How to Make PowerPoint Slides Accessible

My school Mac laptop received an upgrade to Office 15.41 recently, and I discovered that this new version has an accessibility checker.  I find it both wonderful and horrible.  It’s wonderful in that it displays a list of every error it detects, but the lists for my documents are SO long.  Fortunately, it not only lists the errors, it includes directions for correcting them.

Right now I’m working on my PowerPoint presentations.  Common errors the accessibility checker detects include slides with no title (my slides often have just an illustration or table), not having alternative text for arrows I’ve added that might point to a particular structure, and not checking the reading order of each slide.  I admit that correcting the errors on one slide doesn’t take all that long.  However, my course has almost 700 PowerPoint slides.

A nice feature of the accessibility checker is that as each error in the list is corrected, it disappears.  That’s great positive reinforcement.  One unresolved question I have, though, is that when I check the reading order on a slide and ensure it’s as I want it, that error does not disappear from the list.  Does anyone know why?

Here’s a general checklist to ensure your PowerPoint slides are accessible:

  1. Make sure any visual content has alternative text.  This includes pictures, graphs, tables, figures, etc.  As I mentioned in another post: When downloading some visuals from the Internet, they will be tagged and the accessibility checker will not flag them.  But the tag may not provide a meaningful description of the visual.  Make sure to check the alternative text for all visuals.
  2. Use only Sans Serif fonts (you can read about fonts here), and make sure the font size is no less than 24.
  3. If you want to emphasize text, do not use only color.  Also put the text in bold.
  4. Check the reading order of the slide.  In PowerPoint for Mac, that’s done through Arrange – Selection Pane.  The item at the bottom of the list will be read first and proceed up.  You can drag and drop to change the order.
  5. If you changed the template of the slide, you may need to add a title (click “Reset” on the ribbon).  If you don’t want the title to show on the slide, you can make it hidden by clicking the “eye” to the right of an item in the Selection Pane for that slide.

If you don’t have an accessibility checker, here’s a great website to help with the accessibility of PowerPoint slides: Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible.  Also, there are resources for other types of documents on this website at Resources.  I’ve found solutions for several unique challenges in making my documents accessible, so if you have a particular problem feel free to email me.  I’d be glad to help if I can.  My contact information is at Contact.

I need to get back to work now.  As they say of that 1,000 mile walk . . . .

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