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Michigan State University

Creating Accessible PowerPoints

Adding Descriptions to Images

Images, charts, graphs, and tables within PowerPoint must have descriptive text added in order to be read by screen readers. This is what is known as alt text. Descriptions of images should be limited to approximately 20 words or 120 characters. Charts and graphs may require longer explanations.

For Windows users

PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 (screen shots are from PowerPoint 2010)

Right click on an image and choose "Size and Position".

size and position menu


Select the Alt Text tab. Enter a meaningful description and close. In PowerPoint 2010, you must enter the information in the "Description" area, not the title field.

alt text description box

For Mac users

PowerPoint 2004 and 2008 (screen shots are from PowerPoint 2008)

As of this writing, the best method for providing alternate text for images using a Mac is to select the "Picture with Caption" slide layout and enter alternative text in the caption box. A workaround to this, if you don't want your caption to be visibly seen, is to make the text the same color as your slide. It then appears invisible, but notice on the left that to a screen reader, the text is still recognized.

screen shot of image caption slide layout

Adding Descriptions to Charts, Graphs and Tables

For Windows users

PowerPoint 2007

Select the chart or graph and under the Format tab on the ribbon, select the icon in the bottom right corner of the drop down menu.

chart size button
This will bring up the Size and Position box. Select the Alt Text tab and enter the description.

chart alt text box

PowerPoint  2010

Right click on the chart or graph and choose "Format Chart Area".

menu shown when right-clicking a chart in PowerPoint 2010 for Windows

This will open a dialog box. Select the Alt Text tab. Do not enter alternative text in the Title box, but rather in the Description box.

PowerPoint 2010 alt text description box

To add alt text for tables

The option for adding alternative text to a chart or graph is not turned on by default. First, we must make the feature available and then add the alternative text description to our chart. To enable alternative text, navigate to the fly-out menu (known as the Quick Access Toolbar) at the top of the ribbon and choose "More Commands".

customize quick access toolbar

Select "Customize" on the left (Word 2010 users will see "Quick Access Toolbar"). Use the drop-down menu, "Choose commands from" and select "Commands Not in the Ribbon".

commands not in ribbon menu

Select "Alt Text" and the "Add" button to add the option to your Quick Access Toolbar.

add command to ribbon

You will now have easy access to alternative text for charts and graphs from the Quick Access Toolbar.

alt text button in ribbon

Highlight the chart or graph and click the alternative text button that you just set up in the Quick Access Toolbar. Select the "Alt Text" tab and insert an alternative text description. Word 2010 users will type the description in the "Description" box.

Using Unique Titles for Each Slide

Using slide titles help people who cannot view the slides navigate through the presentation. Use the title area of the slide template to assign a unique title to each slide.

Using Descriptive Text for Any URLs Used in the Presentation

Using descriptive text for any URLs used in the presentation will help ensure that a link's purpose is understood. Screen readers read the URL but since URLs are not always easily understood, descriptive text increases clarity.

To add meaningful text:

For Windows and Mac users

PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 for Windows and PowerPoint 2004 and 2008 for Mac (screen shots are from Windows PowerPoint 2010)

Place your cursor where you want the hyperlink to appear, right click and select Hyperlink. For Mac users, either right-click (control+click) to bring up the same menu or Insert, Hyperlink.

hyperlink option for PowerPoint 2010 for Windows

Add descriptive text in the "Text to Display" field (this is the text users will see) and add the URL in the Address field.

insert hyperlink box

Select OK. This is the resulting hyperlink based on our descriptive text. It will take the user to MSU's home page.

a descriptive hyperlink visual

Using Colors With Contrast

When creating presentations, use colors with enough contrast that people with trouble distinguishing colors are able to understand what they are seeing.

Some guidelines include:

  • Avoid using orange, red, and green on slides.
  • Use texture instead of color in graphs.
  • Draw attention to particular items on slides by circling the items instead of using color.

Verifying the Order in Which Slide Elements Will Be Read

Screen readers will read each slide in a particular order. It is important to verify the order in which each slide is arranged to make sure the information makes sense when read aloud.

To verify the order of slide elements:

For Windows users

PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 (screen shots are from PowerPoint 2010)

Go to the Home tab and in the Drawing section, select the Arrange drop down list and choose "Section Pane" (Selection Pane in 2007 version).

section pane drop down menu


Notice that visual order of our slide does not match the order in which a screen reader will read the slide. The MSU wordmark (Picture 8) will be read second, not first, as reading order is done from bottom to top in the selection pane.

incorrect slide order of a presentation

Use the Re-Order buttons at the bottom of the pane to reorder the slide elements as necessary until the order is correct. Now, the wordmark (Picture 8) will be read first.

correct slide order of a presentation