How can you make your presentation accessible?

Date Updated

It is common to give a presentation at a conference with accompanying visuals. But what if there are individuals in the audience who are blind, have low vision, or are at a great distance from the screen so that they cannot see the visuals clearly or at all? What if there are individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the audience and cannot hear your presentation clearly or at all? You can employ presentation practices that ensure that everyone, even those with sensory impairments, can access the content of your presentation.

Several popular presenters suggest strategies for designing an accessible presentation. The following strategies are recommended by Richard Ladner, PI of the AccessComputing Alliance at the University of Washington:

  • Minimize the number of slides. No one wants to be shot with a fire hose while trying to understand your talk.
  • Use high contrast colors. Audience members with low vision or color blindness will appreciate it.
  • Do not use color as the only method for distinguishing information.
  • Use large (at least 24 point), simple, san serif fonts (e.g., Arial, Verdana, Helvetica) that can be easily read by most individuals from the back of a large room.
  • Minimize the amount of text on slides. When you advance a slide, pause to let people read it before saying anything. This will allow people who are deaf and everyone else in the audience to read the slide before you start talking. Read the text on the slide to make sure people who are blind in the audience know what is on the slide.
  • Limit the number of visuals on slides. Images that are used should be described so that people who are blind in the audience will know what image is being displayed. Graphs and charts should be described and summarized.
  • Avoid presenting images of complex charts or tables. Make graphics as simple as possible. No one wants to read a complicated graphic when there are only a few important facts about it. Save the complicated graphic for the paper.
  • Control the speed of animations so they can be described fully.
  • Make sure that videos are captioned and audio described. Sometimes it is good to give a brief description of what is in the video before it is played. This will help audience members who are blind to establish context for what they will hear.
  • Ensure the question and answer period is accessible. If there is a microphone for questioners, make sure they use it. Otherwise, repeat the questions so everyone can hear them.

For more information, consult Making Your Conference Talk Accessible. Additionally, a comprehensive checklist, presented within the universal design framework, is provided by the DO-IT Center. Entitled Equal Access: Universal Design of Your Presentation and authored by Sheryl Burgstahler, the Director of the DO-IT Center and Co-PI of AccessComputing, this publication organizes suggestions under headings of presentation facilities, preparation, presentation materials, presentation handouts, and delivery. It also includes communication tips for communicating with people who have specific types of disabilities.

For more information on how to make your PowerPoint presentation more accessible consult the Knowledge Base article, How do I make my online PowerPoint presentation accessible?