Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations

[NOTE: This tutorial is in the process of being revised]

So you have a PowerPoint presentation and you want to share it with your class online. Or maybe you have a PowerPoint presentation from a face-to-face class that you are now developing for online delivery. There are various ways to deliver the content of your PowerPoint file online to your class, each with it's own issues and with various levels of accessibility.

This tutorial will look at various options for converting PowerPoint presentations to online versions and discuss the accessibility issues of each. Then we will look at an export option using LecShare for creating HTML versions of PowerPoint files.

If you are taking this workshop for flex credit, take the post-assessment test once you have finished the tutorial.

Below is a linked list of the topics in this tutorial

What makes a presentation accessible?

  • Can be accessed without purchase of extra programs
  • Can be read from a screen reader and other assistive technologies
  • Screen readers read the document in correct order
  • Non-text elements such as images have text descriptions or captions
  • Colors should be high contrast between background and text

Choices for online delivery

Following are 8 different scenarios for putting your presentation online. The choices get better with regards to accessibility as you go down the list. Options #3 and #4 are the methods we recommend because of workload issues. NOTE: The Distance Education Assistive Technology Specialist assists all faculty in fixing issues of PowerPoint accessibility and will do the conversions to RTF or PDF as needed.

  1. Put up your PowerPoint file as is
    • Not recommended
    • Requires viewers to have full version of PowerPoint or Free PowerPoint Viewer
    • Will require that large PowerPoint files be downloaded in their entirety before viewing
    • Accessibility factors
      • PowerPoint files can be used with various assistive computer technologies, but most screen readers will need the presentation be in another format to access them. If you post a PowerPoint file on the Web, you need to also post an alternate version to ensure maximum accessibility.
  2. Save as a Web page from PowerPoint
    • Not recommended
    • Content may not present correctly in non-IE browsers
    • Creates convoluted and complex HTML - don't try to edit the HTML document
    • Accessibility factors
      • Creates HTML code that uses untitled frames - bad for navigation with a screen reader
      • Images do not have useable ALT text
  3. Save as Outline/RTF from PowerPoint
    • Fast, easy, but very limited solution
    • Creates a MS Word document of presentation's text content
    • All images, charts, graphs will be lost
    • Accessibility factors
      • Need for the viewer to open in word processing program, cannot access from a Web page
      • Screen readers can handle these files fine
      • Any missing elements such as images, charts and graphs will need to be added manually as text
  4. Convert to PDF from PowerPoint
    • Quick and easy to create the PDF
    • For maximum accessibility, requires Acrobat Pro on Windows
    • Accessibility factors
      • Need to author correctly in PowerPoint
      • In more complex files, may be harder to make accessible than HTML solutions
      • Need to check for accessibility in Adobe Acrobat Pro
      • If creating the PDF on a Mac, the PDF will be untagged and the images will not have alternate text
        • Requires more steps to be made accessible
        • Need to open in Acrobat Pro to make accessible
      • See more about making PDFs accessible in the Accessible PDF tutorial
  5. Convert the slides to JPEGs and make HTML pages
    • In PowerPoint, the slides can be easily converted to JPEGs
    • Create HTML presentation a course management system (or HTML editor if you create your own HTML)
    • Accessibility factors
      • All slide information including text is contained in an image, need to add alternative text or repetition of slide text as HTML text to be accessible
      • Can easily add accessible text to the pages
  6. Create HTML version of PowerPoint file using HTML text
    • Copy and paste all slide text into course management system pages (or HTML pages), place all images used on the pages
      • You may want to use the "Outline View" in PowerPoint for easier copying
    • Requires a fair amount of work depending on the size of the presentation
    • Accessibility factors
      • Provided all accessibility procedures are followed (e.g. adding alternative text to images), very accessible solution
  7. Create video version of PowerPoint with audio
    • Allows you to create a fuller presentation with your commentary, resembling face to face lectures
    • Requires a fair amount of work
    • Requires using software such as Camtasia (Mac & PC), use can use the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning to access Camtasia
    • See more software options on the Integrating Multimedia into Online Course Materials help document
    • Requires a microphone that plugs into your computer (the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning has a mic)
    • Accessibility factors
      • Will need to be captioned (see Procedures for making Multi-Media Files Accessible)
      • If the audio portion of the video does not offer the complete content, HTML text will need to be provided on the Web page that contains the video, so that the visually impaired can get access to all of the content.

Recommended workflow

There is no perfect solution to the issue of converting PowerPoint files to online versions. However, creating an HTML presentation – either by converting the content to Web pages or video delivered on a Web page, is preferable. The option we will look closely at here is exporting to PDF and RTF files.

  • Correctly author presentation in PowerPoint
  • Export to PDF or RTF file

Correct Authoring in PowerPoint

Use the pre-defined templates

Use the pre-defined template boxes to add the title, subtitle, text and images

  • Cleans up 98% of issues
  • If you need to add another image or text box, change the Slide Layout of the slide to add more boxes
  • Don't ever use the Blank Layout
  • Avoid Text Boxes from Insert menu

Following are screen shots showing how to access the Slide Layout templates in the various versions of PowerPoint.

PowerPoint 2011 for the Mac

Click on the Slide Tab and choose the Layout drop down to reveal the various slide layout templates

Mac 2011 Slide tab with Layout option

PowerPoint 2013 and 2010 for Windows

Click on the Home tab and then in the Slides group, select the Layout option

Windows 2013 home tab, Layout Template option

Add alternative text descriptions (ALT text) to images

Add ALT text to images, charts, graphs, etc. ALT text are descriptions of images, etc. that are read back on screen readers for the visually impaired. In Office 2003 and 2007 for Windows, inserted images will have the name of the file as alternative text by default, but the name of the file may not be appropriate text for ALT text. Think of a concise, succinct description that will supply the student using a screen reader with the necessary information.

Mac versions of PowerPoint did not have a feature for adding or editing ALT text until the Office 2011 version of the program with an update to version 14.1 or later.

To edit the ALT text in PowerPoint 2011 for the Mac:

  1. Be sure you have installed the update to the program to version 14.1 or later
  2. Right-click the image in PowerPoint
  3. Select the Alt Text tab from the left side of the dialog box
  4. Enter text into the Description field, but DO NOT enter a title. Need to leave title blank or description will be ignored by some assistive technology.
    Limit the alternative text to a couple of sentences.

Mac 2011 Format Picture dialog box

To edit the ALT text in PowerPoint on Windows:

  1. Right-click the image
  2. From the pop-up menu choose “Format Picture” in PowerPoint 2013 and 2010, or “Size and Position” in PowerPoint 2007
  3. A Format Picture dialog box will open to the right side of the interface, or Select the “Alt Text” tab in PowerPoint 2007
  4. Expand the “ALT TEXT” area. Enter a description, but DO NOT enter a title. Need to leave title blank or description will be ignored by some assistive technology.
    Limit the alternative text to a couple of sentences.

Windows 2013 Choose Format and Format Picture dialogue box

Unique Titles

Make sure that the titles to each slide are unique.

  • Titles are useful for organization, searching, and studying.
  • Repetitive titles add cognitive load.
  • Clear and focused titles enhance communication and pedagogy.
  • Invisible titles can be used.

All hyperlink text should be descriptive of where the link goes to. Use the “Screen Tip” field that creates a visual pop-up with another set of instructions for the link.


  • Always use simple tables
  • Use headers
  • Do not use tabs, spaces or text boxes to create tables
  • Do not nest tables
  • No spacing cells, no merged cells
  • Header Row option does not do anything other than visually format, does not make a header row for accessibility
  • Imported tables from Word may not be accessible
  • Insert a table into a PowerPoint slide by:
    • Slide layout tool – click on the table icon in a slide template box
    • Insert menu > Table

Reading Order

It is important the content is read in the correct order by assistive technology.

  • Use the Selection Pane to access tools to affect reading order.
  • From the Home tab, in the Editing section, click on Select > Selection Pane.
  • Select an item and use the arrow keys to send backward, or bring forward.

Office 2013 choose selection pane

Issues of Color

  • Colorblindness is common; avoid red, orange, and green in same template.
  • Use texture in graphs as well as color.
  • Use graphics and animation to highlight key points rather than just color
  • High contrast is a good thing.
Color Checker
  • Select the “View” tab.
  • Find the “Color/Grayscale” group.
  • Select “Grayscale” or “Black and White”
  • Works better when you have something selected, and then check with these tools

Grayscale button in View tab

Accessibility Checker

  • Go to the File menu, choose Info, click on the Check for Issues button, and then the Check for Accessibility menu item
  • Checker pane on right side
  • Provides all of your errors in list
  • Click on item to see info
  • Will automatically take item off the list if you touch on it, may need to re-run checker

Accessibility Checker is found in the File, Info menu