The Lowdown – April 2007

This edition of the Lowdown from Disability Support Services provides information about various options for delivering course content using PowerPoint™. It was written by Melanie Thornton, Director of UALR’s Project PACE. Project PACE is a U.S. Department of Education grant-funded program that provides information and technical assistance to faculty, staff and administrators in postsecondary settings. To learn more go to Much of the content for this edition was taken from Ten Steps Toward Universal Design of Online Courses (

PowerPoint™ and Universal Design

Imagine for a moment that you are an architect and are designing a building for your students. Would you look at the students you have attending this semester and build that building specifically for those 30 or 40 students? Of course not. The time and materials you would use would be valuable and so you would think about all of the potential students and visitors who might enter your building and you would build your building in a way that it would accommodate that diversity. This concept captures the essence of universal design—designing environments and products in a way that is, to the greatest extent, usable by all.

The time you spend creating resources and instructional materials is equally valuable. If you take a bit of time to learn a few simple techniques, it can save you lots of time in the long run. You will be designing your PowerPoint™ presentations in a way that will make them more usable for more students and conversion-ready for the Web. Following these tips will also make it much easier to create accessible versions of your materials when you have a student with a disability enroll in your class.

PowerPoint™ in the Classroom

  • Use Slide Layout Options. Many people mistakenly create their PowerPoint™ presentations by beginning with a slide that has no layout scheme and adding a text box and/or image. If you do this, the text from your slide will not appear in the “outline view.” Making your PowerPoint™ content accessible will be more of a challenge.Image:  Outline view with no text visibleA better approach is to utilize the “slide layout” option. To view this panel, choose “Format”, then “Slide Layout.” Simply choose the layout that best fits the content for each slide. Avoid choosing the “blank” option.Image:  Shows how to choose When you create slides in this way, you will notice that the textual content you type appears in the “outline view” in the left panel.Image:  Outline view showing text from three slides

    If your PowerPoint™ presentation is primarily text, you can cut and paste the text from the outline into a word processing document, thus creating a text version of your presentation that can be used for your notes or given to a student who needs an accessible version of the PowerPoint™ content. (You will need to add the slide numbers if this is important information for your student to have.) Students with low vision can print the outline in large print. A student who is blind can print the outline in braille. A student with dyslexia can “listen” to the content using a text to speech program either before or after the lecture. All students can use this outline to provide structure for their notes.

  • Add alternative text for images. Adding alternative (“alt”) text to images as you go doesn’t take a lot of extra time and will be helpful if you ever plan to post the PowerPoint™ presentation to the Web. To do this, simply double-click on the image or choose “Format”, then “Picture”. Once the “Format Picture” window opens, select the”Web” tab, write your description, and you are done. For more details on how to describe images, read Describing Images for Accessibility. This also will be helpful to create an accessible version of your presentation for students who are blind. The presentation can be converted to HTML and the descriptions will be there so that a student who is blind or who has low vision will be able to understand the image, graph or chart that is presented on the slide.Image:  Illustrates how to add alternative text
  • Use the notes section to write down what you will say about each slide. If you later decide to create a stand-alone version of your presentation by recording the audio portion of your presentation, this notes section can be converted to a transcript of that audio. This transcript can be provided to students who are deaf or hard of hearing, students on a dial-up who have difficulty downloading large files, or students for whom English is a second language. The transcript can also be used to create captions if you choose to convert the slide presentation to a video format such as Windows Media Player, Flash or Quicktime.Images:  Using the notes section to create your script

By following these simple steps, you have created a PowerPoint™ presentation that is ready to be converted to HTML to be posted on the Web or in WebCT. You have also created a presentation that can easily be converted to an accessible format for students with disabilities.

PowerPoint™ on the Web

Before you begin reading this section, stop and think for a moment about your use of PowerPoint™ as a medium for providing information to students online. We are all guilty sometimes of getting trapped inside the box instead of thinking outside of it. We use PowerPoint™ in class, so we automatically think about how to use it online. The following page may help you determine if you want to use PowerPoint™ in your online course:

Does PowerPoint™ Serve My Purpose?

Conversion Options

If you determine that you do want to post your PowerPoint™ slides online, your options are as follows:

  • Use a conversion tool that creates an accessible HTML version of your slide presentation. Here are some good options.
  • Provide your slides as a PowerPoint™ file with no conversion. This may not work for all students, but if your presentation is set up as described in the section called “PowerPoint in the Classroom,” it will not be difficult to convert your content to format that is fully accessible.
  • Provide PowerPoint™ content in a video format.

Before determining the best option to use, you may want to discuss this with the staff of STaR (501-569-8954) or PACE (501-569-8410).

By considering your content first, and then determining the design that will work best for all of your students, you are joining the efforts at UALR to create sustainable, inclusive, and usable learning environments for all of our students here at UALR.

Susan Queller, Director
Disability Support Services
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
2801 S. University Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72204
Phone: 501-569-3143 (v/tty)
Fax: 501-569-8068

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