Accessible Presentations – Design Ribbon Tab

This benefits everyone because the built-in Themes allow you to keep things consistent and more easily update your presentation. Most of these built-in Themes and Variants are quite accessible if used correctly as you build your presentation. This provides visual consistency as they allow you to adjust Themes, colors, fonts, effects and background styles.

Screenshot of PPT 2013 Design ribbon


Don’t rely on color alone to convey content. Use color plus another form of communication if needed. The use of color is very helpful in some instances! Most PowerPoint Themes have some sort of colored background. However, print is very difficult to read on top of heavily textured backgrounds, so use your best judgment when choosing your Theme and Variant. If you confine your text to the placeholders (boxes) in the built-in slide layouts, you should be fine. Remember that people with visual impairments, including color blindness, will likely be unable to distinguish color differences. Likewise, someone may be printing a black and white (or grayscale) copy of the presentation or have a screen that doesn’t show colors properly.

Colored Text Example

Don’t do this: Items indicated in red are required.

Do this instead: Items indicated in red and with an asterisk (*) are required.

Contrast (Luminance Contrast)

When adding color, also remember the importance of contrast. (Technically, it’s called “luminance contrast.”) Some users (such as some with low vision) need high contrast. However, others (such as some with reading disabilities) have trouble with the bright colors of high contrast (high luminance), so what they actually need is low luminance. Don’t worry about the technicality of ratios, but use common sense – be sure you can easily read your document/presentation! A quick test of grayscale may help you decide if the contrast is sufficient.

Color contrast example:


Using Colors from the Variant area of the Design ribbon usually provide decent contrast, but still use your judgment!

Screenshot of PPT 2013 Variant options with Colors highlighted

Tips to assist individuals who are colorblind when you are creating charts or graphs:

  • Avoid red, orange and green.
  • Use texture instead of color to denote different areas. (You’ll just need to be careful that the texture doesn’t interfere with reading any text.)


Use plain, solid-colored backgrounds (at least for the any areas behind text).

Depending on the situation, you may need to adjust the background color of your slides.  For example, some students may benefit from a slightly darker background. Or, depending on a room’s lighting, you may need to adjust the background for everyone to clearly see a live presentation. You can get to the Format Background panel by using the Background Styles option in the Variant area of the Design ribbon.

Screenshot of PPT 2013 Variant options with Background Styles highlighted

You can also get to the Format Background pane by clicking on the Format Background option in the Customize area of the Design tab.

Screenshot of PPT 2013 Customize area of the Design tab


If you want to apply the background adjustment to all of your slides, remember to select Apply to All at the bottom of the panel.


Screen readers don’t distinguish the information in the Font area of the Home ribbon, such as Bold, Italics, Font Color, Font Size, Text Effects, etc. In Word, you are able to add structure to text using Styles and Headings; however, this type of tagging is not available in PPT.

Using one of PPT’s built-in font sets in Variants is a pretty safe bet for decent readability.

Screenshot of PPT 2013 Variants options with Fonts highlighted

Remember these are presentations, not documents. Text should be limited and large. Here are some other quick tips:

  • Use at least 20 point fonts for text – 32 point fonts are better. (Titles will obviously be larger.)
    • PPT’s default size for text will be 20 point fonts for text, and slide titles will usually be 40+ point fonts.
    • If you’re presenting in a classroom, your content should be large! (Try 36+ point fonts for text and titles will need to be 56+ point fonts.)
  • Choose simple, sans serif fonts. (Avoid “flowery” fonts, especially for text areas.)
  • Avoid italics if possible.

Want to talk more about colors and fonts? Check out our upcoming VC Online series of CAPE Professional Development workshops. We’ll cover typography and color in November.

Visit the blog next week as we discuss Slide Layout.


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