Microsoft Document Essentials

University of Toronto students, faculty, and staff have access to Office 365, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. Access Office 365 by clicking on the waffle icon in the top-left corner of your online Outlook/UTmail+ account.

Microsoft Accessibility Checker

Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have an Accessibility Checker tool. Select “File,” then “Info,” then the “Check for Issues” button. Below is a list of common accessibility and usability issues, and those that the Accessibility Checker regularly identifies are marked with an asterisk (*); however, the Accessibility Checker does not identify all issues.

No heading styles

  • Applies to Word
  • Organize content with headings
  • Heading styles enable navigation, and styles can be modified

Using colour alone to convey information

  • Applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Users who are blind, have low vision, or are colour-blind may miss information conveyed by colours alone
  • In the “View” ribbon tab, switch to “Grayscale” view
  • Underline hyperlinks instead of relying on colour alone
  • For headings, enlarge or bold the font
  • Use the minus sign and the colour red to denote negative numbers

Insufficient contrast

  • Applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Ensure a high contrast between text and background
  • Use contrast checkers to check the colour contrast ratio
  • Acart Communications, Valerii, and WebAIM provide free web-based contrast checkers

Unclear hyperlink

  • Applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Uncontextualized hyperlinks do not inform screen readers about the destination target
  • Create meaningful hyperlinks by including the full title of the destination page or the URL of the page if it is short and descriptive
  • For example, hyperlink “Human Resources” instead of “click here”

Missing alternative text *

  • Applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Provide alternative texts for images and non-text content. Right-click on the image or content and select “Edit Alt Text”

Image not inline with text *

  • Applies to Word
  • Position images and objects inline with surrounding text to facilitate screen readers

Table has no header row or column *

  • Applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Identify a single column or row as a header
  • Click inside the table to make the “Table Tools” options visible
  • Select the “Design” ribbon tab to check the box for Header Row or First Column

Table contains merged or split cells *

  • Applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Tables should contain simple cell structures to improve navigability
  • Avoid merged or split cells

Missing slide title *

  • Applies to PowerPoint
  • Slide titles allow screen readers to navigate through the presentation
  • Use the default layouts for creating new slides
  • The title is placed within “Title Placeholder,” not a “Text Box”
  • Use unique slide titles
  • If you have multiple slides of the same topic, use a numbering system (Topic A 1 of 3, Topic A 2 of 3, etc.)

Check reading order *

  • Applies to PowerPoint
  • Screen readers read text boxes last regardless of the visual order
  • On the “Home” ribbon tab, click “Select,” and open the “Selection pane”
  • Readjust the reading order; place objects read first at the bottom of the list

Distracting slide transitions and text effects

  • Applies to PowerPoint
  • Avoid slide transitions and text effects unless there is a pedagogical purpose since slide readers ignore these transitions and effects

Missing document properties

  • Applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Select “File,” then “Info,” then “Properties,” and select the “Summary” tab to enter the title, subject, author, keywords, etc.
  • Metadata helps users locate and identify documents

Microsoft PowerPoint Essentials

Selecting Your Slideware

When selecting slideware, consider whether the platform is screen reader compatible, offers live captioning, and presents clear visuals.

Both Microsoft 365 PowerPoint and Google Slides are screen reader compatible, offer live captioning, and present clear visuals. Keynote does not provide live captioning. Prezi, unfortunately, does not satisfy any of the three considerations.

Slide Design Best Practices

Below are some key elements and tips to improve your slide design. For tips on working with images, refer to the “Social Media and Image Accessibility” resource.


  • Know your goal and audience
  • Create a clean and uncluttered layout
  • Establish consistency, perhaps via a Slide Master
  • Identify your audience’s pattern of reading (e.g., F-pattern, Z-pattern)


  • Use concise, non-figurative, accurate language
  • Present three to six points per slide
  • Limit the number of lines per point—one to two lines is standard


  • Use standard, non-decorative fonts
  • For readability, use sans-serif fonts (e.g., Arial, Verdana, Helvetica)
  • Use fonts that are 24 points and higher
  • Bold for emphasis, and underline links


  • Ensure colour contrast by using a contract checker
  • Check readability by switching to “Grayscale” view
  • Avoid using colour alone to convey information
  • Match the colour to the tone you want to convey


  • Use a bulleted (unordered) list to group non-sequenced items
  • Use a numbered (ordered) list to group sequenced items
  • Do not “simulate” a list with hyphens; instead, use the “Bullets” and “Numbering” tools


  • Avoid importing charts from other programs since PowerPoint may treat the chart as an image
  • Create a new chart by navigating to the “Insert” ribbon tab, then clicking on “Chart”

Embedded Video and Audio

  • Caption verbal content and include audio description where appropriate
  • Refer to the “Captions and Transcripts” resource

Designing with a Slide Master

A slide master allows you to set the theme, layout, background, fonts, colours, and style to an entire presentation. Layout masters for each type of slide (title slide, title and content, section header, two content, comparison, etc.) are nested beneath the slide master. Use the slide master to set up header and footer information such as date and time or slide number. Designing with a slide master reduces design time significantly. To access the Slide Master, go to the “View” ribbon tab and click on “Slide Master.”

Using Presentation Shortcuts

Presentation shortcuts help presenters navigate and interact with their PowerPoints. Below is a list of shortcuts to try.

  • Next slide (six shortcut options): N, Enter, Spacebar, Page Down, Right arrow key, or Down arrow key
  • Previous slide (5 shortcut options): P, Backspace, Page up, Left arrow key, Up arrow key
  • Go to slide “number”: “number” Enter
  • Black screen: B
  • White screen: W
  • Change pointer to pen: Ctrl+P
  • Change pointer to laser pointer: Ctrl+L
  • Change pointer to arrow: Ctrl+A
  • Erase onscreen annotation: E
  • End slide show: Esc

PDF Documents

Common PDF issues include scanned text as images, incorrect reading order, and missing alternative texts and tag structures. There are two methods for creating accessible PDF documents.

Converting to PDF

Convert an accessible document from one format (e.g. Word) to PDF.

  1. Click on “File,” then “Save As,” and select PDF from the type list. Do not print to PDF.
  2. Click “Options” and check “Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF” and “Create Bookmarks: Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks” if available.

Remediating an Existing PDF

Remediate an existing PDF using Adobe Acrobat DC and Pro.

  1. Run the PDF through an optical character recognition (OCR) program and provide alternative texts for images.
  2. Tag elements—headings, images, tables, lists, links—and adjust the reading order.

Professional Development

The following opportunities are available as of April 1, 2021:

Coursera (U of T is a member of the Coursera Partner Consortium)

Microsoft Educator Center

Further Resources

Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project. (2010). Accessibility of Office Documents and Office Applications.

Adobe. (2021). Accessibility Resources.

Council of Ontario Universities. (2017). Using PowerPoint.

Council of Ontario Universities. (2017). Using Word Documents and/or PDFs.

Digital Education Strategies, The Chang School, Ryerson University. (2020). Understanding Document Accessibility.

The Division of Human Resources and Equity, University of Toronto. (n.d.). Materials for Accessible Communication.

Duarte, N. (2008). Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentation. O’Reilly Media.

Microsoft. (2021). Accessibility.

WebAIM. (2019). PowerPoint Accessibility.