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Tips to use with Microsoft PowerPoint

Create accessible PowerPoint slides


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, leaving empty spots for the equations, and 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.

  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:


    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".

  2. 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):

  3. 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:


    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 rename 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.


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.

Group MathType equation objects with drawings and pictures in PowerPoint


Suppose you want to add a graph or a picture to a slide in Microsoft PowerPoint, and you want to annotate parts of it with math expressions you create in MathType. Or maybe you've created a drawing of a right triangle by using Shapes in Pages. You want to label the triangle's sides with MathType. If you move the drawing and annotations to another place in the document, or to a different document, you have to move the drawing and its annotations separately. It would be a huge help if you could "group" everything together so that it moves and acts like a single object.

Note: This tip is written as if you're using Word, but the general process is also valid in PowerPoint. Disregard the mention of inline and floating objects, since all objects in PowerPoint are floating by default and cannot be forced to be inline.


Note the procedures in this tip work in Microsoft Office and Apple Pages/Keynote/Numbers, but generically they should work in just about any word processor or office suite. It's impossible for us to test all applications, but try it in the software you use and let us know how it goes.

MathType expressions and equations are normally inserted as inline "objects" in word processors. This means they look and act as if they're part of the paragraph into which they're inserted. Generally, word processors don't allow grouping of inline objects, period.

Special steps for Microsoft Word and WPS Writer

In the case of Word and most other word processors, it is possible to change the object's "text wrapping" properties to be something other than inline, but the newest versions of Word don't allow you to group these "floating" objects with other objects, such as drawings you create in Word or pictures you insert. (Note: Whenever we mention Word in this section, the same applies to WPS Writer.)

There are two techniques for grouping equations with drawings in Word:

  1. Insert a text box. After you insert a text box, use the Inline button on the MathType tab in Word to insert the equation. After the equation is inside the text box, you can follow the "General steps" below.

  2. (Not Word 2016 for Mac) Save the document as a DOC file instead of the default DOCX. (If you're using Word 2007 DOCX is fine, and in Word 2016 for Mac, it's the only choice that works.) If you're not aware of the differences between the 2 file formats, you should understand that although in this case we're recommending saving as DOC, there are normally advantages to saving as DOCX. The biggest advantages are probably the availability of SmartArt and the fact that a DOCX is more stable and less susceptible to corruption than is a DOC file. Word users have been using DOC for years and for the most part there aren't any issues with that. Chances are these differences between DOC and DOCX won't affect you, so saving as DOC shouldn't be a problem.

General steps

To continue this tip, we'll be using Word 2016 for Windows, but remember we're talking about a general procedure that should work with almost any word processor or office suite. If we say "Word" below, it doesn't mean the step is specific to Word; it just means that's what we're using.

To summarize, let's say you want to create a right triangle with sides a = 5 and b = 6, and you want your students to compute the length of c. You might want this diagram:

  1. Type a = 5 and b = 6 into individual MathType equations, inserting them into your document or presentation. Type the equation for c into a third equation and insert it. You don't actually have to use MathType for the first 2 labels of course, but we're doing that to keep a uniform appearance.

  2. If you elected option 1 above (inserting the equations into a text box), skip to step 2c below, otherwise continue. If the equations are inline equations, like they will be in Word or Pages, we need to change them to floating. Do this for each (these steps are specific to Word, so you may have to adapt them to whatever software you're using):

    1. Right-click (Win) or ctrl+click (Mac) and choose Format object (Word 2016 for Windows: Picture).

    2. In the Layout tab, click In Front of text. Click OK.

Now continue...  


If you're using Pages, click once to select the equation and in the Format Inspector, click the Arrange tab. In the Text Wrap section, click None.Note: If you have more equations than this to use as annotations, you may wish to do this a bit differently. Create one of the equations. Perform steps 2a above. Copy the equation and paste as many as you need, moving each one into its approximate position. Before you go further, edit each of the duplicate equations to be the one you need for the position it's in.

  1. Click the equation and move it close to where you want it. To fine-tune its position, hold down the Ctrl (Mac: option) key and use the arrows on the keyboard.

  2. It should still be selected, so now hold down the Shift key and click the other objects -- the triangle and the equations for the other 2 sides. (On the Mac, sometimes the MathType object will deselect, so watch and make sure it remains selected. Click it again if necessary -- all the time holding down the Shift key.)


If you're using text boxes, you probably want "no line" or if that's not an option, make the line 100% transparent. You probably also want "no fill" (i.e., transparent background). Note the text boxes will be difficult, but not impossible, to select once you make the background "no fill", so consider moving them into position before changing the background.

- You should see something like this:


Windows: Right-click the group and click

<strong> Grouping > Group</strong>

Mac: Ctrl-click the group and click

Group > Group.

NOTE: If these options are grayed-out, you may need to first save the document or presentation, and if you're in Word, make sure to save it with a .doc extension.

After you follow these steps, if you need to change one of the MathType objects, you can double-click it, make the changes in MathType, and close MathType. You generally don't need to ungroup it first. On the Mac, you'll need to ungroup, make the changes in MathType, then re-group.

Rotating equations in PowerPoint

Applies to:

  • PowerPoint for Windows

  • PowerPoint 2011 for Mac

Most of the steps below are not needed for PowerPoint 2016 for Mac, since it's possible to rotate equations in that version of PowerPoint without any special configuration steps. See Now rotate below for the steps that do apply to PowerPoint 2016 for Mac.


You have a diagram, chart, or drawing and you want to label it with MathType equations. You'd like to rotate the equations to align with an axis on the chart or part of the drawing. On the slide below, for example, you'd like the label for the y-axis to rotate 90° CCW.


Can't get there from here

Sometimes software just doesn't let us do what it is we want to do, so we have to get creative. In this case, PowerPoint for Windows and PowerPoint 2011 for Mac don't let you rotate inserted objects. That is, anything listed on the Insert Object dialog -- Excel Chart, Visio Drawing, MathType equation, etc. Since MathType equations are inserted objects, whatever equation(s) we want to rotate must be inserted as something other than an object.


Game not over. MathType has output choices other than "object". Consider the equation above that we want to rotate. If we double-click it to open it in MathType, we can use the Save Copy As command (in MathType's File menu) to save into a format that PowerPoint will accept and allow us to rotate. Without going into the details of "why", let's cut to the chase and say out of the choices offered, the one that's best is Graphics Interchange Format (GIF). You need to change a few things first though.

  1. Font size. Always important, but now even more so. NEVER leave MathType's font size for PowerPoint slides set the same as for Word documents, then insert them into PowerPoint and click & drag to resize them. Why "never"? Two reasons. One, the whole reason you're using MathType is so your equations will look their best. We assume you don't want them to be "good enough"; you want them to be as good as they can be. If you're in the habit of inserting small equations into PowerPoint, then dragging to make them larger, no two equations in your document will ever be the same size. You may not be able to tell they're different sizes, but your viewers will be able to. So set the Full size in MathType's Size menu to be whatever size you're using in PowerPoint – probably somewhere between 24 and 36pt. The other reason you don't want to click and drag to resize is because it takes a LOT longer to resize every equation in the presentation than it would take to simply do it correctly the first time and set the size in MathType's Size menu. Many people work on a presentation at the same time they're working on a Word document. That's OK. Set a Preference File for each, and switch back and forth.

  2. Resolution. GIFs don't actually have a "dots per inch" or "pixels per inch", but for the sake of this exercise we're going to pretend they do. In MathType, open Web and GIF Preferences (in the Preferences menu), and change Bitmap resolution to Other:XXX, where XXX is:

    • 384 for Windows

    • 288 for Mac except…

    • 880 for 15" Retina screen MacBook Pros

    • 908 for 13" Retina screen MacBook Pros

The reason for this is because this is a situation where you do need to resize the equation once it's in PowerPoint, but you don't want to have to stretch it to make it larger. To do so would make it fuzzy and not look very good. Much better is to make it large, then reduce it to the proper size. The reason for the numbers above is because these are 4 times normal size. When you insert the equation (or expression, but "equation" generically) into PowerPoint, use the Format Picture > Size controls to reduce the size to 25% of the original.

Now rotate

You can do this in one of two ways. The easiest – at least in this example – is to stay on the Format Picture panel or dialog, because that's where the Rotation control is also located. For our example, we want to rotate it to -90°.

The other way to rotate it is to click and drag the "rotation handle" in the direction you want it to rotate. The rotation handle may be a partial circle with an arrowhead, or a green dot, depending on your version of PowerPoint and/or your operating system:


GIF in PowerPoint 2016 for Windows

MathType object in PowerPoint 2016 for Mac

Tip: If you hold the Shift key before you click the resizing handle, it will constrain the GIF's rotation to 15° increments. That will give you an easy, precise way to get exactly 90° CCW rotation.

Here's our slide now: