Creating accessible presentations

There are a number of ways that you can improve the accessibilty of your slides and the way your present them. This post will go over some of the most common methods and principles that you can use to ensure as many people as possible can experience your presentation.

Don’t put too many things on the screen

Too many words or images can make a slide feel crowded. For in-person events, the bottom third of any individual slide might not even be fully visible because people’s heads are blocking that part of the screen.

Avoid too many words

If we put lots of words on the screen, it becomes more difficult for people to follow along. Even adding bullet points to try and separate the words out into logical sections only helps a little bit. Having too many words on the screen can affect all sorts of people, including those who read at a different speed or focus differently when processing simultaneous speech and text. It’s easy for the point of a slide to get lost in all of these words.

Avoid complicated images

Similarly, we should try to avoid overly-complicated images. Elaborate charts and graphs can be difficult to parse, especially if they’re not visible for more than a few minutes. If you need to show a complex diagram, I recommend reducing it to the relevant portions, only showing the pieces that are necessary for your audience. If you absolutely need to share the whole diagram, share it in a document ahead of time so that attendees can go over it at their own speed.

Use text that is large, high contrast, and readable

We already know that we should avoid too many words and images, so we can use that extra space to make the words that are on the slide extra readable!

Text size

If we use a smaller font, it can be a lot more difficult to read our slides. People who are blind or have low vision will likely have a tough time reading smaller text. This can also be an issue if you’re presenting in-person; people who are in the back of the room might also have trouble reading the slides.

Text contrast

Large text isn’t always accessible on its own, though. If the contrast is too low, the text can still be unreadable. Good color contrast can also be difficult to achieve if you’re using gradients or busy patterns in either your text or the background, so they’re generally not recommended.

Text font

Cursive, italic, and fancy fonts look nice, but they’re usually not very readable for everyone. You should try to use a font that’s as common as possible. The more common the font, the more likely your audience has seen it before, which will give them some familiarity when they try to read it. You should avoid fonts that blend characters together, either through cursive script or through insufficient spacing between individual letters.

Avoid complicated words

It can also help to avoid complicated words, bot in our slides and when speaking. The more common your words, the more likely it is that everyone will be able to follow along. We would always try to maximize the clarity of our presentations and make it as easy as possible for everyone to understand them.

Avoid acronyms

Clarity in our words also applies to the use of acronyms. We should avoid acronyms in general, but especially ones that peole might not know. At the very least, I recommend providing the expanded version of the acronym first in order to ensure it’s been intorduced to your audience. The same can be said for numeronymns and profession-specific jargon; it’s better to provide an initial definition to help your audience understand what you’re referring to.

Add alternative text to your images

Alternative (alt) text is essentially an “image description” that goes with each image to help screenreader users understand an image’s content and purpose. Whether they’re illustrative art, photos, or charts and graphs, your images should all have clear and meaningful alt text.

Avoid motion

Images, gifs, videos, and slide transitions all have the potential to cause difficulties for people with various vestibular disorders, and should be used only when necessary to convey the information you’re trying to present.

Speak as clearly as possible

Whether in-person or virtual, ther’s always the potential for background noise or other distractions. Speaking clearly and at a reasonable speed helps make it easier for everyone to understand you.

Share your slides early

Sharing your slides early lets folks read through them ahead of time and process the information at their own pace. They can have the opportunity to come up with thoughtful questions to ask about the topic you’re presenting on. Having the slides available gives everyone the opportunity to follow along as you go through the presentation, and people can go back to previous slides if they missed something the first time through.

Provide live captions and interpreting

This isn’t always feasible for every presentation (unless there’s an active request for those options), but live captioning done by an actual human, as well as assistive aids like sign language interpreters, are extremely helpful tools. Auto-generated captions are better than nothing, but are ultimately an insufficient substitute for live captioning and interpreting.

Provide transcripts and recordings

At the very least, we should provide transcripts and/or recordings of our presentations. These options are useful for a number of reasons: they allow others to experience the presentation if they weren’t able to attend the live session. they allows people to go back and check some piece of information that they wanted to revisit, and they allow others to process information at their own pace and on their own schedule.

Describe your slides more specifically

We can also describe the details of our presentations more specifically. Rather than saying “as you can see here”, we can say things like “on the left side of this diagram”. This takes some practice to do, but it can be a hug benefit for lots of people, including blind and low-vision audience members.

Be thoughtful

We need to be thoughtful in how we design our presentations, and also in how we present them. This list of recommendations is not comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point for considering the accessibility as a core part of this process.