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LEARN THE BASICS
If you’re not sure where to start, then start here! While there are many PowerPoint best practices, I’ve found that these seven areas likely address most of the accessibility issues in your PowerPoint slides. So, let’s start with…
NOW, DIVE DEEPER
IMAGES & CHARTS
I really like your PowerPoints. I am keeping them for future use. My one complaint is that some of them are not colorblind friendly.
TABLES, VIDEOS & AUDIO, THEMES, ANIMATIONS, & SPEAKER NOTES
If you have to use tables in your PowerPoint slides, keep them simple. Use the table templates already provided in PowerPoint and avoid altering them, such as merging cells or inserting tables inside other tables.
The first row should automatically default as the “Header Row”. A screen reader is going to read the header row first (left to right) and then continue to work it’s way down reading each row left to right. This may be unhelpful if you are wanting students to focus on specific columns rather than rows. In which case, consider whether the information needs to be a table.
If you embed online videos (i.e., YouTube and Vimeo) into your PowerPoint, be sure they have closed-captions at their source. If they don’t have captions, you will need to provide transcripts to your students (or use a different video; see our self-training guide on “YouTube videos“).
If you embed audio only content, you must provide students with transcripts.
Another thing to consider with videos – since you will sharing your presentation with students as a PDF (and not as a PowerPoint file; see section below called “Share a PDF, not a PowerPoint“), your embedded video will NOT be saved as a playable video in the PDF file; it will be saved as an image. With that said, if you embed an online video in your PowerPoint, be sure to provide a link to that video on the same slide (descriptive text hyperlinked to the video; see section on “Links“). This will allow students to still have access to that video through the PDF file.
PowerPoint has a ton of presentation themes and templates to choose from under the design tab; however, keep in mind that pre-existing themes are not necessarily more accessible themes. If you do choose to use a PowerPoint theme or template, look for layouts that are clean and simple, with high color contrast between text and background. Then, be sure to check it for the accessibility best practices listed on this page.
Use animations and transitions sparingly, if at all! I know animations and transitions are cool, but are they necessary? If you really think they are, then let’s review* how to avoid accessibility issues.
Examples of problems with animations and transitions:
- Overly using, or using complex or automatic transitions and animations can be distracting and cause cognitive overload.
- Complex automatic transitions can be hard for users of assistive technology to follow.
- Flashing animations increase the risk of inducing seizures due to photosensitivity.
How to use them:
- Do not layer content on top of each other while using animations/transitions to show/hide the content. This can break the reading order of the slide and make it difficult to understand by users of assistive technology.
- Ensure the length of the animation is under five seconds – Animation time can usually be set within the animation settings.
- Create the animation in a way where they do not start automatically – Utilize the slide & animation settings to keep the animation from starting on its own.
- Allow the user to stop or skip the animation (required if animation lasts longer than 5 seconds and/or the animation starts automatically) – Typically a default option, executed via the spacebar or arrow keys.
- Avoid all animations that create a flashing effect more than three times within one second.
Use the “speaker notes” space to provide more in-depth information about each slide. Speaker notes are already preformatted in a sans serif text (learn more about these on our “Font” page). However, the text defaults to size 12, so be sure to increase it to at least 14 points. Sharing your slides after your presentation allows students to access and recall the verbal presentation.
SHARE A PDF, NOT A POWERPOINT
PowerPoints are visually great for presentations (whether face-to-face, recorded, or virtual), but PowerPoint files are not necessarily all that accessible. Instead of sharing PowerPoint files with students, save your file as a PDF and share the PDF with students. All the accessibility best practices you implemented in the PowerPoint document will stay with the PDF when you convert it, and the file can now be easily read by a screen reader.
“CHECK ACCESSIBILITY” FEATURE
After you’ve done your best to apply these best practices, give your PowerPoint one final “check” by using PowerPoints’ “Check Accessibility” feature.
- Click on the “Review” tab above the toolbar at the top of the screen.
- Look for the “Accessibility” box and click on the “Check Accessibility” icon.
- In the sidebar that appears, follow the prompts.
PowerPoint vs. Google Slides vs. Prezi
PowerPoints and Google Slides give you slightly more access to controlling accessibility than Prezi. However, all three platforms share many of the same features, thus the accessibility tips and best practices that pertain to PowerPoints should also be applied to Google Slides and Prezi presentations.