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MathType Tips: Create accessible PowerPoint slides

Applies to:

  MathType 6 and later
(Windows only)
Microsoft PowerPoint 2003-2016
(Windows only)
  Note: This will not create PowerPoint slides in which the math can be read by VoiceOver on an iOS or macOS device.


There are several issues that factor in to creating PowerPoint slides that are easily readable by screen readers (primarily NVDA):

  1. With NVDA, you'll need both MathPlayer and MathType for the screen reader to read equations. Neither is required by JAWS, but more work is required on your part for creating slides that JAWS can read.
  2. Unfortunately there is no such thing in PowerPoint as an "inline object", "objects" being things such as MathType equations. Thus inline MathType equations are problematic, regardless of whether they’re intended for sighted viewers or sight-impaired viewers. The equation editor Microsoft includes with PowerPoint does allow true inline equations, but those are not accessible.
  3. That being the case, it's best if you can avoid inline equations to the extent possible, and stick with display equations. If you're not familiar with the terms "inline equation", and "display equation", an inline equation is what its name suggests. It's an equation that's part of your paragraph, and there is text before and sometimes after the equation. A display equation is in a paragraph of its own, sometimes centered on the line. Since there's no text to sequence with a display equation, specifying the order in which they are to be read is easier. 
  4. Since MathType equations are "floating" on a PowerPoint slide, they are not read in sequence with the text of a slide "placeholder" (the part of the slide where you type text). Thus, if you use the normal "visual" method of typing text and leaving empty spots for the equations, then move the equations into position later, NVDA will not read the equations with the text. It will likely read all of the text first, then all of the equations next. It will be difficult if not impossible to understand a slide read in this manner.
  5. PowerPoint allows you to add alt text to graphics, including MathType equation objects. If you're reading the slide with JAWS, that's what JAWS will read. Trouble is, with NVDA, it sees the alt text and also understands the content of the MathType equation itself. Thus, in design view (edit view), NVDA will read each equation twice. In Presentation view, JAWS will read the alt text and NVDA will look inside the MathType equation and read the MathML contained therein, resulting in the equations each being read once, regardless of which editor you use.
  6. These things considered, it seems best to create a PowerPoint file that works as well as it can for a specified screen reader. Then when the PowerPoint file is distributed, instructions would say "the output is optimized for XXXX screen reader. Using other screen readers will produce less satisfactory output", or something to that effect.

Creating the slide:

These steps will assume you are creating ONLY display equations. If you need inline equations, the set of steps following this section will describe that. (For each of the screen shots in this tip, you may click to see the full-sized version, and use your browser's Back button to return here. Also, you can download the Accessible PowerPoint file if you want to open the one we used for writing this tip. It may help understand some of the points below if you see it on your own computer.)

  1. Text placeholders. Rather than use only one text placeholder per slide, use a separate placeholder for each block of text – before the first equation, between equations, and after the last equation. This example shows 3 separate placeholders and 2 display equations:

Use a separate placeholder for each paragraph.

Note these are placeholders, not text boxes. There's a difference. If you prefer to use text boxes instead of placeholders, most of the time there will be no difference and for the purposes of these instructions it should not matter. We will continue to use the term "placeholder".

  1. Open the Selection Pane. The first step in determining reading order is opening the Selection Pane. To open the Selection Pane, look to the far right of the Home tab, and find the Editing group. Click Select, then Selection Pane. For my example slide above, I now see this (I'm using PowerPoint 2016; other versions will be similar):

The PowerPoint Selection Pane.

  1. Arrange the slide's elements in the order you want them read. I see one possible issue already with the example above. Notice some things have unique names – Title 3, Object 5, and Object 7. The placeholders all have the same name; there are 3 instances of "Content Placeholder 4". Let's fix that. Click to select one of them in the Selection pane, and notice the corresponding placeholder is selected on the slide:

When you select a placeholder in the Selection Pane, it is also selected on the slide.

I've selected the item at the top of the Selection Pane, which is logical to assume would be the first thing read. In reality, that's backward. It's the item at the bottom of the list that will be read first; the item at the top will be read last.

The situation with three of the objects having the name "Content Placeholder 4" is not a problem for the screen reader, and will not confuse it. If you want, you can re-name them as you wish. To rename an item in the Selection Pane, double-click its name in the pane, and replace the old name with the new. Press Enter when you're finished renaming an item, or just double-click (twice) the next one you want to change.

Inline Equations

As already mentioned, slides with inline equations are more difficult to create if the goal is a slide that will make sense when read aloud with a screen reader. These steps should help:

  1. If it is at the end of a paragraph, you may treat an inline equation like a display equation, and the steps in the previous section will work. For inline equations that are not at the end of a paragraph, read on...
  2. If it is not at the end of a paragraph, type your text inside the placeholder up to the point where the equation will go. Move the equation into position. You may need to adjust the Line Spacing of the placeholder text so the text doesn't overlap the equation. In the shot below, the Line Spacing is at 1.2 lines, where the Line Spacing in the shot above is 0.9 lines. In PowerPoint 2016, the easiest way to set this is to right-click inside the placeholder you want to change, and choose "Paragraph" from the contextual menu.
  3. Once you have the text in place preceding the equation, the equation in place, and the Line Spacing set, create (or copy & paste) another placeholder. Type the text that will follow the equation, and move it into position.
  4. Set the reading order as above. Note I've named the placeholder preceding the equation as "Placeholder 1" and the placeholder following the equation "Placeholder 1a". You can choose names that work for you – or don't rename them at all. It's your choice.

An inline equation on a PowerPoint slide.

Using this process to create slides definitely adds some time to your preparation, but it's the best way to create a PowerPoint file with slides that are truly accessible.

If you have a tip that you'd like to pass along to us for possible inclusion in our Tips & Tricks, email us.

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