Creating Accessible In-Person Presentations

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Accessible Presentations Guidelines for the DLF Forum

One of Digital Library Federation’s strengths is that its membership & Forums are inclusive sites for exchange. Our community of practitioners participate in a variety of cultures and disciplines, and they bring with them to the Forum many different professional and personal experiences and learning styles. To help presenters effectively engage with this diverse and dynamic community, we offer these practical recommendations for creating accessible presentations.

Delivering Presentations

Language and Respect

  • Respectfully acknowledge those who make your work possible—whether you’re talking about research participants, IT support, student employee labor, or the ancestral inhabitants of the ground you stand on. Recognize that the audience has knowledge to contribute.
  • Give an overview of what will happen and what you’re about to present, making note of sensitive content or language as appropriate.
  • Do not assume all cultural touchpoints or references are universal. Give context to the audience.
    • Minimize the use of jargon and acronyms, or clearly explain them in your talk.
    • Make sure you share information (spelling, pronunciation) about jargon to the live captioner or the person producing the closed captioning to ensure accuracy.
  • Adhere to the Code of Conduct for respectful and inclusive communication and interaction.
  • Make presentation materials available in advance so that participants using assistive technology can follow along on their own devices. We encourage use of DLF’s dedicated repository for Forum and Learn@DLF presentations or DigiPres.
    • Provide a textual version of presentations either in slide notes or in a document accompanying slide decks.
  • When making materials available to others, the PowerPoint (PPT) file or Google Slides is preferred over PDF. PowerPoint templates are designed to be more compatible for screen readers and other assistive technology. If you are able to produce an accessible, tagged, and properly formatted PDF that is readable to assistive technology, that is also acceptable. If you are using Keynote on a Mac to create your slides, please make sure you export them as a PPT file and use the PPT version to share with others. Native Keynote files cannot be opened by PowerPoint or easily converted to Google Slides format.

Presenter Audio and Video

  • The plenary sessions will be recorded, livestreamed, and made available online with closed captioning and a transcript.
  • In all sessions, always use a mic when speaking. It doesn’t matter if you can project your voice; some of the audience may be using assistive listening devices which require the use of the microphone. Don’t move away from your mic while speaking.
    • Mute notifications on your cell phone to reduce distractions.
  • Speak clearly, loudly, and at a moderate rate. Use pauses to allow for processing time.
  • Provide captioning in video clips that are a part of your presentation.
  • Ideally, the speaker will be unmasked or using a clear face shield to allow the audience to read lips or expressions.
  • Pause early on to ensure that the audience can see/hear the presentation.
  • At the start of the presentation, summarize community norms and methods of expression and interaction.

Tips for Presenting in a More Accessible Way

  • Describe images and video clips aloud. This may be a brief description ("I'm going to show a clip of a person performing the same search I just spoke about") or your alt text. If you are using an audio clip such as people speaking, make sure there's a transcript on screen.
  • Narrate what is happening during your presentation. Report regularly on displayed interactive polls, or describe moving gifs that you want people to be aware of. For example, "Oh! Someone just added "ramp" to our suggestion poll!" or "There's a repeating gif of a hedgehog crawling across the screen." Make sure you're including everyone, even if they're not able to see what's happening on your presentation slides.
  • Read any links or URLs aloud.
  • Let the audience know which slide you are on (either using the title or the slide number) if you are not using audible cues when changing slides.
  • Read aloud the text on the slides. Don't ever say "You can read this" and go silent, as you're leaving out a portion of your audience.

Best Practices for Shared Spaces

  • Always use the microphone, even if you’re meeting in a relatively small space. Don’t rely on your ability to project. Using the microphone allows a person using a hearing aid or assistive listening device to “tune” into the PA audio.
    • Repeat audience questions into the microphone before answering them, especially if a roving microphone isn’t available.
  • If the presentation space is elevated, please provide a ramp.
  • Provide accessible reserved seating at the front and nearest to the door.
  • Refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, or other strongly scented products.
  • Refrain from whispering or speaking with other attendees while conference presenters are speaking. These types of ambient noise can impact the ability of individuals to be able to hear or focus on what a presenter is saying.

Designing Presentations Materials

Design Your Slides to Be Accessible

  • Make your slides available before and after the presentation in their original format (as a.pptx or Google Slides link instead of a .pdf). This allows the audience to view/edit/enlarge/print or do whatever they need to be able to access the materials. If you are sharing Google Slides, remember to check your sharing settings and ensure the document is viewable to anyone with the link. We highly recommend that you also set any shared versions of Google documents to be View Only.
  • Give your files clear and descriptive names including the event, speaker name, and year. Example: DLFForum_MaggieSmith_2022.ppt
  • If you use PowerPoint (suggested accessible templates) or Google Slides (making a template accessible) to create your own presentation style, search for "Accessible Presentations" to find more accessible templates. Be aware, however, that you'll likely have to do your own accessibility checking and editing to ensure that the design is actually accessible. Canva has no accessible templates (This is a good article on Canva’s accessibility issues and how to fix them).
  • Use the default slide layouts. For example, rather than adding text boxes to a blank slide, add new content placeholders to the slide master, or use one of the suggested slide layouts. This way they’ll be included in the overall presentation outline and tagged properly for screen readers.
  • Customize the reading order of elements added to slides. By default, applications such as PowerPoint and Google Slides arrange elements according to a default template or in the order in which they were added to the slide. Arrange slide elements in an order that makes sense when being read by a screen reader.
  • Use built-in formatting options for charts, bullet points, shapes, etc. instead of an image or screen capture. Otherwise, provide text alternatives through other means:
    • Provide explanatory text in the slide notes.
    • Hide explanatory text in a text box underneath the inserted image.
    • Explain the image in visible text.
  • If you must insert data as an image, use alt text to tell the reader what the image is and/or where they can find the original data (by URL or citation).
  • Check the color contrast for charts and visualizations using the VIZ Palette Designer.
  • Provide quality alt text for images. Seek out recommendations for writing great alt text. Alt text serves different functions for different types of informational content. Alt text should:
    • Explain visual content, such as images, charts, and videos.
    • Describe aural content, such as audio and video.
  • Make sure links have unique, descriptive names, rather than just the URL or “click here.” A screen reader user may use the tab button to navigate quickly through content, which might skip from hyperlink to hyperlink. If each hyperlink has the text of “Click here” or a long URL, it isn’t helpful.
    • Provide a short URL, and read it aloud. The URL shortener will allow you to customize the shortened URL for meaning. For example, using TinyURL you can create a link that is:
  • Use unique titles for every slide and include slide numbers or an audible sound when changing slides so the audience can track where you are at in your presentation.
  • Budget space in the bottom 1/4th of the slides for the closed captioning, so that the captioning text doesn’t block any important information.

Make Text Easy to See

  • Provide minimal text on each slide (only a few bullet points).
  • Maintain a large font size.
    • For bullet points, use a 24–32 point font for PowerPoint, or 20pt minimum for Google Slides.
    • Titles for PowerPoint can be much bigger, such as 50-80 point. It's a good idea in Google Slides to keep your titles in the 32-45 point range for maximum readability without sacrificing too much screen room.
    • Design for people seated both close to and far from a projected screen, and for people reading on screens small and large.
  • Select fonts for readability. Sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, and Calibri are usually easier to read.
  • Avoid all caps as they can be difficult to read, and it represents shouting to many people.
  • Use a high contrast color scheme that is easy to read and doesn’t cause eye-strain (for example, black/white, white/dark blue). To check for good contrast, use a contrast checker. Avoid visually difficult color combinations such as red and green, or red and blue.
    • Do not use color alone to denote meaning. For example, link text can be blue and underlined, parts of a bar graph can be color-coded and labeled in text.

Perform an Accessibility Check

  • Recent versions of Microsoft Office provide an accessibility checker in the ‘Tools’ menu (or Review menu in Mac) under ‘Check Accessibility,’ or in the File menu under ‘Check for Issues.’
  • Recent versions of Adobe applications provide an accessibility checker in the ‘Tools’ menu under ‘Accessibility.’ In the secondary toolbar click on ‘Full Check.’
  • Google Apps do not have built-in accessibility checkers, but you can download the Grackle Docs add-on for a basic accessibility check. You can also download materials created with Google Apps as Microsoft Office documents in order to check accessibility of your presentation materials as offline documents.

Additional Resources

Broad frameworks for creating accessible presentations

Guidance Specific to Presentation Software


This guide was originally created in October 2016 by a subgroup of the 2016 DLF Forum Inclusivity Committee. We thank Eleanor Dickson, Chelcie Juliet Rowell, and Yasmeen L. Shorish for their extensive work and dedication to accessibility.

We are especially indebted to Whitney Quesenbery’s Make Your Presentations Accessible: Seven Easy Steps and the Accessibility at the 2016 American Society for Theatre Research & Theatre Library Association Conference guide. The clarity and comprehensiveness of these recommendations were strengthened by the input of Bethany Nowviskie and members of the broader Inclusivity Committee.

This guide was updated in 2020 by a different group of DLF members (Debbie Krahmer, Lydia Tang, Sarah Goldstein, Stephanie Rosen, Alex Wermer-Colan, and Amy Vecchione), and again in 2021 by Debbie Krahmer and Carrie Pirmann. Special thanks to Stephanie Rosen for further guidance through the Accessible Meetings & Presentations documentation.

This guide was updated in 2022 by Natalie Bond, Debbie Krahmer, Carrie Pirmann, and Adele Fitzgerald.

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