Creating Accessible Online Resources – Part 3: Microsoft PowerPoint

For a fuller explanation of the examples in this document, please download the .docx version and Alex Da Costa’s very handy reference guide. This blog is meant, really, to just skim the high points and provide the technical how-tos. It may also be worth looking at the linguistic conventions used in this guidance.

Designing Accessible Slides

  • Use a sans-serif font
    • As with Word, choose a font that has good readability and that is sans serif. Verdana is still good here.
  • Title every slide
    • A slide title is tagged in the same way that a heading or a title is tagged in a Word Document. Use the section on the slide layout that says, “Click to add title”. You can format or rearrange this title item in any way you wish, provided it meets accessibility guidelines, as long as you use the ‘Title’ area of the slide layout
  • Add alternate text and descriptions to key images
    • You add alt text to images in PowerPoint exactly the same way you do in Word: On a Mac, right-click the image an choose ‘Edit Alt Text’ and on a PC, right-click the image and choose Format Picture and then on the Size and Properties Tab to get to the Alt Text section.
Screenshot showing the position of the 'Alt Text' part of the Format picture dialogue in the Windows version of PowerPoint
  • Keep data on slides short and to the point
    • PowerPoint is for illustrating key points (usually no more than 6 bullet points per slide) or providing an outline of what you’re talking about. Quotes are an exception, but it’s best to provide one quote per slide and make sure it’s a readable length.
      Use built-in tools for lists and other slide content.
  • Microsoft have changed the way new slides are presented by default in the last couple of versions of Office. (To add a new default slide, right click on the list of slides on the left-hand side of your PowerPoint window and choose ‘New Slide’ from the contextual menu that pops up.) They now provide a simpler way for you to choose what you want your slide to contain after you add your title. You can simply click the icon for the thing you want to add and choose the source. (or start typing where is says ‘Click to add text” to create a list) I’ll talk about slide layouts and how to create your own later
  • Don’t use colour on its own to indicate importance.
    • Importance and emphasis are better done with bold text rather than using italics, underlining, or colour.
  • Make sure there is good contrast between colours on the page.
    • This is particularly important for PowerPoint since it’s a medium mainly used for presenting data on a screen, often via a projector. People need to be able to see your slides properly, even if the lighting isn’t ideal. Good contrast helps with this.
  • Check the Reading Order of your slides and the content they contain.
    • To check the reading order, go to the Home ribbon and click on Arrange. Choose Selection Pane from the list. In the selection pane on a Mac, the first-read items are shown at the bottom of the list and the reader sequentially moves upwards. On a PC, the first-read item is at the top and the reader sequentially moves downwards.

      No, I have no idea why they did this, either.

      When you select the item in the Selection Pane it will be automatically selected on the page. You can re-order the way in which items on the page are read by dragging and dropping items in the selection pane.
  • Use built-in Slide Layouts (or build accessible layouts)
    • This comes with a caveat: you’ll need to use your judgement about whether a slide template complies with accessibility regulations, so be sure to really think about the things in this list as you’re putting together your slide show.

Designing Custom Slide Layouts

If you have content that doesn’t suit the default slide layout, then you can choose another layout easily by going to the Insert ribbon on the toolbar and choosing the downward pointing arrow next to the ‘New Slide’ button.

Screen shot showing default slide layouts in Microsoft PowerPoint.

If none of these styles suit, you can create your own. For example, for a presentation I was doing, I needed a slide with a Title at the top, a subtitle, and then a space for a list. None of the provided templates have that, exactly, so I created my own, custom slide. To do this, go to the View ribbon and choose ‘Slide Master’ from the options.

Doing this takes you into the area of PowerPoint where all of the slide templates reside. Once there, find the slide layout that most closely matches your content and right click on it. Choose Duplicate Layout from the contextual menu. This will give you another copy of the slide master you’ve chosen and you can edit it to suit your needs.

Screenshot showing the master view of the 'Title and List' slide in PowerPoint. There's a contextual menu showing the options for creating a new slide master, including duplicating the one currently sleected.

For example, I wanted a copy of the slide in the image above – it has a title and one list section below it – and I wanted to add room for a subtitle.  I made a copy of the master slide and adjusted the size of the text box for the list and added a new text box beneath the title section. I also resized the title section text box a bit to make a little more room. After that, I went to the ‘Insert Placeholder’ button on the Slide Master ribbon and chose ‘Text’. I formatted the text as I wanted it to appear (e.g. made it not a list, changed the font and size) and then gave the slide master a useful name by right-clicking and choosing ‘Rename Layout’. Once that was done, I selected the ‘Close Master View’ button from the Master Slide ribbon and the new layout was available from the Insert ribbon under New Slide.

This new custom slide layout should be available any time you create a new slide, no matter which presentation you’re in, as long as you’re using the same computer. The custom templates are saved in your user account.