Accessible PowerPoints are on students' wish list

In a recent visit with student government representatives, web accessibility coordinator Zayira Jordan got an interesting bit of intel. Iowa State students want in-class PowerPoint presentations to be more accessible.

It's a smart request, Jordan says. Accessible documents make learning easier for everyone -- not just those who have disabilities. Students have different learning styles, and accessible PowerPoint presentations give them more options.

For example, Jordan said access features added to videos (captions and transcripts) are useful to many learners. Similarly, the descriptive text that helps the visually impaired make sense of the bars and lines on a complex chart is probably equally welcomed by many others.

Here are Jordan's tips for putting together accessible PowerPoint presentations that work well in the classroom and online.

Select built-in designs

PowerPoint's templates are well-organized, tested and work with screen readers used by those who are blind or have low vision. The templates are available under the "file" tab. Select "new" or "new from template" to see the options.

Don’t insert text boxes into your slides

Manually inserted text boxes are an accessibility problem because screen readers may have trouble reading them. The solution is to select a slide template that accommodates your content, so that you needn't add a text box. A variety of slide arrangements are available under the "new slide" option.

Use sans-serif fonts

Sans-serif fonts, like Arial and Verdana, are easier to read than serif fonts. Font size should be at least 24 points.

Do a color check

Make sure the presentation's color scheme is high contrast -- high enough to be discerned by those with low vision or color blindness. Use an online color analyzer, like Web Aim's Color Contrast Checker, to see if the font colors and sizes are accessible.

Also, check your presentation to see if you've used color to convey information. Examples might be a chart with colored bars or a form in which red labels denote required entries. To make these examples accessible to those who are color blind, find a color-less way to convey the info. For example, you might add different patterns to the bars on the chart or add the word "required" to form labels.

Give every slide its own title

People using screen readers tend to be skimmers, and a common tactic is to run through the slide titles. Putting a unique title on each slide provides a useful navigation tool.

Use the outline view to prep

The outline view, available under the "view" tab, is a handy way to build, review and make changes on presentations. It's also a good way to see the copy as it will be spoken by the screen reader.

Add alt text to images, charts and tables

Images, charts and tables all need alternative text -- meaningful descriptions of the objects. Right-click the object and follow these instructions to navigate to the alt tag form. Fill in the "description" box. Generally, the "title" box can be left blank.

Keep tables simple

Tables with too many rows and columns overwhelm both viewers and screen readers. Complex tables are best saved to PDF linked files. PDFs can accommodate more explanation of what's going on in the tables.

Don't use automatic transitions and animations

These gimmicks can distract or change the slide before the presenter or reader is ready. They also can mess with screen readers, causing them to re-read slides.

Provide captions, transcripts for video and audio

Closed captions or subtitles must be encoded into videos before the videos are added to presentations. Transcripts are a nice addition to videos and a must for any audio files inserted into presentations.

Convert to PDF for online viewing

PowerPoint presentations should be converted to PDFs for online use. The files are smaller and don't require the user to have Microsoft Office or a special plug-in. When saving, be sure to save in the PDF file format and export. (Don't use the print option to turn your PowerPoint into a "PDF;" screen readers won't work with PDFs created that way.)

Use the accessibility checker

Run your presentation through a PowerPoint accessibility checker. If you've got errors, the checker will helpfully propose a fix. Here's how to find the accessibility checker on current versions of PowerPoint presentations. 


Accessibility assist

Have questions? Contact web accessibility coordinator Zayira Jordan, 294-0982.

Related stories