Reading Order & Principles of Accessible Presentations

Document Accessibility Course > Reading Order & Principles of Accessible Presentations

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Guide

Reading Order & Principles of Accessible Presentations

The order of the content on your slides determines how your content will be presented to screen reader users, and other users of assistive technology. By following principles for accessibility, your presentations can be legible and understandable to a broad spectrum of users.

Objectives

  • Gain an understanding of the relationship between reading order and the order of the objects on a slide.
  • Identify the process for checking and editing the order of the objects on a slide.

Slide Reading Order

The sequence of content that a user experiences through assistive technology is called "reading order". For example, by default the objects on a slide will be read by screen reading software in the following order:

  1. Slide Title
  2. Other Placeholders (as they are ordered in a slide's Layout)
  3. Any objects added to a slide

Adding Objects to a Built-in Layout

Although it is best to use slide Layouts whenever possible, there may be times when you need to add additional objects to a slide, and creating a custom Layout in the Slide Master does not seem practical.

To demonstrate this concept, I am going to show you how I created the example file for this section. I'll open PowerPoint for Windows, select the “Gallery” Theme for a new presentation, and insert a new slide using the Comparison Layout.

Then I will add content to the slide's five Placeholders: “Comparing Manet & Monet” for the Title, and the name of, and a painting from, each artist into each Text Placeholder and Content Placeholder presented as set. I want to add the names of both works of art to the slide, so I'll add a "Text Box" under each painting by selecting Insert > Text Box. Because these added objects are not part of the Placeholder structure in the Comparison Layout, adding them has created an illogical reading order—the names of both paintings will be read last.

Selection Pane

I'll use the Selection Pane to check and edit the reading order of this slide.

mac and windows instructions

To view the Selection Pane on Windows (or Mac):

  1. Select the Hᴏᴍᴇ tab.

  2. Select the Arrange tool.
    Screenshot of the Arrange tool highlighted on the Home Ribbon on Windows.
    Screenshot of the Arrange tool highlighted on the Home Ribbon on Mac.

  3. Click on "Selection Pane" from the dropdown menu.
    Screenshot of Selection Pane selected on the Arrange drop-down menu on Windows.
    Screenshot of Selection Pane selected on the Arrange drop-down menu on Mac.

The Selection Pane will appear in the right-hand sidebar. The pane shows a list of all of the objects on my slide. When I select an object in the list, it is highlighted on the slide.

Screenshot of an object selected on the Selection Pane that is highlighted on the Slide, on Windows.

The name of an object is based on its type. Objects are also numbered based on their type. Placeholders are numbered first based on their order in the Layout that was used to create the slide.

Screenshot of the Selection Pane with the numbers of the Placeholder objects highlighted, on Windows.

Then, objects that were added to the slide are numbered according to the order in which they were added.

Screenshot of the Selection Pane with the numbers of the added objects highlighted, on Windows.

The reading order for the objects listed in the Selection Pane is bottom to top. At first this may seem illogical, but it helps to think of each of the objects in this pane as a layer.

Screenshot of the objects in a Selection Pane shown as layers, on Windows.

The two Text Boxes that I added appear at the top of the list, meaning they will be read last by a screen reader. However, I want the title for Manet’s painting to be read after his artwork and before Monet's name.

Screenshot of an added text object selected on the Selection Pane, with the corresponding object highlighted on the slide, on Windows.

To make this change in the order, I'll click on the Text Box for the title of Manet's painting and drag it down until it is in the correct place in the Selection Pane.

Screenshot of a Text Box selected on the Selection Pane, with an arrow indicating its correct position in the object list, on Windows.

PowerPoint for Windows also has up/down arrow buttons that I can use to reorder things.

Screenshot of the up/down arrow buttons highlighted on the Selection Pane, on Windows

To the right of each item is an icon that looks like an eye. Clicking on this icon will hide the object visually in the slide, but it will still be read by screen reading software, so use this with caution.

Screenshot of the Selection Pane with the "eye" icon for hiding objects selected and highlighted, on Windows.

Reordering a single object

The Arrange dropdown menu on the Home ribbon also includes four options to change the visual position and reading order of a single object:

Screenshot of the four Order Objects options highlighted on the Arrange drop-down menu on Windows.

 

Screenshot of the four Reorder Objects options highlighted on the Arrange drop-down menu on Mac.

  • Bring to Front moves an item to the top layer, meaning it will be read last by a screen reader.
  • Send to Back moves an item to the bottom layer—it will be read first by a screen reader.
  • Bring Forward moves an item up one layer, or later in the reading order.
  • Send Backward moves an item down one layer, or earlier in the reading order.

When you use these options, double-check the list of objects in the Selection Pane to ensure the reading order is correct.

Principles for Accessible Presentations

There are some accessibility principles that you can follow to create presentations that are legible and understandable:

  • Make sure text is not too small––especially if the presentation will be viewed on a projector.
  • Transitions and animations should be simple––complex or automatic transitions and animations can be distracting.
  • Be careful when choosing background images or patterns for overlaying text––too much visual information can make text difficult to read.
  • Use clear and simple language.
  • Do not use color as the only way to convey information.

Finally, because PowerPoint has the capability of embedding multimedia, text-based equivalent information must be provided:

  • If you have embedded multimedia, ensure the video is captioned.
  • If you have embedded audio, include a transcript.

By maintaining the correct order of the content on your slides, your presentations will also be optimized for assistive technology users. And when you implement principles for accessible presentations, they will be able to benefit the largest group of users.