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As previously mentioned, creating documents with an "accessibility first" mentality will help to shape your documents in a way that they are structurally sound and much more efficient (meaning less work later). By following some of the practices listed below, you will have a better understanding of an accessible-minded workflow and will be able to offer a better experience to all learners. **Note: The suggestions below are based on the Office 365 version of Powerpoint. This is in no way a fully comprehensive guide to accommodating all learners, but an attempt to help make your workflow more accessible. These suggestions are based on the WCAG and AODA guidelines with supporting documentation from Microsoft.

Step 1: Templates and Themes

One of the first things you can do to make sure that your Powerpoint is accessible is to use a template. Typically templates have the correct element tags on headings, text, tables and lists. If you have any experience in HTML, using a template will auto-tag elements on the page correctly. For instance, a heading will be correctly tagged as an H1-H6. This is important, as having a semantic hierarchy of tags will allow a screen reader to indicate headings, paragraphs, tables, etc to someone who is blind or has low vision. Please note that you can easily increase text to a larger font size, which may look identical to a heading and may still be interpreted by a screen reader as a "paragraph" element. See figure 1.1 for an example. Please keep in mind that there are many downloadable themes offered by Microsoft and other sources online. Please contact the Multimedia Team prior to using an external resource or to co-create a custom theme for your specific needs. 

figure 1.1

Although Hello #1 and Hello #2 may look visually identical on the page, they are tagged differently, and therefore will be interpreted by a screen reader as a Heading tag for Hello #1 and a Paragraph tag for Hello #2 (as Hello #1 was created using a template, and Hello #2 was created by adding a text box and increasing the font size). This is significant for multiple reasons; a user who creates a presentation from a blank template, simply adding their own text boxes and changing font sizes to show visual importance, hierarchy and design may unknowingly create a document that has no programmatic or elemental hierarchy, and will confuse a screen reader and in turn confuse the person using the screen reader.

Step 2: Considering Reading Order

Although sticking to a theme or template may help to curb this common issue, there will be times where adding images, tables or extra text will be needed to portray a concept. In the event of adding extra content outside of the master slides, order of content delivery can easily be skewed. When someone who can see reads a slide, they usually read elements such as text or a picture, top to bottom and left to right (or in order of visually dominant elements). In contrast, a screen reader reads the elements of a slide in the order they were added to the slide, which might be very different from the order in which things appear. To make sure everyone reads the contents in the order you intend, it is important to check the reading order. As we all know, creating a Powerpoint presentation often happens in a non-linear way. To view the reading order of your content, simply:

  1. Click on the Home tab in the main ribbon
  2. Click on the Arrange button
  3. Click on the Selection Pane option

figure 1.2

An image of Microsoft Powerpoint with indicators showing the three steps listed in in the text above

Once the Selection Pane option has been clicked, a new sidebar called "Selection" will pop up on the right side of the screen. As you can see in figure 1.3, although the text box with the text "ASO" is visually ordered first, the Selection Pane shows that it will come up third. This is important, as a screen reader will read "ASO" last. 

Figure 1.3

An image showing incorrect reading order on Powerpoint

Reading Order becomes even more important during procedural writing or when ordered instructions occur. For instance in figure 1.4 we have a Powerpoint presentation that outlines the steps of writing a basic thesis. As we can see, based on the reading order has the title order correct, but the first step is in the wrong order. This could become problematic to a student who is using a screen reader, as these ordered instructions would be displayed out of order, and could affect their ability to get the correct results. 

Figure 1.4

An image showing the correct reading order

To best solve the reading order issue, a best practice is to have the selection pane open while authoring a presentation. As the presentation is being created you can easily title each element in the selection pane. This way, as you make your way through the document (and your slide accumulates more elements) you can easily identify each by its title. Another option is titling each element as you add it using the ranked order method. For instance, you call the element you want to  appear first "one" or "1" and so on. As you continue to build your document, you may decide to change the order of delivery, or you may choose to order everything at the end when creating the slide. To change the reading order, simply click and drag each element in the selection menu to the correct order. Keep in mind, if you choose to use the ranked order naming method, you may end up having to do a lot of renaming, which is why the semantic method is superior if you think you may need to change the reading order later. 

Step 3: Design

Below is a matrix to help guide some of the design workflow with an accessible-forward workflow in mind. This matrix can also be used to go back and update any old Presentations be more accessible-forward. 

What to fixHow to find itWhy fix itHow to fix it

Alt Text (text that describes an image)

  • Include alternative text with all visuals and tables
  • Visual content includes pictures, clip art, SmartArt graphics, shapes, groups, charts, embedded objects, ink, and videos
To find missing alternative text, use the Accessibility Checker (see instructions below).
  • Alt text helps people who can’t see the screen to understand what’s important in images and other visuals.
  • Avoid using text in images as the sole method of conveying important information. If you must use an image with text in it, repeat that text in the document. In alt text, briefly describe the image and mention the existence of the text and its intent.
Add alt text to an object by bringing up the secondary menu (right click on the object) and clicking on the "edit alt text" option. Simply fill in 1-2 sentences describing the object to someone who is blind or low vision.

Decorative object

An object is decorative if the information provided by the image or object is given in adjacent text, or is simply being used to make the presentation more attractive.

This process is often skipped by the accessibility checker as it is more of a subjective concept. If the image is already described in the text, it may be considered decorative.
  • Marking a decorative object correctly as a decorative object, takes away the mystery of that object contributing meaning to the presentation if there is no alt text needed.
Mark a decorative object as decorative by bringing up the secondary menu (right click on the object) and clicking on the "edit alt text" option. Simply click the "Mark as decorative" checkbox below alt text box.

Images containing text

An image containing text may be a great way to display information. However this text is not readable by a screen reader. Any image or table with an abundance of text which is non-decorative is a potential accessibility issue (this includes screen shots and tables).

The accessibility checker will not be able to differentiate between an image with no text and an image with text. This is a manual task that needs to be addressed by the author as the presentation is created.
  • Images containing any text that portrays meaning of the content will be bypassed by a screen reader (unless fully outlined using alt-text)
Treat an image with text as any other image that adds meaning or context to the content of the presentation, and think of trying to turn it into a decorative image by using adjacent space to give a clear and definite explanation as to what the image is portraying. This way, the Universal Design for Learning concept is used, and may help all learners to understand the image more clearly. Doubling up by adding alt text is also a good idea.

Colour Contrast

Provide enough contrast between text and its background so that it can be read by people with moderately low vision (who do not use contrast-enhancing assistive technology) or who are colourblind.

Some themes and colours may look visually appealing but may not pass the colour contrast accessibility test. This needs to be monitored during the design phase. Colour contrasts should be at least 4.5:1 to pass the AAA standard.
  • Users who are low vision, colourblind for colour deficient may have a hard time reading content on the page.
Use accessible colour pallets that pass the AAA WCAG standards. Try websites such as or use an application such as CCA to go back and check previous presentations.


Ensure that color (or other visual based methods) are not the only means of conveying related content.

To find instances of colour-coding, visually scan the slides in your presentation.
  • People who are blind, have low vision, or are colourblind might miss out on the meaning conveyed by particular colours.
  • Screen readers do not convey colour information on text.

use non-visual cues such as text-based labels to link information, as well as colour-coding.

Table Structure

Use simple tables of graphic organizers to display information (Powerpoint allows for the use of nested tables which do not read well on screen readers).

To ensure that tables don't contain split cells, merged cells, nested tables, or completely blank rows or columns, use the Accessibility Checker (instructions to follow).
  • Screen readers use header information to identify rows and columns. Having blank, split, complex or long titled cells, can cause a screen reader to lose track of location.
  • Screen readers lose track of their location when tables are nested.
Use appropriate heading tags to indicate related data in rows and columns.

Font Legibility

Use 18 point font or larger with sufficient negative space.

To minimize legibility issues look for overcrowded areas or fonts that are overly stylized.
  • People with dyslexia or low vision have an easier time with sans-serif, monospace and roman style fonts (British Dyslexia Association).
  • In accordance with Universal Learning for All.
  • Use suggested fonts.
  • Reduce reading load.
  • Used suggested font sizes.
  • Only use Bold on titles and headings.

Step 4: Accessibility Checker

Begin by finding the Accessibility Checker. This can be done by using the smart search in the ribbon and typing "Accessibility Checker" (see figure 2.1 below).  Or Click Here to view a quick video.

figure 2.1

An image showing the Powerpoint search option

You can also access the Accessibility Checker by clicking on "Review" in the ribbon and then the "Check Accessibility" button. Click here, to view a short video on accessing the Accessibility Checker or follow the images below.

Figure 2.2 

Figure 2.3

An image showing the Accessibility Checker location on the ribbon in powerpoint

Figure 2.4

An image showing the Accessibility Checker menu sidebar

When the Accessibility Checker task pane appears, it will list any errors or warnings that may have been missed. To see information on why and how to fix an issue, under Inspection Results, select an issue. Results appear under Additional Information, and you’re directed to the inaccessible content in your file. Once the updates have been made, these errors will disappear. 

Click Here to see a basic Accessibility Check workflow walk-through

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