5 Alarming Errors That PowerPoint’s Accessibility Checker Makes
March 13, 2023

There are five things that the accessibility checker in PowerPoint will screw up that you need to be aware of. These things will not only make you waste hours of time banging your mouse on the table in frustration. They’ll also make your client think that their presentation isn’t accessible.

No worries. Once you understand the five issues, both you and your client will save time and energy.

#5 Duplicate Slide Titles

We’ll start at the bottom of the list. Number five is duplicate slide titles. You might see this come up under tips in the accessibility checker.

PPT accessibility checker showing duplicate slide title errors
PPT accessibility checker showing duplicate slide title errors.

We have “Don’t rely on color alone” on 13 and 12. So the duplicate is on 13. Honestly, this is one of the least problematic issues you’ll run across. You’ll notice it’s in tips. I think it used to be a warning. The slide titles are actually used for navigation for those who can’t see the slides. This tip won’t go away even if you mark that title as decorative. It’s something that I really wouldn’t worry about.

#4 Missing Text Contrast Issues

You would think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but let me run you through a couple examples with you.

In my warnings, I have hard to read text contrast. Let’s go over a couple of examples. We’ll go to slide eight’s problem which automatically selects this rectangle right here.

PPT accessibility checker showing poor text contrast errors.
PPT accessibility checker showing poor text contrast errors.

But what about the text in list item #1? It doesn’t pick up on that — and that’s actually the bigger offender of the two. Even if I try to exaggerate the issue by changing the text color to an even darker blue, it still doesn’t pick it up as an issue.

PPT accessibility checker NOT showing poor text contrast errors when it should be.
PPT accessibility checker NOT showing poor text contrast errors when it should be.

When the accessibility checker is checking for color contrasts of texts, it is looking at the text color and the color of the text box fill.

So if I were to fill that text box with a dark blue, then I have an issue with color contrast on slide eight. Even if I were to fill that text box with the slide background, the accessibility checker doesn’t pick up on it as an issue either.

So you really have to be aware of your text contrasts throughout the document because the accessibility checker isn’t always going to pick it up. And that’s kind of a big deal.

#3 Text Contrast Issues When There Is No Issue

It still has to do with contrasts, but it’s the opposite problem. In the previous example, the accessibility checker doesn’t pick up on an issue. In the next example, it picks up on color contrast issues when there shouldn’t be any.

You see all of those items in the accessibility checker pane?

PPT accessibility checker showing poor text contrast errors when it should NOT be.

They are all on slide 16. Let’s go to Slide 16.

PPT accessibility checker showing poor text contrast errors when it should NOT be.
PPT accessibility checker showing poor text contrast errors when it should NOT be.

This is a slide that I use to analyze the theme colors and the contrasts between themselves.

By the way, this is super easy to do if you want to do it, go download BrightSlide. It’s an add-in for PowerPoint that is absolutely amazing and it’s free.

There are a ton of text boxes demonstrating poor contrast and (of course) they all fail contrast standards. What if I just mark them as decorative? Even if I mark them as decorative, they’s still come up as a warning in the accessibility checker. Marking it as decorative doesn’t make the error go away and a client might see that and think something’s wrong.

#2 Warnings About Missing Subtitles

In my warnings I have missing audio or video subtitles on slide nine. Let’s go to slide nine.

PPT accessibility checker showing missing subtitle errors when it should NOT be.
PPT accessibility checker showing missing subtitle errors when it should NOT be.

I have this little puppy here, right? It’s a cute little puppy. It’s got a Wubbah — my dog’s favorite toy.

This is just a little decorative video. It plays automatically when I come to the slide. It has absolutely no value when it comes to forwarding the story. It’s solely decorative and because of that, I marked it as decorative. What happens after I market is decorative? One would think that would go away…

… but the accessibility checker still has it as a warning that I don’t have any subtitles on my video.

#1 False Reading Order Warnings

This brings me to the number one mistake that the accessibility checker will make, and it is a weird one. I have warnings that I need to check my reading order.

PPT accessibility checker showing reading order errors
Title read oafter content placeholder.

Let’s start with slide 30, since there are three things on the slide and that’s it. When we’re talking about reading order, voiceover will read the items in the selection pane from bottom to top (if you use the reading order pane, voiceover goes from top to bottom). So according to this, it will read my subtitle first, then my content and then my title.

We see here that the title is read after the content. Once we move the title before the content placeholder, the slide 30 warning goes away.

PPT accessibility checker showing reading order errors when it should NOT be.
Title moved before content placeholder on slide 8.

So let’s go to slide 30 where I had the other warning.

PPT accessibility checker showing reading order errors when it should NOT be.

The reading order for this slide is as follows:

  1. subtitle
  2. title
  3. item 1
  4. item 2
  5. item 3
  6. item 4
  7. item 5
  8. alt text for non-decorative items

This is exactly how I want the slide to be read. The reason it is giving us the warning is that the basketball icon is not marked as decorative. If I check the “mark as decorative box,” the reading order warning goes away.

What if it’s not decorative and there is alt text?

PPT accessibility checker showing reading order errors when it should NOT be.

I have alt text on this icon, but the reading order warning came back.

There’s one more way that this can go wrong that I know of. Let’s check out slide 26 where we have another reading order warning. The objects on the slide are:

  1. subtitle
  2. title
  3. text placeholder
  4. content placeholder
  5. text placeholder
PPT accessibility checker showing reading order errors when it should NOT be.

If I put the content placeholder directly before both text placeholders to be read, the error goes away.

If I put the content placeholder after both text placeholders at the end, the error goes away.

It only showed up because it was between these two text placeholders.

Does that make any kind of sense? No. No, it does not. Here’s a false positive. Sometimes you have everything set up the way you want it to be read and the accessibility checker will still going to show you a warning.

And this just emphasizes the point I always make.

You can’t rely on automated checkers alone because they will throw false positives and they will throw false negatives.

This is a beautiful example of that. So if your client comes back to you and says there are problems because the accessibility checker says so, you’ll be able to be able to explain why your file is properly set up and accessible.

It’s the accessibility checker that has issues.