Authoring Techniques for Accessible Office Documents: iWork Keynote '09

Date of Current Version: 04 Feb 2011
Latest Version (HTML):

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Usage Notes

At the time of testing (September 30, 2010), Keynote ‘09 lacks several features that enable accessible office document authoring, most notably: the ability to add alternative text to images and objects, indicating natural language, quick styles or named styles, and change tracking. As a result, some of the other features that might otherwise support accessibility, such as its extensive templates are not as effective. In addition, Keynote ‘09 does not include an accessibility checking feature, which is a more advanced accessibility feature.

What’s an “Office Document”?

You should use these techniques when you are using Keynote ‘09 to create documents that are:

  • Intended to be used by people (i.e., not computer code),
  • Text-based (i.e., not simply images, although they may contain images),
  • Fully printable (i.e., where dynamic features are limited to automatic page numbering, table of contents, etc. and do not include audio, video, or embedded interactivity),
  • Self-contained (i.e., without hyperlinks to other documents, unlike web content), and
  • Typical of office-style workflows (Reports, letters, memos, budgets, presentations, etc.).

If you are creating forms, web pages, applications, or other dynamic and/or interactive content, these techniques will still be useful to you, but you should also consult the W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) because these are specifically designed to provide guidance for highly dynamic and/or interactive content.

File Formats

The default file format for Keynote ‘09 is the native iWork format.

In addition, Keynote ‘09 offers many other presentation processor and web format saving options. Most of these have not been checked for accessibility, but some information and/or instructions are available for the following formats in Technique 12:

  • MS PowerPoint (PPT)
  • PDF
  • HTML

Document Conventions

We have tried to formulate these techniques so that they are useful to all authors, regardless of whether they use a mouse. However, for clarity there are several instances where mouse-only language is used. Below are the mouse-only terms and their keyboard alternatives:

  • *Right-click: To right-click with the keyboard, select the object using the Shift+Arrow keys and then press either (1) the “Right-Click” key (some keyboard have this to the right of the spacebar) or Shift+F10.

Disclaimer and Testing Details:

Following these techniques will increase the accessibility of your documents, but it does not guarantee accessibility to any specific disability groups. In cases where more certainty is required, it is recommended that you test the office documents with end users with disabilities, including screen reader users.
The application-specific steps and screenshots in this document were created using iWork Keynote ‘09 (ver.5.0.3(791), Mac OS X, Sept. 2010) while producing a document in the proprietary file format. Files are also easily saved as other file formats (see Technique 12:).

Technique 1. Use Accessible Templates

All office documents start with a template, which can be as simple as a blank standard-sized page or as complex as a nearly complete document with text, graphics and other content. For example, a “Meeting Minutes” template might include headings for information relevant to a business meeting, such as “Actions” above a table with rows to denote time and columns for actions of the meeting.
Because templates provide the starting-point for so many documents, accessibility is critical. If you are unsure whether a template is accessible, you should check a sample document produced when the template is used (see Technique 11).
The default template for new documents in Keynote ‘09 is a blank presentation. If you are connected to the internet, you can access a variety of blank business presentation templates. These are all accessible by virtue of being blank. As well, you may create your own templates.

To create an accessible template

  1. Go to menu item: File > New or File > New from Theme Chooser…
  2. In the Theme Chooser dialog, select the White theme or select one of the other existing template designs
  3. A new document in your selected template style will open
  4. Ensure that you follow the techniques in this document
  5. When you are finished you should also check the accessibility of the document (see Technique 11)
  6. Go to menu item: File > Save Theme…
  7. In the Save As box, type a name for the template. Using a descriptive template name (e.g. “Accessible Memo Template”) will increase the prominence of the accessibility status.
  8. Specify a folder in which to save your template.
    Note: By default, it will be saved in your home folder in Library/Application Support/iWork/Keynote/Templates/My Templates pane of the Template Chooser. To save the template in a different location than the default, create a new folder in the Templates folder. The folder name is then used as a template category in the Template Chooser.

    Image demonstrates location of Save As box and Where option.

  9. Click Save

To select an accessible template

Note: Only use these steps if you have an accessible template available (e.g. that you previously saved). Otherwise, simply open a new (blank) document.

  1. Go to menu item: File > New from Theme Chooser…
  2. In the Template Chooser dialog, select My Templates from the left pane
  3. Select your accessible template and click Choose

    Image demonstrates location of My template option and template icons in Template Chooser dialog.

Technique 2. Set Document Language

At this time, it is not possible to manually indicate the natural language for specific slides or sections of text in Keynote ‘09. As well, it is not possible to change the natural language of the document itself from the default language. [Tested: September 30th, 2010]

In order for assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers) to be able to present your document accurately, it is important to indicate the natural language of the document. If a different natural language is used for a paragraph or selected text, this also needs to be clearly indicated.

Technique 3. Use Built-In Layout and Styling Features

3.1 Use Built-In Slide Layouts

Instead of creating each slide in your presentation by starting from a blank slide, check whether there is a suitable built-in layout.

Note: The built-in layouts can be more accessible to users of assistive technologies because they technologies sometimes read the floating items on the slide in the order that they were placed on the slide. The built-in layouts have usually taken this into account (e.g., “Title” first followed by other items, left to right and from top to bottom). If you create slide layouts from scratch, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of the order elements were placed.

Note: Each slide in Keynote ’09 is derived from a Master Slide (Technique 3.2) applying “true layouts” requires that you use Master Slides that are accessible and appropriately designed for your purposes.

3.2 Customize Using Master Slides

If a layout must be customized, it is recommended that Master Slides be used.

Every slide layout in a presentation is defined by its master slide. A master slide determines the formatting style for various elements of the slide layout. This includes font styles, character formatting, and the positioning of elements. Essentially, each master slide acts as a design template for the slide layout.

If you edit any aspect of the slide layout in the master slide, the change will affect all slides that were created based on it. For this reason, it is good practice to edit the master slide and use the slide layouts before building individual slides. It is essential that you create and use master slides that meet the accessibility requirements outlined in this document.

To create or customize a master slide

  1. Select the slide
    Note: To design a master slide from scratch, select a blank slide to start with. Otherwise, select a slide that resembles how you would like your slide to look and be sure to modify the slide characteristics to align with accessibility guidelines in this document.
  2. Go to menu item: View > Show Master Slides
  3. In the Master Slide Navigator in the left pane, select the Master Slide Layout you would like to modify

    Image demonstrates location of Master Slide Layouts in Master Slides view.

  4. Customize the master slide to suit your needs (e.g., define placeholders for text, change background elements, add alignment guides, and more) ensuring that your changes meet accessibility requirements

To define default attributes of text and objects

  1. Select the slide
    Note: To design a master slide from scratch, select a blank slide to start with. Otherwise, select a slide that resembles how you would like your slide to look and be sure to modify the slide characteristics to align with accessibility guidelines in this document.
  2. Go to menu item: View > Show Master Slides
  3. In the Master Slide Navigator in the left pane, select the Master Slide Layout you would like to define default attributes for

    Image demonstrates location of Master Slide Layouts in Master Slides view.

  4. In the Toolbar, click the element type (e.g., text box, shapes, table, charts)

    Image demonstrates elements type options in the Toolbar.

  5. In the Formatting bar, format the element ensuring that it meets accessibility guidelines outlined in this document
  6. To make the element a default for your current master slide, go to menu item: Format > Advanced > Define (element type) for Current Master
    Note: To make the element a default for all master slides, go to menu item: Format > Advanced > Define (element type) for All Masters

Technique 4. Set a Logical Tab Order

Many presentation applications create content composed almost exclusively of "floating" objects. This means that they avoid the transitions between in-line content and secondary "floating" objects (text boxes, images, etc.) that can cause accessibility issues in word processors.

However, when you are working with "floating" objects, it is important to remember that the way objects are positioned in two dimensions on the screen may be completely different from how the objects will be read by a screen reader or navigated using a keyboard. The order that content is navigated sequentially is called the "Tab Order" because often the "Tab" key is used to navigate from one "floating" object to the next.

Tips for setting a logical “tab order” for "floating" objects

  • The tab order of floating objects is usually from the “lowest” object on the slide to the “highest”.
  • Because objects automatically appear “on top” when they are inserted, the default tab order is from the first object inserted to the last. However, this will change if you use features such as “bring to front” and “send to back”.
  • The slide’s main heading should be first in the tab order.
  • Headings should be placed in the tab order immediately before the items (text, diagrams, etc.) for which they are acting as a heading.
  • Labels should be in the reading order placed immediately before the objects that they label.
  • For simple slide layouts, it may be possible to simply insert objects in a logical tab order.
  • For more complex layouts, it may be easier to simply to create the slide as usual and then set the tab order (see below).

To set the tab order

  1. Select the object
  2. Go to menu item: Arrange > Bring Forward, Bring to Front, Send Backward or Send to Back

Technique 5. Use Slide Notes

A useful aspect of presentation applications is the facility to add notes to slides, which can then be read by assistive technologies. You can use these slide notes to explain and expand on the contents of your slides in text format. Slide notes can be created as you build your presentation.

To add notes to your slides

  1. Go to menu item: View > Show Presenter Notes
  2. In the pane at the bottom of the window (below the slide), enter notes to accompany each slide

Technique 6. Provide Text Alternatives for Images and Graphical Objects

At this time, Keynote ’09 does not offer a mechanism which enables the user to add alternative text descriptions to images or objects. [Tested: September 28, 2010]

When using images or other graphical objects, such as charts and graphs, it is important to ensure that the information you intend to convey by the image is also conveyed to people who cannot see the image. This can be accomplished by adding concise alternative text of each image. If an image is too complicated to concisely describe in the alternative text alone (artwork, flowcharts, etc.), provide a short text alternative and a longer description as well.

Tips for writing alternative text

  • Try to answer the question "what information is the image conveying?"
  • If the image does not convey any useful information, leave the alternative text blank
  • If the image contains meaningful text, ensure all of the text is replicated
  • Alternative text should be fairly short, usually a sentence or less and rarely more than two sentences
  • If more description is required (e.g., for a chart or graph), provide a short description in the alternative text (e.g., a summary of the trend) and more detail in the long description, see below
  • Test by having others review the document with the images replaced by the alternative text

Tips for writing longer descriptions

  • Long descriptions should be used when text alternatives (see above) are insufficient to answer the question "what information is the image conveying?"
  • In some situations, the information being conveyed will be how an image looks (e.g., an artwork, architectural detail, etc.). In these cases, try to describe the image without making too many of your own assumptions.
  • One approach is to imagine you are describing the image to a person over the phone
  • Ensure that you still provide concise alternative text to help readers decide if they are interested in the longer description

Alternatively, you can include the same information conveyed by the image within the body of the document, providing the images as an alternate to the text. In that case, you do not have to provide alternate text within the image.

Technique 7. Use Built-In Structuring Features

7.1 Tables

When using tables, it is important to ensure that they are clear and appropriately structured. This helps all users to better understand the information in the table and allows assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers) to provide context so that the information within the table can be conveyed in a meaningful way.

Tips for tables

  • Only use tables for tabular information, not for formatting.
  • Use “real tables” rather than text formatted to look like tables using the TAB key or space bar. These will not be recognized by assistive technology.
  • Keep tables simple by avoiding merged cells and dividing complex data sets into separate smaller tables, where possible.
  • If tables split across pages, set the header to show at the top of each page. Also set the table to break between rows instead of in the middle of rows.
  • Create a text summary of the essential table contents. Any abbreviations used should be explained in the summary.
  • Table captions or descriptions should answer the question "what is the table's purpose and how is it organized?" (e.g., "A sample order form with separate columns for the item name, price and quantity").
  • Table cells should be marked as table headers when they serve as labels to help interpret the other cells in the table.
  • Table header cells labels should be concise and clear.
  • Ensure the table is not “floating” on the page (see Technique 4).

To set default table attributes

  1. Go to menu item: View > Show Master Slides
  2. Select a master slide from the Master Slides Navigator in the left pane
  3. Image demonstrates location of master slide layouts in Master Slides view.

  4. In the Toolbar, click Table
  5. Image demonstrates location of table element in Toolbar.

  6. Select the table
  7. Go to menu item: View > Show Inspector
  8. In the Inspector dialog, select Table inspector
  9. Click the Table tab
  10. In the Headers & Footers section, select Choose the number of header columns or Choose the number of header rows drop-down menus
  11. Select the number of headers
  12. Note: Limiting your table to one row or column of header will ensure your table remains clear and easy to interpret by assistive technologies.

    Image demonstrates Table icon, Table tab, and Headers & Footer section in Inspector dialog.

  13. Customize the other characteristics of your table through the other sections of the Table inspector dialog
  14. To make the table a default for your current master slide, go to menu item: Format > Advanced > Define Table for Current Master
  15. Note: To make the table a default for all master slides, go to menu item: Format > Advanced > Define Table for All Masters

    Note: Defining the table as a default for all masters means that when you insert a Table element into any slide, it will display your preformatted characteristics (including appropriate headers)

7.2 Lists

When you create lists, it is important to format them as “real lists”. Otherwise, assistive technologies will interpret your list as a series of short separate paragraphs instead of a coherent list of related items.

To create an ordered or unordered list

  1. Select the text box or highlight the text
  2. Go to menu item: View > Show Inspector
  3. In the Inspector dialog, click Text inspector
  4. Click the Bullets tab
  5. In the Bullets & Numbering section, click the drop-down menu and choose a bullet or numbering option
  6. Customize the list style accordingly, ensuring your selections align with the guidelines in this document

    Image demonstrates location of Text inspector button, Bullets tab, and Bullets & Numbering section of Inspector dialog.

7.3 Columns

Use Columns feature for placing text in columns.
Note: Because columns can be a challenge for users of some assistive technologies, consider whether a column layout is really necessary.

7.4 Document Title

In case the document is ever converted into HTML, it should be given a descriptive and meaningful title.

To change the title of the current document

  1. In the Toolbar, select Inspector
  2. In the Inspector dialog, select the Document inspector button
  3. Click the Spotlight tab
  4. In the Title box, type a descriptive name for the document
    Note: The Title defined in the properties is different than the file name. It is also unrelated to the template name, discussed above.

    Image demonstrates location of Document inspector button, Spotlight tab, and Title text box in Inspector dialog.

Technique 8. Create Accessible Charts

Charts can be used to make data more understandable for some audiences. However, it is important to ensure that your chart is as accessible as possible to all members of your audience. All basic accessibility considerations that are applied to the rest of your document must also be applied to your charts and the elements within your charts. For example, use shape and color, rather than color alone, to convey information. As well, some further steps should be taken to ensure that the contents are your chart are appropriate labeled to give users reference points that will help them to correctly interpret the information.

To create a chart

  1. Go to menu item: Insert > Chart
  2. Select the type of chart you want to use
  3. Update the Chart Data Editor with the data you would like to display
  4. Close the Chart Data Editor

To add titles and labels

  1. Select the chart
  2. Go to menu item: View > Show Inspector
  3. In the Chart Inspector, select Chart
  4. Ensure the Show Title and Show Legend check boxes are selected
  5. Select Axis
  6. Under Value Axis (Y) and Category Axis (X), select Show Title and Show Value Labels from their respective drop-down menus

To change to a different predefined Chart Type

  1. Select the chart
  2. Go to menu item: View > Show Inspector
  3. Select a chart type from the Choose a chart type drop-down menu

Other Chart Considerations

  • When creating line charts, use the formatting options to create different types of dotted lines to facilitate legibility for users who are color blind
  • When creating bar charts, it is helpful to apply texture instead of color to differentiate the bars
  • Change the default colors to a color safe or gray-scale palette
  • Use the formatting options to change predefined colors, ensuring that they align with sufficient contrast requirements (see Technique 9.2)

Technique 9. Make Content Easier to See

9.1 Format of Text

When formatting text, especially when the text is likely to be printed, try to:

  • Use font sizes between 12 and 18 points for body text.
  • Use fonts of normal weight, rather than bold or light weight fonts. If you do choose to use bold fonts for emphasis, use them sparingly.
  • Use standard fonts with clear spacing and easily recognized upper and lower case characters. Sans serif fonts (e.g., Arial, Verdana) may sometimes be easier to read than serif fonts (e.g., Times New Roman, Garamond).
  • Avoid large amounts of text set all in caps, italic or underlined.
  • Use normal or expanded character spacing, rather than condensed spacing.
  • Avoid animated or scrolling text.

But can’t users just zoom in?  Office applications do typically include accessibility features such as the ability to magnify documents and support for high contrast modes. However, because printing is an important aspect of many workflows and changing font sizes directly will change documents details such the pagination, the layout of tables, etc., it is best practice to always format text for a reasonable degree of accessibility.

9.2 Use Sufficient Contrast

The visual presentation of text and images of text should have a contrast ration of at least 4.5:1. To help you determine the contrast, here are some examples on a white background:

  • Very good contrast (Foreground=black, Background=white, Ratio=21:1)
  • Acceptable contrast (Foreground=#767676, Background=white, Ratio=4.54:1)
  • Unacceptable contrast (Foreground=#AAAAAA, Background=white, Ratio=2.32:1)

Also, always use a single solid color for a text background rather than a pattern.
In order to determine whether the colors in your document have sufficient contrast, you can consult an online contrast checker, such as:

9.3 Avoid Using Color Alone

Color should not be used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element. In order to spot where color might be the only visual means of conveying information, you can create a screenshot of the document and then view it with online gray-scale converting tools, such as:

9.4 Avoid Relying on Sensory Characteristics

The instructions provided for understanding and operating content should not rely solely on sensory characteristics such as the color or shape of content elements. Here are two examples:

  • Do not track changes by simply changing the color of text you have edited and noting the color. Instead use PowerPoint 2010’s “Track Changes” feature to track changes.
  • Do not distinguish between images by referring to their appearance (e.g. “the bigger one”). Instead, label each image with a figure number and use that for references.

9.5 Avoid Using Images of Text

Before you use an image to control the presentation of text (e.g., to ensure a certain font or color combination), consider whether you can achieve the same result by styling “real text”. If this is not possible, as with logos containing stylized text, make sure to provide alternative text for the image following the techniques noted above.

9.6 Avoid Transitions

Transitions between slides and elements in each slide (e.g., bullets in a list flying onto the screen) can be distracting to users with disabilities. It can also cause assistive technologies to read the slide incorrectly. For these reasons, it is best to avoid transitions altogether.

Technique 10. Make Content Easier to Understand

10.1 Write Clearly

By taking the time to design your content in a consistent way, it will be easier to access, navigate and interpret for all users:

  • Whenever possible, write clearly with short sentences.
  • Introduce acronyms and spell out abbreviations.
  • Avoid making the document too “busy” by using lots of whitespace and by avoiding too many different colors, fonts and images.
  • If content is repeated on multiple pages within a document or within a set of documents (e.g., headings, footings, etc.), it should occur consistently each time it is repeated.

10.2 Provide Context for Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are more effective navigation aids when the user understands the likely result of following the link. Otherwise, users may have to use trial-and-error to find what they need.

To help the user understand the result of selecting a hyperlink, ensure that the link makes sense when read in the context of the text around it. For example, while it would be confusing to use “more information” as a link by itself on a page, it would be fine to use “more information” as a link in the following sentence: “The airport can be reached by taxi or bus (more information).”

To make the address of hyperlink clear when printing, you may wish to include the address in brackets following the descriptive text of the hyperlink.

To edit hyperlink text

  1. Enter the hyperlink
  2. Go to menu item: View > Show Inspector
  3. In the Inspector dialog, click Hyperlink inspector
  4. In the Display box, enter the text you would like to display

    Image demonstrates location of Hyperlink inspector button and Display text box in Inspector dialog.

10.3 Accessible Presentations

It is important to consider accessibility before, during, and after presentations. Below is a helpful link with guidance on how to make presentations accessible to all:

  • “How to Make Presentations Accessible to All” (Source: W3C-WAI Draft)

Technique 11. Check Accessibility

At this time, Keynote ’09 does not offer a mechanism to check for potential accessibility errors in your document prior to publishing. [Tested: September 30th, 2010]
In order to get some indication of the accessibility of your document or template (see Technique 1), then you may consider saving the file into HTML or PDF in order to perform an accessibility check in one of those formats, as described below.

To evaluate HTML accessibility

If you wish to check the accessibility of your document or template (see Technique 1), one option is to save it into HTML format and use one of the web accessibility checkers available online. Such as:

To evaluate PDF accessibility

If you saved your document in tagged PDF format, you can use the following tools and steps to evaluate the accessibility of the PDF document:

To evaluate PDF accessibility in Adobe Acrobat Professional

  1. Go to menu item: Advanced > Accessibility > Full Check…
  2. In the Full Check dialog, select all the checking option
  3. Select the Start Checking button

Technique 12. Use Accessibility Features when Saving/Exporting to Other Formats

In some cases, additional steps must be taken in order to ensure accessibility information is preserved when saving/exporting to formats other than the default.

To export to a different format

  1. Go to menu item: Share > Export
  2. Select the file format you would like to export
  3. Customize the settings relevant to the selected file format
  4. Click Next
  5. In the Save As box, enter a descriptive file name
  6. In the Where drop-down menu, specify the location you would like the exported file to be saved
  7. Click Export


PDF documents are not always accessible. Accessible PDF documents are often called “Tagged PDF” because they include “tags” that encode structural information required for accessibility. To evaluate the accessibility of your PDF document, see Technique 11 (above).

To clean up your HTML file

  • Remove unnecessary styles, line breaks, etc.
  • Remove unnecessary id, class, and attributes
  • Remove font tags
  • Remove styles in the <head> tag
  • Ensure the <th> tags have a scope attribute
  • Remove <p> tags nested inside <th> and <td> tags
  • Check for accessibility (see Technique 11)
    Note: you may wish to use HTML editors or utilities to help with this process.

Technique 13. Consider Using Accessibility Support Applications/Plugins

Disclaimer: This list is provided for information purposes only. It is not exhaustive and inclusion of an application or plug-in on the list does not constitute a recommendation or guarantee of results.

The following accessibility related plug-ins and support are available for Keynote ‘09:

  • PowerTalk – an accessibility tool that provides a good approximation of how presentations will sound with a screen reader.

Accessibility Help

If you are interested in what features are provided to make using Keynote ‘09 more accessible to users, documentation is provided in the Help system:

  1. Go to menu item: Help
  2. Enter your search term in the Search box

References and Resources

  1. Keynote ‘09 Help Guide
  2. GAWDS Writing Better Alt Text []


This document was produced as part of the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project (

This project has been developed by the Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University as part of an EnAbling Change Partnership project with the Government of Ontario and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Partner logos: UNESCO-United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Government of Ontario and the Inclusive Design Research Centre (OCAD University)

Creative Commons License
Accessible Digital Office Documents (ADOD) Project by Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.