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Jun 14
Helpful Tips for Making Presentations Accessible, from Your Disabled Colleagues
Breanne Kisselstein, Ph.D. Candidate Plant Pathology, Cornell University

Breanne Kisselstein (She/Her/Hers)
Ph.D. Candidate Plant Pathology, Cornell University
DeafBlind, Invisible Chronic Illness, and Guide Dog User

Chelsea Newbold, M.S. Plant Pathology, Oregon State University

Chelsea Newbold (They/Them/Theirs)
M.S. Plant Pathology, Oregon State University
Low Vision and Anxiety

Sarah Boggess (She/Her/Hers), Research Coordinator, University of Tennessee
Sarah Boggess (She/Her/Hers)
Research Coor​dinator, University of Tennessee
Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Power Wheelchair User​

Breanne Kisselstein, Chelsea Newbold, and Sarah Boggess

In a world where new committees and positions are constantly being formed in our universities and scientific organizations around the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, it's important to remember that disabled people also belong to this spectrum of diverse people. We know that 30% of full-time employees working in white-collar professions in the United States have a disability, but only 3.2% disclose their disabilities to their employer (Source: Center for Talent and Innovation's "Disabilities and Inclusion" report, 2016). This means that many of our colleagues are disabled or have chronic illnesses that we likely do not know about. As we already know, diverse experiences allow us to have different perspectives and come up with novel solutions to the world's problems. Isn't that why we became scientists in the first place?

So now that we all agree that we need to do better to make sure our colleagues can participate fully in science, let's talk about how we can do better! While there is a plethora of ways we can make every part of our scientific communities more equitable, let's focus specifically on how to give presentations that are more accessible to people who live with color blindness, hearing or visual impairments, neurodiversity, autism, or dyslexia. Here's a checklist to get you started with the basics:

  • Use simple sans serif fonts like Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana, Tahoma, Calibri, or Helvetica. Serif fonts (like Times New Roman) can be more difficult to read, particularly the more decorative, hand-written, and italicized fonts. "Will Comic Sans Make a Comeback?" is an interesting opinion article on accessible fonts and when to use them.

  • Use a high-contrast color scheme like black text on a white background or vice versa.

  • Avoid using large amounts of text and make sure the text remaining is large enough, i.e. 14-point font on handouts and written documents and 24-point font on posters and slideshow presentations.

  • When making graphs and figures avoid using color combinations like red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and gray, or green and black. (Here is a useful link that shows variations on color schemes that make them more accessible.) Also, use text and object colors that clearly contrast with the background. Black text and arrows on a white or pale grey background (or vice versa) might seem "dull," but it is easy for most people to read.

  • Perform an "accessibility check" on your documents in recent versions of Microsoft Office and Adobe in the Tools menu under Check Accessibility or Accessibility.

  • Use accessible slide designs. Click here to download free templates and learn about how to create accessible graphs, reports, presentations, social media posts, and more.

Poster Presentations

Poster presentations are often a key point of information sharing at both national and regional meetings, and it is the critical conversations and dialogue that emerge from these presentations that drives our questions forward. To best serve all attendees, we recommend the following guidelines for creating a more accessible poster:

  • ​Make sure your line and character spacing is not too small. Use between 1.2 and 2.0 line-spacing to allow the reader greater ease in moving from line to line. If your processor allows for letter-spacing adjustments +3 is adequate.

  • Consider creating word document, PDF file, and/or webpage versions of your poster and provide a QR code or link on your poster to the above options. QR codes can be easily generated through free online software or websites (e.g., www.qr-code-generator.com). This will allow viewers to access a digital version of your poster or affiliated handouts and use screen reader software. In these electronic versions, be sure to include alt (alternative) text for figures, graphs, and illustrations. Here is a great resource to learn how to write image descriptions, alt text, and captions and what the difference is between the three.

  • Consider creating an audio recording of the text and description of the visual materials on your poster and provide a QR code or a link on your poster to the audio recording. Pro tip: Generating this audio recording will also have you fully prepared for when people stop by your poster at in-person meetings!

  • If you are presenting your poster in person, face the people you are speaking to and avoid covering your mouth so they can see your lips. Avoid chewing gum or eating when you are talking. If you must wear a mask that covers your mouth be sure to include alternative options, such as a QR code and voice recordings.

  • If an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter is present, speak directly to the person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing. Also, if an interpreter voices for a deaf person who signs, look at the person signing rather than the interpreter.

  • If you will be presenting a video description of your poster, include captioning (see tips for Online Presentations below).

  • It has been suggested in recent years that the Better Poster format (i.e., billboard poster format) is one way to communicate your poster's main ideas more effectively and clearly to your audience, and it makes your poster more accessible to a diverse audience.

Note: Most people with a smartphone can open their phone's camera and hover over the QR code on your poster to be brought to the link!

Additional Resource Links

  1. American Public Health Association – Accessible Poster Presentations

  2. CMD-IT – Presentation and Poster Accessibility

Oral Presentations

In-Person Presentations

Oral presentations are key ways of communicating our research to other scientists, whether they are given at department seminars, conference sessions, or other venues. They serve to not only present findings but engage members in the fascinating research happening within the scientific community. To help you craft an accessible oral presentation, we recommend the following guidelines:

  • Give your slides to disabled audience members, captionists, and interpreters ahead of the presentation.

  • Avoid slides with an excessive number of pictures, images, or screenshots. If you do use illustrations in your storytelling, be sure to verbally describe the images or figures that are shown on each slide during your presentation. For example, "This image of a broken padlock represents how plant defenses can be overcome by some pathogens."

  • Avoid complex tables and graphs. Only include information needed to tell your story and be sure to describe the results in your presentation. For example, "The bar graph on the left shows that the growth of Pseudomonas in Arabidopsis was 10-fold lower following the treatment compared to the nontreated control."

  • Include alt text to describe an image when pictures and graphs are used, especially if your slideshow will be shared with the audience before or after your presentation. Here is a great resource for creating image descriptions and alt text.

  • Use a minimum font size of 20 points for less important text but keep most text around 30 points. If you have a hard time fitting all of your text onto a slide, try to be more concise with your information or separate the information into multiple slides.

  • Use plain language. Speak loudly, clearly, and directly into the microphone at a moderate pace. Use active words and short sentences. Use language that reinforces the visual material on your slides.

  • Always use the microphone provided. In some cases, the amplification system is connected to an FM transmitter, and people with hearing aids rely on sound coming through that system. If your presentation includes sound, make sure the sound is also routed through the amplification system and that captions are accurate and displayed on any videos.

  • Repeat audience questions using the microphone so that all listeners can hear the question.

Online Presentations

Online presentations and on-demand content are likely to become more common as we phase back into in-person mee​tings following the COVID-19 pandemic. Crafting prerecorded and live online content presents unique opportunities to prepare accessible presentations. To help you craft an accessible online presentation, we recommend the following guidelines:

  • ​Follow the layout and content guidelines already described above.

  • Design your content to be interpreted by assistive technology. Use a templated slide format. For example, rather than adding text boxes to existing layouts, add new content placeholders to the slide master if possible.

  • Use automated or live captioning for your presentation. Share your slides or a list of key terms (i.e., species names, acronyms, measured response variables that you repeat often) with the captionists or captioning software beforehand and remember to speak slowly, clearly, and loudly enough that the captioning can be as accurate as possible. Zoom, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Google Meet all have automated captioning options that you should get in the habit of using for all meetings and presentations, even if nobody discloses a disability to you.

  • Use ASL interpreting when possible and share your slides and a list of key terms with the interpreter beforehand.

  • If the presentation will be posted online for asynchronous viewing, proofread and edit the captions and transcript. Make sure that when they are posted, captions are available and working. (This takes the burden off disabled people who will assume that captions and transcripts aren't available and, therefore, will be unable to access the material or be forced to look for a contact person to ask if these are available.)

Additional Resource Links

  1. VENNGAGE – How to Create Accessible Designs

  2. DLF – Delivering Presentations and Facilitating Discussion

  3. EuroPlanet Science Conference – Oral Presentation Guidelines

  4. Do-It – Equal Access: Universal Design of Your Presentation

Social Media

Social media has become a great way to help disseminate our scientific research and discover new collaborations. We present here a few suggestions to help you share your research through social media so it is accessible to all people:

Twitter

  • ​Insert alt text before posting (it cannot be done retroactively on this site).

  • When you see images or gifs, reply to other posts with "@ImageAltText," and the bot will reply with the alt text that was inserted by the original poster. If it says no alt text, then kindly ask the original post creator to delete and repost the image with alt text. This is especially important if the image is about a job posting or displays a flyer for an upcoming talk that includes a registration or video conferencing link.

  • Follow @AltTxtReminder to receive reminders when you post something without alt text, so you can quickly delete and repost with alt text.

Instagram/Facebook

  • Proactively and retroactively add alt text to all posts.

  • Include image descriptions in your captions or a pinned comment.

  • If you see valuable content from another creator that does not have an image description in the caption or pinned comments, kindly ask the creator to do so.

  • If sharing a short video, add a transcript of any speech, either directly to the video captured or in the description.

Others

  • If releasing a YouTube video or podcast episode, please provide captions and a downloadable transcript along with every podcast episode. You can use a transcription software, such as Otter AI, Temi, Trint, or others, to generate a transcript, edit any mistakes, and share them with your deaf, hard-of-hearing, English as a second language learners, and every other member of your audience.

Additional Resource Links

  1. AbilityNet – How to Do Accessible Social Media

  2. Twitter – How to Make Images Accessible for People

  3. OtterAI – Generate Live Transcripts

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Dennis Halterman for generating the idea to write this much needed article, for seeking out and valuing all of our knowledge, experiences, and input, and for giving us insights and edits to polish and publish this information. Secondly, we would like to thank The American Phytopathological Society (APS) Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). This committee is co-chaired by Breanne Kisselstein and Krystel Navarro and vice chaired by Mariama Carter and Chelsea Newbold. The accessibility subcommittee is led by Chelsea Newbold and brought these three authors together to share this information with you. Please feel free to contact Breanne Kisselstein in order to contact the authors or receive more information on how to make scientific conferences, presentations, and STEM as a whole more accessible for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, as well as people from multiple marginalized backgrounds.

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