How to Make Your Presentations Accessible to All

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.

Basics (for organizers & speakers)

Be open to diversity in your audience and any accessibility issues. 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.

Organizers and speakers should do things like: ensure the facility is accessible, speak clearly into the microphone, describe pertinent visuals, and other considerations listed on this page.

Respect participant’s needs and be open for other accessibility issues. People might have accessibility needs that you didn’t think 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.

Often speakers won’t know if participants have disabilities. For example, at a large conference where organizers didn’t ask registrants. In some cases, you might know the accessibility needs of participants ahead of time. Even then something could change. For example, a new participant could join the training at the last minute. Or someone could develop accessibility needs before the training.

Make your event and your presentations fully accessible to prepare for any situation.

Benefits (organizers & speakers)

Presentations that are accessible to people with disabilities are also inclusive to many more audiences. For example, people with different learning styles and people who are not fluent in the language.

Accessible presentations also have additional benefits, such as in these situations:

  • A live presentation with visuals is recorded and made available online as an audio podcast. During the presentation you describe the visuals. That provides the visual information to people who are blind or can’t see the visuals well during the presentation. People listening to the podcast later will also get the visual information.
  • CART provides real-time text of the speaker and other audio. People who are deaf or hard of hearing use CART. CART also helps people who understand text better than spoken language. For example, people whose native language is different. CART output can also be used to develop a transcript.
  • Transcripts online can increase search engine optimization (SEO) for audio and video. Transcripts also have many other benefits links off WAI website.

For additional benefits of making online material accessible, see Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization.

Planning the Event (organizers)

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. Or someone with low vision might ask to sit in the front row to see the screen better.

Ensure the facility and area is accessible to speakers and participants.

For example, ensure the building entrance, meeting room, presentation stage, and bathrooms are accessible. (There are checklists online to help ensure a facility is accessible, such as Accessibility Checklist for Existing Facilities links off WAI website.) 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.

Ensure adequate sound system, and arrange for microphones.

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 speakers 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. Or microphones and the speakers’ computer sound output is connected to the ALD/hearing loop system.

Arrange for good Internet connection when needed.

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 reliable connection that has enough bandwidth for transferring audio.

Consider accessibility when planning the schedule.

Some people need more time to get from room to room. For example, because they move slowly, or because the accessible route is longer. 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.

Give speakers accessibility requirements and guidance.

Tell speakers that you expect their material and presentations to be accessible to people with disabilities. Consider including accessibility requirements in any contracts. Consider including the link to this page (www.w3.org/WAI/training/accessible) in speaker guidelines, e-mails, web pages, etc.

Provide Accessible Material and Media (organizers & speakers)

Offer handouts, slides, and other material in accessible formats.

Word processing formats are often the most flexible to meet different people’s needs. Participants might need material in alternative formats such as large print or braille. If they get the material in advance electronically, they may not need it in hard copy.

Ensure slides, handouts, and other electronic material for participants is accessible.

For example, provide alternative text for images and mark up headings. HTML material, such as a conference website, should meet WCAG, at least Level AA. (Preparing Slides and Projected Material below has details for speakers. Some other resources are listed under For More Information below.)

Make media fully accessible — including audio and video used in sessions, and recordings of sessions provided afterwards.

For example, provide captions and/or transcripts as appropriate for audio, and provide audio description for videos as needed. Guidelines for media on the web is available in WCAG; it includes specific guidance such as providing an alternative for audio-only content (like podcasts).

Planning Your Session (speakers)

Provide material ahead of time, if requested.

Provide slides, handouts, and other material to participants, interpreters, translators, and CART writers, as needed. Make it accessible. (More about providing accessible material is above.)

Work with interpreters, translators, and CART writers.

Give them material in advance. Explain acronyms, terms, names, etc. that you will use. Be available to answer 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.

Consider activities.

Remember potential accessibility issues with any participant activities. For example, 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. Other people can better understand pictures and diagrams. And others better understand text.

Preparing Slides and Projected Material (speakers)

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. Fonts where parts of the letters are thin are harder to read. Avoid fancy fonts that are difficult to read.

Use sufficient color contrast.

There are guidelines for web pages that you can use to help determine sufficient contrast — even though the medium is different. See Color contrast guidelines and evaluation tools. Use appropriate background and text colors. Some suggest when presenting in a light room, to display dark text on a light background. And when presenting in a darkened room, to display light text on a dark background. Ensure that the weight of text is sufficient (for example, bold).

While the medium is different, web page guidelines may help determine sufficient contrast. Refer 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. Ensure that the weight of text is sufficient (for example, bold).

Make provided material accessible.

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:”.

During the Presentation (speakers)

Speak clearly.

And avoid speaking too fast, so participants and sign language interpreters can better understand you and keep up.

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.

Be visible.

Be visible and in good light when you talk, so participants can see your face. This helps some people hear and understand better. Be careful not to face away from the audience to read projected material, particularly if you don’t have a microphone.

Use a microphone.

Some people might need the audio electronically, even in a small room. This includes 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 before replying.

Cover all displayed text.

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, a speaker asks people to raise their hands if they make their websites fully accessible. The speaker should then describe the visual response: “About half raised their hand”.

For More Information (speakers & organizers)

This web 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 resources online that provide related guidance, such as:

Information on web accessibility:

Terminology (appendix)

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
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.
interpreters
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.
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