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Presentations with Accessibility in Mind

Mon Mar 26, 2018 at 07:30 AM

When students come to class, they are responsible to learn the information the instructor presents to them, often presented through discussion and lecture, with tech tools such as slides and video. These “time-based” presentations, meaning they exist in a set timeframe, pose challenges for students with a variety of disabilities. These recommendations are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA, which are the standards Oakland University has committed to meet, along with many universities.

OU has access to a powerful accessibility tool called Brickfield, which is in Moodle and eSpace. In the Accessibility Review block, click the button to schedule a review to start the course review process.. For students, Blackboard Ally will automatically provide multiple formats for Moodle files.

Mind face-to-face aspects of accessible presentations.

Students can encounter multiple barriers to comprehending material instructors present in class. Wichita State University (2010) provides helpful face-to-face presentation recommendations to consider when planning class activities and using classroom materials and technology, such as: whiteboard/chalkboard, microphone, discussions, videos, activities and assessments and course communications. Guidelines below provide more details as to creating accessible slide presentations and instructional videos.

Use live transcripts or caption in synchronous web meetings.

Zoom makes live transcripts (i.e. subtitles) available with a couple of clicks at the beginning of each session. Students or meeting attendees can then opt to hide or show these subtitles. Google Meet also has a closed captions option available automatically.

Give students early access to class materials.

Early access to instructional content (i.e. posting files for students to review before class time) has long been established as crucial for students with impairments. This allows students to take responsibility of their learning by customizing the content as needed, such as adjusting the display of content, bringing print copies of material to class, reading with a screen reader program ahead of time, reviewing material for comprehension challenges related to language or reading barriers, and obtaining services from Disability Support Services, among others.

Ensure content is easy to see and comprehend.

Make slide presentations with large-size text (i.e. font point), legible font, high color contrast, and plenty of negative space. There are many suggestions for font point, but font 18 point or larger is a good general guideline. If you are not sure if color contrast is high enough, such as font on a color background or colors in a graph, err on the side of caution. View e-LIS’s Help Doc on Color Contrast for more information.

Provide text equivalencies to visuals (Alt Text).

Sometimes students cannot view visuals on a screen, due to a visual impairment, technology that cannot load images, or other circumstances. When students cannot view visuals (pictures, tables, and charts) a text equivalent needs to be available. Describing visual content on a slide is helpful for students listening to a presentation later or who cannot fully see content.

There is often an “Alt Text” feature that allows you to add a title and description to an image so that this information stays with a visual you use. To find the Alt Text feature, go to the Format Picture settings or search “Alt Text” in the Help feature of your program. 


When students cannot view visuals, they rely on Alt Text to have a screen reader describe where the image is located, what it is, and the educational content it provides. Descriptions for simple images can often be one phrase or sentence. Purely decorative images, such as logos or a decorative banner, do not need this Alt Text. Avoid using too many decorative images, as this can be difficult to distinguish when descriptions are or are not necessary (e.g. Are students missing out on a joke if you do not provide a description for a goofy photo?)

Tables, Charts and Graphs

In the accessibility realm, tables, charts, and graphs are examples of “complex images,” which often communicate multiple concepts simultaneously. The Alt Text feature is the same for these complex images, but require more description. Some opt to provide a separate, alternate version of a complex image (example of table from CETL). Also consider how adjustments to table format can assist screen readers (see 2-minute mark of Screen Reader Demonstration for an example). View the e-LIS Help Doc on Digital Accessibility and Images.

Use program’s slide designs.

Rather than building your own slides by inserting text boxes and adjusting font size and position accordingly, use the pre-designed slides within your program. In order for students to understand how the presentation content is organized, each slide has to have a clear title, and changing slide design can make titles harder to identify. See CETL's accessible slide template as an example of slide presentation with accessibility guidelines.

OU has access to a powerful accessibility tool called Blackboard Ally, which is in Moodle and eSpace. Blackboard Ally will automatically gauge the accessibility of your materials, provide options for making them more accessible, and even remedy some of these issues. For students, Blackboard Ally will automatically provide multiple formats for Moodle files.

Provide captions and transcripts for videos.

Accessible videos allows users to compensate for visual impairments with audio supplements, and vice versa. Starting with a script can make caption and transcript creation easier and result in a streamlined, polished video production process. If you create videos without a script, you can work with auto-captioning available in YouTube, YuJa, and Zoom, among others. e-Learning and Instructional Support (e-LIS) also has a help document on Digital Accessible Videos.

Use the Check Accessibility tool.

Microsoft PowerPoint has a “Check Accessibility” tool within its program. Like the tool in Microsoft Word, it will scan the file for Errors, Warnings, and Tips. Errors are normally clear, but Warnings and Tips may require you to make a judgment call. For example, one common tip is to “Check reading order.” With each flagged issue, the tool will include a “Why fix?” to explain the issue and the “Steps To fix.” Slide and video programs vary in the tools they provide for checking accessibility, which is why it is best to be aware of general accessibility features needed before creating new presentations and using these tools.

Offer presentations in multiple file formats.

Accessible digital content allows users to customize the content to fit their needs or preferences, such as text size, images and color.


If you make a presentation for students in Microsoft Office or Google Slides, share it with students in both the original format (file name usually ending in .pptx or .ppt, or distributing a shareable link of Google Slides presentation) and in a PDF file (.pdf). With a PPT doc, students can not only customize appearance before reading online or printing, but also annotate directly in the file as appropriate or format space to leave handwritten notes. Also offering the file in a PDF better ensures that students will be able to access the file even if they do not have Microsoft PowerPoint software.


Like a document or slide presentation, videos can be saved in a file format fitting your video production software (e.g. camproj for Camtasia videos). To share videos with a wider audience, use a format most will be able to open, such as an mp4. The e-LIS Help Doc on Digital Accessible Videos provides more detail on video format.

References and Resources 

CETL Digital Accessibility Resources

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip, which provides additional visuals.

About the Author

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.