Can PowerPoint be Accessible?

Figure descriptions to follow

Last week I was at a conference on disability and learning.

I gave a workshop on vision loss and how it affects study and teaching. Running it taught me a lot, because in spite of being partially sighed I’d never thought about whether PowerPoint presentations are accessible.

PowerPoint isn’t perfect and has often been criticised for channelling users into restricted formats, and for encouraging presenters to follow a impoverished style of simply reading out bullet points. This reductionist presentation style is wittily lampooned at

All the same I find PowerPoint pretty useful. It forces me to plan in detail, and acts as a sort of teleprompt for me, and a summary for the audience. What’s wrong with that?

I’ve endured many presenations where the presenter just read the slides and I thought I would never get the boredom out of my head or be able to uncurl my toes without local anaesthetic. But my presentations aren’t like that. I go down into the audience, dance around, and only stab a pointy finger back at the overhead just now and then. I’d say I use PowerPoint, rather than it using me.

This workshop mattered a lot to me so I worked real hard on the slides. I was well advanced when the conference organiser reminded me she needed the presentation well in advance. Blind attendees would want the electronic version before the workshop. Partially sighted participants would need copy in different font sizes and colour combinations. A lot to organise…

Aargh! My presentation was NOT ACCESSIBLE. How could I have been so stupid? I’d not considered this at all. In fact I could see it wasn’t even going to be very accessible to me, let alone others.

I immediatly Googled for guidelines on accessible PowerPoint and found a lot. I reduced them to five.

  • Maximum five words a bullet.
  • Font size minimum 22 pt.
  • Light colours on black background.
  • Figure descriptions for all images.
  • Audible prompt for slide transitions.

Then I went back and retrofitted everything in my presenation to this scheme. I’m glad I did. It made it easier for me too on the day.

The picture at the beginning of this post is one of my slides. It was followed by a series trying to explain what it’s like to experience different forms of vision loss. Tune into my next post to see them, and access the figure descriptions I wrote.

Images of the Snellen Eye Chart and Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the visual field are from Wikimedia.


About partialinsight

One evening I had a stroke. Half my sight vanished overnight. Adapting made me grasp how amazing the visual system and brain are. It also taught me to understand disability completely differently and I'm grateful for the lesson.
This entry was posted in Assistive technology, Blindness and visual impairment, Stroke, Disability, Cognition and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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