How to Make Presentations Accessible to All
[Draft for Review - updated 24 May 2010]
Do you remember a time when people around you broke out in laughter, but you didn't hear the joke?
Be careful not to leave out information for some people in your audience. For example, if you say "you can read it on the slide", you are probably excluding people who cannot see the slide.
This page helps you make your presentations, talks, meetings, and training accessible to all of your potential audience, including people with disabilities and others. Inclusive presentations have many benefits.
Be open to diversity in your audience and any accessibility needs. Basically, be aware that some of your audience might not be able to:
- see well or at all,
- hear well or at all,
- move well or at all,
- speak well or at all, or
- understand information presented in some ways well or at all.
Therefore, speakers need to describe pertinent visual content, speak clearly into the microphone, ensure the facility is accessible, and consider the other points below.
Ask speakers and participants if they have accessibility requirements.
For example, include a question on registration forms for conferences, send an email to company-internal training participants, etc. Invite participants to include specific requests; for example, someone who is hard of hearing might request seating small discussion groups in a circle to make it easier to hear people talking.
For example, ensure the building entrance, meeting room, bathrooms, etc. are accessible, as well as the presentation stage. (There are checklists online to help ensure a facility is accessible, such as Accessible venues - checklist and Accessibility Checklist for Existing Facilities .) Provide accessibility information, such as the accessible routes between meeting rooms. Let speakers and participants check out the rooms in advance to suggest optimum positioning of the speaker, screen, seating, etc.
Often wireless lapel microphones are best so that speakers can move around. When the audience will be commenting or asking questions, provide microphones for them.
Arrange for good visibility of the speaker and interpreters.
Have good lighting on their face and upper body. Avoid distracting backgrounds, such as bright sunlight or flashing light.
Arrange for ALDs/hearing loops, interpreters, and/or CART writers, as needed.
(Assistive listening devices (ALDs), hearing loops, or induction loops; and Computer Aided Real–Time Captioning or Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) are explained in the Terminology section.) Work with participants and service providers to ensure that important details are taken care of; for example, power and a screen are provided for CART; microphones and the speakers' computer sound output is connected to the ALD/hearing loop system.
Sometimes you might use the Internet for providing alternative formats of materials during the presentation; for example, allowing people using screen readers or other assistive technologies to follow along with an online version of your displayed material. For remote CART, you will need a connection that is reliable and has sufficient bandwidth for transferring audio.
Some people need more time to get from room to room; for example, because the accessible route is longer, or they move slowly. Schedule sufficient breaks. People might need to take care of medical needs during breaks. Keep to the schedule as much as possible, and inform participants ahead of time of any changes.
Offer handouts, slides, and other material in accessible formats.
Electronic formats such as HTML (that is, web page format) and RTF are often the most flexible to meet different people's needs. Participants might need material in alternative formats such as large print or braille; however, if they get the material in advance electronically, they might not need it in hard copy at all.
Ensure slides, handouts, and other electronic material for participants is accessible.
Provide material ahead of time, if requested.
Work with interpreters and CART writers.
Give them material in advance and be available to answer any questions.
Caption audio, or otherwise make it available.
Ideally, any audio you use is also available in text, for example, videos are captioned. However, if CART is provided for your presentation, that can provide text of the audio.
Remember accessibility issues with any participant activities, such as responding to questions, arranging sticky notes, small group projects, etc.
Use multiple communication methods for different learning styles.
Some people can better understand verbal information, others pictures and diagrams, and others text.
Make text and important visuals big enough to be read even from the back of the room.
This includes graphics on slides, videos, posters, and other non-electronic material.
Use an easy-to-read font face.
Simple fonts with consistent thickness are often easier to read from a distance (as opposed to fonts where parts of the letters are thin, like Times New Roman). Avoid fancy fonts that are difficult to read.
Use sufficient color contrast.
Color contrast guidelines and evaluation tools for web pages might be helpful to determine sufficient contrast (although the medium is different because those guidelines are specifically for web pages).
Use appropriate background and text colors. Some suggest when presenting in a light room to display dark text on a light background. When presenting in a darkened room to display light text on a dark background, and ensure that the weight of text is sufficient (for example, bold).
If you are giving participants material, make it accessible. See provide accessible material above. An example of presentation material provided in both presentation format and web format (HTML and CSS) is linked from the top of the page after "The Benefits of WCAG 2 presentation is available in 2 formats:".
And avoid speaking too fast.
Use simple language.
Avoid or explain jargon, acronyms, and idioms. For example, expressions such as "raising the bar" can be interpreted literally by some people with cognitive disabilities and can be confusing.
Give people time to process information.
Pause between topics. When you ask if anyone has questions, some people with cognitive disabilities will need extra time to form their thoughts into words.
Also be in good light so participants can see your face when you talk, which helps some people hear and understand better. Especially when you don't have a microphone, be careful not to face away from the audience to read projected material.
Even in a small room, some people might need the audio electronically, including people using ALDs/hearing loops and remote CART writers. Note that if you ask "Can everyone hear me OK?" some people might be uncomfortable saying that they cannot.
Ensure that all relevant sound is audible through the sound system.
For example, if the audience doesn't have a microphone, repeat their questions and comments into your microphone.
Say all of the information that is on each slide. (This does not mean that you have to read the slide exactly as it is, it just means that you cover the visual information in what you say.)
Describe pertinent parts of graphics, videos, and other visuals.
Describe them to the extent needed to understand the presentation. (You usually do not need to describe decorative images.)
Describe other visual information.
For example, if you ask a question of the audience, summarize the response, such as, Speaker: "If you make your websites fully accessible, please raise your hand... About half raised their hand."
Respect participant's needs.
People might have accessibility needs that you haven't thought of. For example: Someone might need to take breaks at set times for insulin injections. Someone with Tourette syndrome might randomly shout out during a session. Someone with a physical disability who cannot take notes might need to record the session.
Guidance on Interacting with People with Disabilities is available online.
Make media fully accessible.
For example, provide alternative text for images in presentation material, provide captions and/or transcripts as appropriate for audio, provide visual description of videos as needed. Guidelines for media on the web is available in WCAG 2.0; it includes specific guidance such as providing an alternative for audio-only content (like podcasts).
In some cases you might know the accessibility needs of participants ahead of time, for example, an internal training. Even then, something could change, for example, someone could develop accessibility needs before the training, or a new participant could join the training at the last minute.
Sometimes you won't know whether your participants have disabilities, for example, presentation at a large conference where they didn't ask registrants.
In any case, it's best to make your presentations fully accessible so you are prepared for any situation.
Presentations that are accessible to people with disabilities are inclusive to many more audiences, including people who are not fluent in the language and people with different learning styles. Accessible presentations also have additional benefits, including:
- Consider a live presentation with visuals that is recorded and made available online as a podcast. If during the presentation you described the visuals (for people who are blind), then those listening to the podcast will also get the visual information.
- CART provides real-time text of the speaker and other audio. CART is used by people who are deaf and hard of hearing, people whose native language is different and they can understand text better than the spoken language, and others. CART output can also be used to develop a transcript.
- Transcripts can be put online to increase search engine optimization (SEO) and realize the other benefits of transcripts .
For additional benefits of making online material accessible, see Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization.
This page addresses in-person sessions; there are additional considerations for online, remote, and virtual sessions.
Details on how to make material that you give to participants accessible is beyond the scope of this document. There are many resources online that provide details, such as:
- Creating Accessible Presentations (JISC TechDis Service)
- The Incredible, Accessible Presentation (Glenna Shaw)
- Documentation checklist (IBM)
Information on web accessibility:
- Accessibility - W3C - briefly introduces web accessibility and links to more resources.
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview - introduces guidelines for making web content accessible, including presentation material, online learning, and other material provided in web formats.
- Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) home page - links to a variety of guidelines, standards, and support material.
- assistive technology
- Assistive technologies are software or equipment that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the web, such as screen readers that read aloud web pages for people who cannot read text, screen magnifiers for people with some types of low vision, and voice recognition software and selection switches for people who cannot use a keyboard or mouse.
- ALDs, hearing loops, induction loops
- Assistive listening devices (ALDs), hearing loops, and induction loops amplify sound from the speaker's microphone.
- CART, Computer Aided Real–Time Captioning or Communication Access Realtime Translation, is when a professional types what is being said verbatim so that people can read the text output.
- This includes sign language interpreters, cued speech transliterators, and others. Note that sign languages are different from spoken languages and there is not a one-to-one translation.
Status: This document is a complete draft published for public review.
Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org (a publicly archived list).