Accessibility in Power BI

How to Improve Accessibility of Your Power BI Reports

When creating Power BI reports, it’s important to remember that there’s no universal solution that fits all businesses and teams. Organizations and their users have unique needs, goals, and requirements for generating insights and making data-driven decisions.

I have written articles about various techniques such as storytelling, targeting the audience, data-driven report design, and design techniques in general. Yet to be addressed is the importance of accessibility in Power BI reports. By prioritizing design for all users, including those with visual or motor impairments, reports become more inclusive and effective.

Colored High Contrast

While researching accessibility and Power BI report design, I found lots of information highlighting ways design can be enhanced to make it more accessible. If you have any tips or guidelines, feel free to share them with me.

Power BI - Built-in accessibility features

Power BI offers several accessibility features; some are built-in and don’t require configuration from the report developer, while others need some configuration to unlock the full potential. Accessibility Features in Power BI

Built-in, no configuration needed

  • Keyboard navigation (remark: you need to configure your report to work with keyboard navigation)
  • Screen reader compatibility
  • High contrast color view
  • Focus mode
  • Show data as table

Built-in, requiring configuration

  • Tab order
  • Alt text
  • Titles & labels
  • Accessibility themes
Interested in an overview of accessibility features in Power BI? Microsoft provides a list [here].

Keyboard navigation and Tab order

The first two features I want to discuss are keyboard navigation (built-in) and tab order. After learning more about these features, I realized that most of the reports I have designed in the past probably do not work very well with keyboard navigation. Simply because I have never taken the tab order into account (since I was unaware that this can be changed).

Keyboard navigation

Power BI reports and visuals can be navigated using keyboard shortcuts. To access the most frequently used keyboard shortcuts in Power BI, press Shift + ?. This will open a pop-up showing all available shortcuts. Microsoft also provides an overview of all shortcuts [here].

Some of the shortcuts I found very handy:

  • Ctrl + F6 = Move focus between sections (after pressing this, you can use the arrows to navigate).
  • Ctrl + Shift + F11  = Show visuals as tables (this will turn all visuals into a table unless it is a table, then it stays a table).
  • Enter / Esc = Entering or exiting a visual. Once you select a visual, you can enter/exit it. This means you can highlight different parts of the visual and even filter other visuals.
  • Ctrl & Space = Multi-select data points after you enter a visual
Visuals Tables

Tab order

After uncovering the keyboard navigation, I quickly discovered that something in my Power BI report did not work as expected.

  • The selection of the visual seemed random
  • Shapes were selected
  • The title (a text inside a shape) could not be selected. This was also an issue when I used a screen reader because it did not “see” the title.
A picture showing a Power BI dashboard with the current tab order shown in numbers.
Tab Order visualized

Changing the tab order

Changing the tab order is not hard once you know where to find the setting. In Power BI, you will need to navigate to the selection pane. If you can’t see it on the right side of the screen, you will need to activate it by going to View (Ribbon) and then clicking on Selection.

After opening the Selection pane, you will see the options “Layer order” and “Tab order” at the top. Clicking on “tab order”, you can drag and drop the elements of the report into a logical order (starting at the top left and ending at the bottom right).

When I opened my selection pane, I quickly uncovered something else I apparently had not done in the past. Almost all my shapes and visuals had the same name, which made it hard to rearrange elements logically. So, my first step was clicking on the 3 dots and changing the names.

After changing the names, I clicked on the “tab order” and arranged everything logically. This improves the accessibility of the Power BI report when keyboard shortcuts are used.

Power BI Selection Pane
Selection Pane in Power BI
Power BI Tab Order Pane
Tab Order in Selection Pane

Static background (remove shapes) and ungrouping

While working on the tab order, I struggled with the shapes I used to design part of the report. For example, I added 4 shapes above each report to add a color bar. Also, I added a white background to add some padding (this can be done in Power BI by now). Using the tab order, you can hide these shapes (click on the eye next to the name). However, I decided to remove the shapes and add a background image. This way, the report has fewer elements, and none of the background moves by accident. 

Adding a background image instead of shapes removed 8 elements from my report. (Tip: you can use an .svg or bmp file as background; I design these directly in PowerPoint or Figma and import them to the canvas)

I discovered something else while using a screen reader. Before I added the fixed background, I grouped my shapes and elements to prevent accidental movement. However, this caused the keyboard shortcuts to not work properly, and the screen reader could not access the information (The screen reader was giving this response to the grouped elements “3 items grouping”, which is correct, but not the information I was looking for).

Power BI Background in Power BI
A layout template build in PowerPoint

High contrast option

Power BI offers the possibility of changing the contrast of the report. Clicking on view and then “High-contrast colors,” 4 contrast options are visible. I chose “High contrast white” in this example which resulted in a black & white report.

This way, I could also directly check if all visuals still provided the information I wanted. In my example, I saw that one visual was not showing information in a clear way after the color was removed. I only used a legend to describe the information (no reference labels), and once the report was changed from color to black and white, the legend showed a black dot for every part of the visual. I fixed this by adding data labels to the visual.

A picture a Power BI report with high contrast
High Contrast setting Power BI

Alternative text

Adding alternative text (also known as alt text) to every element on a Power BI report is essential to ensure the accessibility for users with screen readers. Alt text provides meaningful information about the visual, table, shape, or image on a report, which someone who can’t see the content needs to understand.
You can add alternative text to every element in Power BI by selecting the Format section and then opening the “Alt text” section. Note that the text can’t exceed 250 characters. Good to know: you can make the alternative text dynamic using DAX by clicking on the fx button next to the text box.

Alt text in Power BI
Add alt text to every element

Meaningful titles and subtitles

When creating visuals in Power BI, a title is provided by default. This title describes the columns and measures added (for example, Sales Order by Year). A title like that gives the end-user an idea about the data used in the report. However, it provides no context or indication of the possible insights created.
When using dynamic (sub)titles in Power BI reports, you can guide the end-user through the data and provide a preview of the result without the user needing to analyze the visuals themselves. End-users are typically looking for insights to take the next step, rather than enjoying digging through data and examining different aspects of the visuals provided.

Title Dynamic subtitle

Power BI Accessibility themes

Power BI provides, next to the high contrast option, also 5 accessibility themes that can be chosen during report creation. It is important to know that the themes will only change visuals that have are not  customized yet (for example, when you choose to color the bars of a chart in different colors). If you have already customized the color of your visuals, you can always click “Reset to default”.   

Power BI Accessibility themes
Power BI Accessibility themes
Power BI Accessibility themes comparison
An overview of the Power BI Accessibility themes

Which color scheme can I use?

Several tools, browser add-ons, and websites can help you check if your Power BI report is accessible to people with vision impairment. One website I use to check my reports is www.color-blindness.com. You can upload a screenshot of the report and test its visibility.

A quick check can also be the “squint test”. Turn down the brightness of your screen and squint. Can you still see the most important parts of the report? And turning the brightness down, do you still see the difference between elements in a visual?

Ultimately, it is also really important to check with the end user. What are their needs, and what is their experience looking at your report?

Color blindness Power BI report checked
Checking a report for accessibility

Checklist for accessibility in Power BI

Are you interested in checking your reports for accessibility? Microsoft posted guidelines [here].

    • Check for color contrast.
    • Check if your report works for users with color vision deficiency.
    • Do not just use color to convey information but also text & icons.
    • Add alternative text
    • Check the tab order. Is it simple to navigate through the report with keyboard shortcuts?
    • Are all bookmarks and filters accessible using keyboard shortcuts?
    • Don’t use tooltips to show important information, users who can’t use a mouse can’t see them.
    • Mark all “decorations” like shapes as hidden in the tab order otherwise the screen reader will to read them.

Key takeaways

Improving accessibility for Power BI reports is important, and Power BI offers a lot of built-in functionality to make reports more accessible. Some of this functionality needs to be configured, like the alternative text and the tab order. When creating reports, we should always consider and design for the target audience.
Most aspects that increase accessibility will help all users understand and work better with Power BI reports. For example, adding context by using meaningful titles and subtitles and choosing a color scheme that a broad range of users can use improves user experience in general.

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