Check the Reading Order of PowerPoint Slides

Once you’ve created your PowerPoint presentation, it’s important to ensure that it is accessible. You’re hopefully using the accessibility checker, and if so, may receive a warning message to check the reading order on each slide. You’ll see that instructions for checking the order are provided if you click on each slide that is listed under that warning message. I’ve included directions below, as well.

Even if you don’t receive a warning, it’s a good idea to check the reading order of each slide, especially if you often insert other elements, such as images or text boxes, into your slides. If you use a standard PowerPoint layout for each slide, the reading order of each placeholder is already set. However, if you added or rearranged any elements, slides must be checked. You can use the tab key to quickly check the reading order. If it’s correct, wonderful. But if not, continue reading.

Why check the reading order? Screen readers need to know in what order you intended each element of the slide to be read. Imagine if a slide contained a title, pictures of two different protozoa with alternative text, a text box for each picture indicating the name of each organism, and a citation in a text box for each picture. If the reading order were not correctly set, students using a screen reader may be quite confused and may not learn the intended information.

To change the reading order on a Mac, click on Arrange from the Home tab, and then choose Selection Pane. Each element on the slide will appear in the side bar. It seems odd, but the first element that will be read will actually appear at the bottom of the list; the last element read will be at the top of the list. As you click on each item in the list, note that the element will be highlighted on the slide. You can click and drag items in the list to rearrange them.

On a PC, there are two ways to change the reading order. One is clicking on Review, then the down arrow next to Accessibility. Choose Reading Order Pane from the drop-down menu. Verify that each placeholder is listed in the correct order, starting at the top of the list (yes, this is different from what you read in the last paragraph for the Mac). The second method is to click on Arrange in the Drawing Box area of the Home tab, then click on Selection Pane. As was the case for the Mac, the order will be read from bottom to top.

Taking the time to check the reading order of every PowerPoint slide will make your presentation more accessible and reduce confusion for your students using screen readers. Don’t forget the other aspects of accessibility for your PowerPoint slides. See my earlier blog about How to Make PowerPoint Slides Accessible. Email with any questions.

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