoint, select New Slide from the Home tab.

  1. Select New Slide from the Home
  2. Select one of the options from the Layout menu (see the screenshot below). PowerPoint automatically applies this layout to the new slide.
  3. Go to the new slide and add the title and content.

Check the reading order

People using a screen reader will hear slide content in the order it was added to the slide. That might be very different from the order in which things appear. Therefore, it is important to make sure the slide content is read or heard in the order that you intend (Microsoft Office, n.d.).

To verify the order of slide elements:

  1. Go to the Home In the Drawing Group, select Arrange.
  2. In the Arrange menu, choose Selection pane (Windows) or Reorder Objects (Mac).
  3. To change the reading order, do one of the following:
    • Drag and drop items to the new location.
    • Select the item and then select the Up arrow button (Bring Forward) or the Down arrow button (Send Backward).

Alternative text

As discussed on the Web Accessibility: Images webpage, alternative text (or alt text), provides a text alternative to the image. It is shown to visual users if the image doesn’t load or read to people using a screen reader.

PowerPoint automatically generates alt text for photos, stock images, and PowerPoint icons by using Microsoft cloud-based services. For charts, screenshots, or shapes, you need to add the alt text manually (Microsoft Office, n.d.).

How to add alt text

  1. Right-click on an image, icon, chart or shape and select Edit Alt Text.
  2. This opens the Alt Text sidebar, with three options:
    1. Description field: type 1-2 succinct sentences describing the image.
    2. Generate a description for me button: upon selecting this, the text will be auto generated. Always review this to make sure it conveys the right information. If necessary, edit the text.
    3. Mark as decorative checkbox: decorative objects add interest but aren’t informative (such as stylistic borders).
  3. Save your changes.


As discussed on the Web Accessibility: Text webpage, the experience of understanding tabular data is different for sighted users vs. people using screen readers or other assistive technologies. Follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid fixed-width tables (Microsoft Office, n.d.).
  • As discussed in the Web Accessibility: Controls webpage, make sure your link text is descriptive.
  • Use table headers (Microsoft Office, n.d.).

Table Headers

Tables should have headers (similar to headings) to help users understand what the information means. Microsoft Office allows you to mark the first row or column of a table as table headers (Penn State, n.d.).

Upon selecting the table in PowerPoint, the Design tab will be selected.

To add headers, do the following (NC State University, n.d.):

  1. Click anywhere in the table.
  2. The Table Tools options should become visible, and the Design tab will be selected (see image above).
  3. Headers can be added to the top row or column:
    1. To make sure the top row will contain column headers, mark the Header Row checkbox (In the screenshot above, it’s underlined in blue).
    2. To make sure the first column will contain row headers, mark the First Column checkbox.
  4. Type or retype your column headings.

Office Accessibility Checker

Use Office’s built-in Accessibility Checker to check for common accessibility issues. The checker will not find all accessibility errors and some of the warnings it gives will be subjective, so use your best judgement.

How to use the Accessibility Checker

  1. On the ribbon of the application, select the Review tab.
  2. In the Accessibility group, select Check Accessibility.
  3. This opens the Accessibility sidebar.
  4. Results will be grouped into three categories: errors, warnings and tips. Errors are the most important issues to fix, with warnings the next most important.
  5. When an item in the results is clicked on, the checker will indicate where the problem is in the document. It will also give you additional information and tips on how to fix the issue.



  1. NC State University. (n.d.) Powerpoint. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from
  2. Penn State. (n.d.). PowerPoint Tips. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from
  3. Microsoft Office. (n.d.) Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible to people with disabilities. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from

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