Creating Accessible PowerPoints (Part 2)

woman presenting in front of a small group with a slide displayed on a monitor
I’ll wrap up my series on creating accessible PowerPoints with some “what abouts.” In this post, I share tips for ensuring that video, audio, animations, transitions, and SmartArt graphics are accessible.

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I’ll wrap up my series on creating accessible PowerPoints with some “what abouts.” In this post, I share tips for ensuring that video, audio, animations, transitions, and SmartArt graphics are accessible.

What About Multimedia Content?

When creating accessible PowerPoints, remember to include captions and transcripts for multimedia content. If your presentation includes videos—or any visual input that’s timed with audio—they require captions (and potentially audio descriptions). Audio-only content requires transcripts.

I also recommend transcripts for videos (in addition to captions). They help users with cognitive disabilities as well as anyone else who wants to refer back to the content easily.

If audio or video is set to automatically play for longer than 3 seconds, provide a way for the user to stop it. This is especially important for screen reader users. Also make sure that videos don’t include flashing or strobing effects, which can cause seizures, migraines, motion sickness, and other ill effects.

Be aware of unintentional strobing effects. For example, I once attended a presentation in which some of the slides had black backgrounds with white text, and some were white with black text. The presenter was running short on time and advanced quickly past several slides, creating a quick flashing of black and white that made me too sick to pay attention to the rest of his presentation.

What About Animations and Transitions?

If using animations and transitions sparingly, ask yourself if they’re really necessary. Also, don’t set the slides to automatically advance. They should advance on mouse click.

Movement on the slide can be distracting or even cause motion sickness for some people. Avoid any dramatic movements, such as swivel, spiral, and dissolve effects. Also, user control is important. Provide a way to stop any animation that automatically plays for more than 3 seconds.

I rarely use transitions at all, and I usually limit PowerPoint animations to appear, disappear, or fade. As an example, I often use animations for slides with review questions. In the example shown below, the answer placeholder on the layout master has an “appear on click” animation associated with it. This way, I can reuse this same style for review questions throughout a course without having to insert the animation on the slide every time. 

Slide screenshot with the question, "Who destroyed the gardens of the Entwives?"
Review Question (before click)
Slide screenshot with the question, "Who destroyed the gardens of the Entwives?" and the answer "Sauron"
Review Question (after click, with answer)

What About Animations That Convey Meaning?

If an animation conveys meaning, you need to ensure that non-sighted users receive the same information as sighted users.

As an example, a client asked me to list on the slide a commonly held belief among their employees, and then draw an X over it to emphasize that it wasn’t true. I’ve recreated a mockup tailored to our industry here. Select the Play button to view it.

To make this, I drew two red lines in the shape of an X and added a wipe animation to each one (“From Top”). The first animation appears “On Click,” and the second appears “After Previous.” I added alt text to the first line that reads: “big red X being drawn over the words,” and I marked the second line as decorative.

I could have inserted this example here as an animated GIF, but I chose to save it as an MP4 file instead to give users control over whether to see that animation—and when to stop it. (If you know how to add controls to a GIF, please share.)

What About SmartArt?

SmartArt is a bit like a late-night Taco Bell run. It looks great and spices things up, but it can cause a lot of bloat and other problems in the end.

If you’ve never used SmartArt in PowerPoint, you can find it on the Insert tab. SmartArt provides a quick and easy way to present information visually. It’s as easy as typing a bulleted list in PowerPoint—which also makes it easy to edit the graphic when those inevitable SME changes roll in.

However, many agencies and organizations advise developers to avoid SmartArt because some screen readers cannot access the text. In addition, I’ve noticed that SmartArt can significantly increase file size. 

Work-Around for SmartArt

First, copy and paste all SmartArt graphics to a separate PowerPoint file to save them in case of future changes. 

Tip: When you copy and paste a slide into a blank presentation, you can preserve the formatting (masters, colors, etc.) by selecting the clipboard icon that appears after pasting, and then selecting “Keep Source Formatting.”

Then, save each SmartArt graphic as a PNG or TIFF, either by taking a screen capture or by right-clicking on the SmartArt border and selecting “Save as picture.”

Reinsert the image onto your slide and add alt text that includes all the text on the graphic (or a brief description with a note to refer to slide notes or another alternative).

Make sure you can enlarge the image to 200% without any loss of clarity. If you find that the text becomes pixelated, you can copy the text into the slide notes or a placeholder off the slide area. Remember, so that screen reader users can access the text, you must create text placeholders on the slide master, but edit them (add text) on the main slide.

Slide titled "Exploring Middle Earth" with a list of books.
Slide with a SmartArt graphic titled Exploring Middle Earth

Slide titled “Exploring Middle Earth” with the following list:

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • The Fellowship of the Ring
    • The Two Towers
    • The Return of the King
  • The Silmarillion
  • Unfinished Tales
  • The Tolkien Reader
  • The Children of Hurin

What About Complex SmartArt Graphics?

If the SmartArt graphic is complex (e.g., an org chart or detailed process graphic), provide an equivalent alternative. For example, you could write a detailed description in the speaker notes or provide a link to download a PDF with the description. Just make sure the alternative you provide is accessible.

The alt text for the SmartArt graphic on the above slide could be, “List of books about Middle Earth. See the speaker notes for details.” Then I could copy and paste the full list into the slide notes.


Here’s a recap of my tips for creating accessible PowerPoints:

  • Start with an accessible template, such as the ones from Microsoft. If you are making one yourself, follow these tips:
    • Set up layout masters with titles and content placeholders
    • Use simple, legible fonts
    • Verify sufficient color contrast
    • Add alt text on the slide master for repeated images
    • Adjust the reading order on the master for each layout, to save rework later
  • Use PowerPoint’s built-in accessibility check to identify issues
  • Use a unique title for each slide
  • Make sure all text is visible in the Outline View
  • Add alt text for all images
  • If images of text are used, make sure they can be enlarged to 200% without loss of clarity
  • Use the Reading Order Pane or the Selection Pane to adjust the reading order
  • Make sure tables are accessible (no merged cells!)
  • Include captions and transcripts for multimedia content
  • Use animations, transitions, and SmartArt with caution

Do you have additional tips for PowerPoint accessibility? Questions? Share them in the comments. 


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