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Creating Accessible Learning: Slide Layouts

Why It Matters

Using an accessible slide layout ensures that:

  • Assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) can interact properly with items on a PowerPoint slide
  • ALL users have seamless and equal access to slide content in the best way possible
  • Exported PowerPoint files (e.g., to PDF) retain accessible slide layouts in their new format

Slide Layout Basics: Start Here

"Slide layout" refers to the types of items on a slide and how they’re organized. Assistive technology will look for certain things on a slide layout to tell it how to function, including:

  • Slide reading order
  • Tags,” or labels for each slide item content type (e.g., image, title box, text box, etc.)

The Selection Pane (as seen on the right side of Figure 1) is a key tool for viewing and adjusting slide layout.

A PowerPoint deck is displayed with one slide center screen and the Selection pane opened to the right. The slide contains a Title box with text at the top of the slide and a content box with text below it. In the Selection pane, slide items are listed in the order they appear on the slide.

Figure 1. Example slide layout including Selection Pane, slide items, and reading order

The selection pane:

  • Lists all items on a slide
  • Displays and lets you arrange slide item reading order
  • Shows item tags

How to open the Selection pane:

  1. Click on the "Home" tab in PowerPoint.
  2. In the "Editing" section of the tab, click the "Select" drop-down.
  3. Click "Selection Pane" from the drop-down menu.

A screen shot of the top portion of an open PowerPoint file. Large purple arrows with corresponding numbers point to each of the steps for opening the selection pane. Number 1 points to the Home tab, 2 points to the Select drop-down option in the Editing section of the tab, and 3 points to the selection pane option that comes up when you click that drop down.

Accessibility Guideline: Slide Reading Order

Slide reading order tells assistive technology the order to present slide content to users (WCAG 1.3.2, A). You can adjust reading order using the Selection Pane. The Selection Pane lists all slide items and their reading order in a linear manner, meant to be read in order from bottom to top.

A PowerPoint slide is shown with the Selection Pane open on the right side of the screen. The Selection pane has a list of 8 slide items with a purple arrow to the right to signify that items are read from bottom to top. Each item on the list has a number superimposed next to it to show items are ordered, and that it goes from the bottom (number 1) to the top (number 8). On the actual slide, the numbers one through eight are superimposed next to each slide item to show how they correspond to Selection pane items.

Figure 2. The added numbers show how slide content corresponds to Selection Pane items, which are ordered from bottom to top. “Title 1” is the first item on the slide and “TextBox-Gummy worms” is the last item on the slide.

Use the Selection Pane to set reading order and ensure that slide items are listed in the correct order that users should encounter them.

To rearrange slide items, click and drag the item within the Selection Pane. Remember, slide order in the Selection Pane goes from bottom to top.

To test the order in which someone using assistive technology would encounter slide items, click on a slide, then press the “tab” key on the keyboard. This will tab through the items using their set order, highlighting each item as you tab.

Accessibility Guideline: Slide Item Tags

Every item on a slide has a label that tells assistive technology what type of item it is and what to do with it. These types of labels are commonly referred to as “tags.” It’s important to use the correct tags for items so that assistive technology interacts with the slide properly. (WCAG 1.3.1, A)

Figure 3

Screen shot of the Selection Pane in PowerPoint. There are 5 items listed in the selection pane from bottom to top as follows: Title 1, Content Placeholder 7, TextBox 9, Picture 11, Content Placeholder 8.

As seen in Figure 3, you can use the Selection Pane to view each slide item's tag.

There are several types of tags. The ones you may encounter most frequently include:

  • Image or graphic tags (“Picture”)
  • Titles or headings (“Title;” translates to Header 1 (or H1) when exported)
  • Text boxes (e.g., “Text Placeholder,” “TextBox,” “Content Placeholder;” translates to  “Paragraph” (or P) when exported)

Item tags are generated by PowerPoint. There are several ways to ensure you’re using the proper tags.

  • Use an accessible PowerPoint template. Templates typically already include a variety of slide layouts to choose from that each contain correctly tagged items.
  • Add additional slide items properly. Follow these options if you want to add an item to your slide that is not included in the template:
    • Title. Copy and paste a Title box from another slide. This is the only way to get the Title tag. Avoid using a regular text box as a title box, as this will be interpreted by assistive technology as paragraph text.
    • Text box. You have two options: 1.) Go to the “Insert” tab and click the “Text Box” option. 2.) Copy and paste a desired text box from another slide or a blank slide template.
    • Image or other graphic. Ensure the image or graphic is saved to your computer. Go to the “Insert” tab and click the “Pictures” button. Locate the file, select it, and click “Insert” to place it on your slide.  
  • Check item tags in the Selection Pane. Items in the list will be labeled by their tag type automatically, although you are able to edit the label text. (Note: Editing the label text does not change the tag type).
  • Use a unique Title-tagged box on every slide. This helps differentiate slides for those using screen readers.

Summary Checklist

Slide Layout Checklist

  • Use accessible PowerPoint templates with pre-formatted slides.
  • Check slide reading order using the Selection Pane, then test it using the “tab” key. Adjust the order as needed.
  • Add additional slide items properly to avoid problems later.
  • Check item tags using the Selection Pane.
  • Use a unique Title-tagged box on every slide.