I think it is fair to say that PowerPoint is still a major part of teaching in Higher Education. Most lectures centre around a presentation, which has been prepared in advance on PowerPoint.
It is also widely known that many students find it useful, if not essential, to download these PowerPoints before the lecture so that they can prepare themselves for what they may hear – checking out unknown vocabulary, refreshing their knowledge of already-known topics that underlie the lecture or just making copies ready on their laptops or on paper for notes to be taken.
All well and good. Except, it’s not quite that simple for visually impaired students.
PowerPoint presentations can be empty for students who rely on screen-readers, if the content has not been added properly.
Let me explain.
PowerPoint can’t add things that are in text boxes to the outline view, which is what visually-impaired users rely on, because it can be read out loud to them from the computer.
This first image shows a PowerPoint presentation (yes, I know the content is basic, but stick with me!)
If I go to View > Outline View – this is what I see in an inaccessible version – and this is what a blind/visually-impaired student relies on.
If you go to View > Outline View in an accessible version – this is what you see – something that can be read easily with a screen-reader. It hasn’t taken any ‘extra’ work – it’s just used PowerPoint as it is meant to be used.
So, how do we do it?
The key is DO NOT USE TEXT-BOXES. Use the layouts that PowerPoint gives you when you add a new slide. Although it may look like a text box, these are actually ‘content’ boxes and are included in Outline View. So, go to New Slide and add the layout that you want. Only type within those boxes. If you want to check your PowerPoint for accessibility, go to File > Check for Issues (which is a box under the Info heading) and then choose Check Accessibility. It will highlight any immediate problems.
You should also add ALT text to any images or graphs that you use. This article explains how to do that.
One thought on “Making your PowerPoints accessible to visually-impaired users”
Hi Ross, you say do not use text boxes in PowerPoint, use Content boxes. I accept that text boxes do not show in Outline view but NVDA does read text boxes. I don’t know about Jaws. Maybe it’s how you have NVDA set up? I can’t see a problem with text boxes myself, but would value your further thoughts. Thanks, Bob.