Creating accessible PowerPoint presentations

Find out how to create accessible PowerPoint presentations that all web users can download and understand.

Before you start

Ask yourself: is there another way to display this information for a web user? Would a web page or form work better than a download? If you are not sure, email the Digital team:

If you need to use PowerPoint, you can download a Sussex PowerPoint presentation template that is already accessible.

  • Logical reading order

    Visually impaired users may struggle to navigate, or make sense of, PowerPoint slides if the reading order has not been set, or checked.

    PowerPoint will automatically set this to be in the order that elements were created, which may not reflect the intended order.

    To check the reading order of the slides and amend them if incorrect, follow these steps:

    • make sure your slide has a descriptive title
    • ensure all content is complete
    • on the Home tab select the Arrange button
    • in the Arrange menu choose the Selection Pane
    • in the Selection Pane drag and drop items to change the reading order
    • if you want to remove items from the reading order but still have them read out by a screen reader click the hide button (small eye icon).
  • Readability

    All our website visitors will benefit from clearly written, understandable text. This is critical for users with cognitive or learning disabilities and a key component of creating accessible content.

    The same principles apply when creating documents for the web as when writing for websites.

    Browse a selection of further, external reading topics covering writing for the web:

  • Image alt-text

    Alt-text allows screen reader users to infer content from any visual representations in your PowerPoint presentation. This can include pictures, artwork, graphics, shapes, groups, charts, embedded objects and videos. Avoid using text in images, as this will not be readable by screen readers. If you do use text in images, make sure this is also included in the alt-text. To do this:

    • right-click on the image requiring alt-text
    • select the Edit Alt-Text option
    • write the descriptive alt-text in the box to the right of the screen
    • if you want the image to be ignored by screen readers, you can tick the Mark as decorative box.

    If you have a more complex image, such as a chart, the process varies slightly. These kind of images require more description than an alt-text will typically allow.

    Follow the above process for creating alt-text for your image.

    A more detailed description will need to be added either as a properly formatted text element, with logical headinsg and lists, or an accessible table.

    This additonal information would be best placed below the figure on the page but can also be placed in appendices. If you choose the apendices option then please provide a properly formatted hyperlink to this below the image.

    When positoning images in your document, there is only one setting that will allow the images to be detected by screen readers. Fortunately this is the default setting when you import an image.

    This setting is In Line with Text. Do not change this when importing images. It may make your document look nicer to you, but it will render the image invisible to screen readers. This is an issue the software developers need to fix.

  • Tables

    Tables can be tricky for screen readers to navigate. The software will often not identify table headings, so these need to be specified by the creator. Adding descriptive alt-text will also help the user.

    Use clear, descriptive column headings, utilising column headers to make the table easy to navigate.

    Under the Table Design tab select Header Row. This will set the top row of the table to be your table headers. A screen reader will let the user know this as the table is navigated.

    Try to simplify your tables. Try to avoid split or merged columns. These can really disrupt the flow of the table.

    • As with images, make sure that you add alt-text to your table. This can be achieved by following these steps:

      • right-click on the table requiring alt-text
      • choose Table from the pop-up window
      • select the Edit Alt-Text option
      • write your descriptive alt-text in the box to the right of the screen
      • if you want your table to be ignored by screen readers, you can tick the Mark as decorative box.
  • Accessible graphs and charts

    Graphs and charts can also be tricky for some users to navigate.

    • Use clear, descriptive data labels, and give your graph or chart a clear descriptive title.
    • Try to simplify your graph or chart. Try to avoid split or merged columns or trying to include too much data in one chart.
    • As with images and tables, make sure that you include alt-text. This can be achieved by following these steps:

      • Right click on the graph or chart requiring alt-text.
      • Select the Edit Alt-Text option.
      • Write your descriptive alt-text in the box to the right of the screen.
      • If you want your graph or chart to be ignored by screen readers then you can tick the Mark as decorative box.
  • Links

    Links are important for accessibility. The link text should be descriptive, telling the user what to expect. Linked text should clearly tell the user what the function of the hyperlink is.

    Make sure all linked text is unique to the page. Avoid using text such as "click here". See our best practice for web editors for examples of this.

    Hyperlinks must be visually unique and consistent, so leave linked text in documents in their standard blue, underlined style.

    To create hyperlinked text follow these steps:

    • type the text that you would like to be linked
    • highlight and right-click the text
    • choose Hyperlink (Link on some versons of software) from the menu
    • add the URL to the address box
    • alternatively to link to an email address:
      • choose the email tab and enter the email address
      • select OK.
  • Video

    Ensure any video content you are embedding, or linking to, has subtitles (closed captions) and/or a transcript available.

  • Colour contrast

    It is a requirement of WCAG 2.1 that all colours used must meet a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. If they do not meet this, change the colours you are using.

    See our brand colour palette for more details on brand colours that meet this requirement

    You can check your colours using either a standalone app such as Colour Contrast Checker or by using an online tool such as WebAim. We have a complete guide to checking documents for accessibility with a more comprehensive explanation of these tools.

  • Check the finished PowerPoint

    PowerPoint has inbuilt accessibility checks that can identify any issues and offer suggested corrections:

    • click on the Review tab.
    • click the Check accessibility button.
    • the results will appear to the right of the screen.
  • Exporting to PDF

    Follow these steps to create an accessible PDF:

    • choose Acrobat from the Ribbon tabs
    • select Preferences and uncheck the box that says Prompt for using Adobe create PDF cloud service 
    • select Create PDF. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC will now open and convert your document to an accessible PDF.
    • you will now need to perform an accessibility check and fix any errors. Instructions for this can be found on our creating accessible PDF documents page
    • ensure that you fix the title and primary language as MS Word often misses these.
Powerpoint accessibility checklist
Criteria Check
Logical reading order Check the document with inbuilt accessibility test and at least one screen reader.
Colour contrast All text elements meet at least a colour contrast ratio of 4.5:1.
Alt-text for images All images have alt-text, or have been removed from the flow of the document.
Accessible graphs and charts Colours used must be accessible. Check with colour contrast checker and a colour blindness checker. Do not rely on colour to convey meaning. Include alt-text.
Tables Tables are actually tables, not embedded images.
Hyperlinks All links are descriptive so a screen reader user can understand them.
Spell-check Check the document with a spell-checker.