When you deliver a presentation in an academic class, at a conference or in a meeting, you want everyone in attendance to understand the points you are making. However, many presenters unintentionally erect barriers for some attendees. Listed below are a few examples:

  • The presenter says, “I’m sure you can see the humor in this cartoon” without describing the visual content. If an attendee cannot see the cartoon (perhaps because they are blind or have low vision, sitting in the back row of a large room, or calling into the presentation by phone), they miss the point altogether.
  • The presenter says, “Look at how this graph indicates…” without describing the graph, again presenting a barrier for those who cannot see the image.
  • The presenter puts a huge amount of text on the screen and talks generally about it, making it difficult for any attendees to both read the content and listen to the speaker.
  • The presenter shows a video without captions, making it difficult to understand for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing or for viewers who the first language is not the one the video is presented in or who are unfamiliar with the vocabulary used in the video.

To avoid situations like these, it is important for a presenter to remember that members in the audience may have a wide variety of characteristics with respect to gender, ethnicity, race, age, communication skills, learning abilities, physical abilities, sensory abilities, etc. Since the speaker is not likely to know specific characteristics of participants, it makes sense to be proactive and design a presentation that will be accessible to anyone. 

Here are 16 guidelines to help you make your presentations/lectures more accessible:

  1. Ensure the facility and presentation areas are accessible to all potential speakers and participants, including those with mobility impairments. 
  2. Arrange the room so that everyone has good visibility to the speaker and visuals, including sign language interpreters and real-time captioners.
  3. Consider providing multiple ways to gain knowledge, such as lectures, large/small group discussions, questions and answer periods, hands-on activities, handouts, and references to resources.
  4. If possible, provide attendees materials ahead of time and in an accessible format (use text-based formats with structured headings and text descriptions of images); also give sign language interpreters and real-time captioners materials in advance.
  5. Use large, bold fonts and simply designed visuals on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds.
  6. Speak the essential content of visual materials, but avoid reading text word-for-word unless it is a quotation.
  7. Use clear, consistent layouts and organization schemes.
  8. Use color combinations that are high contrast and can be distinguished by those who are colorblind.
  9. Avoid looking back at projected materials; instead, have a computer screen in front of you to glance at so that your voice projects and your lips can be ready by lip readers.
  10. Make examples are relevant to learners with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. 
  11. Spell acronyms and avoid or define terms, jargon, and idioms.
  12. Speak clearly; avoid speaking too fast, which is particularly helpful to individuals whose primary language is not the one in which you are speaking, sign language interpreters and real-time captioners.
  13. Use a microphone when possible to project your speech; have audience members use a microphone or repeat questions they ask.
  14. Provide learning support by summarizing major points, giving background and contextual information, displaying key terms and concepts visually.
  15. Give attendees time to process information; pause between topics and after you ask for questions.
  16. Use videos that are captioned; if they are not audio described, speak key content such as the title at the beginning and credits at the end; consider sharing a summary of the content of a video before it is presented.

Keep in mind that making your lecture or presentation accessible to participants with disabilities will make it more useful for everyone. This is a benefit of “universal design for learning”.

(Source:  Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler; University of Washington; Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology; 2018).