Creating Accessible and Interactive Online Presentations

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Accessible Online Presentations Guidelines, 2021 DLF Forum

One of DLF’s strengths is that its membership & Forums are inclusive sites for exchange. Our members participate in a variety of cultural and disciplinary communities and bring with them to the Forum many different professional and personal experiences and learning styles. To help you effectively engage with this diverse and dynamic community, we offer these practical recommendations for creating accessible online 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.
  • If you’re not actively presenting or speaking, mute your video and mic.
  • 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 DigiPress.
    • Provide a textual version of presentations either in slide notes or in a document accompanying slide decks.
  • When making materials available to others, the 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.

Presenter Audio and Video

  • DLF will be using captioned videos for pre-recorded sessions.
  • Use an external mic or a headset mic to ensure the best possible audio quality. Don’t move away from your mic while speaking.
    • Reduce ambient noise in the room where you are presenting or recording by ways such as closing windows, turning off fans and silencing or putting your phone in airplane mode. Mute your mic if you are not speaking.
  • Speak clearly, loudly, and at a moderate rate. Use pauses to allow for processing time.
  • Provide captioning in video clips.
  • If your camera will be on:
    • Make sure there is light directly on your face, and don’t sit with a window directly behind you (to avoid backlighting). You should be visible to the audience with a clear, low-distraction background.
    • Do not use visually complex or animated Zoom backgrounds which can be distracting or visually overwhelming.
    • Focus the camera on your face, so that your lips and expressions are visible even on a small screen.
    • Look directly into the camera while you are presenting.
  • If the presentation is live, pause early on to ensure that the audience can see/hear the presentation. “Check in” midway through the presentation to ensure that you are still being heard and seen. Make changes based on feedback.

Best Practices for Shared Spaces

While COVID-19 has driven the DLF to virtual-only events this year, we expect that events will return to face-to-face spaces in the future. Please keep these things in mind for in-person events.

  • 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.

Facilitating Discussion in an Online Forum

  • At the start of the presentation, summarize community norms and methods of expression and interaction. Describe how the audience should participate or ask questions: if they should use the presentation chat, Slack, or the “raise hand” option in Zoom, or if they should wait until the end for questions.
  • Remind the audience to mute their microphones for live presentations, but also explain if they will have the opportunity to ask questions or comments via voice.
  • If you ask the audience to write responses in the chat or Slack, give them more time than you think they’ll need to respond. Some people will be quick to respond, while others may require more time to think and input their response. If you cut it off too quickly, you will prevent some members of the audience from participating.
    • When answering questions from the chat or Slack, repeat them aloud and credit the person who asked (unless you are using anonymous commenting) before answering.
  • If you are verbally asking a question, please introduce yourself before speaking.

Designing Presentation Materials

Design Your Content for an Online Environment

  • If you are presenting with your camera on, make sure that the speaker screen isn’t covering the text of your presentation. You can set up your presentation slides to display side-by-side with your speaker screen, or you can leave a corner of your presentation that is free of text or images where your camera can be viewed. If it is a live presentation, you can announce to the audience where this open space is at so they can adjust their own video screens so your camera won’t cover the 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.
  • Give your files clear and descriptive names including the event, speaker name, and year. Example: DLFForum_MaggieSmith_2021.ppt
  • If you use the conference templates, they are already built to be maximally accessible. If you use Canva, PowerPoint, or Google Slides 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.

Design Your Content to Be Interpreted by Assistive Technology

  • Use a templated slide format. 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.
  • When in doubt, use built-in formatting options for charts, bullet points, shapes, etc.
  • Make sure links have unique, descriptive names, rather than just the URL or “click here.” Provide a short URL, and make it available in the chat window or Slack for the audience.
  • 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.

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.
  • Use a high contrast color scheme that is easy to read and doesn’t cause eye-strain (for example, black/white, white/dark blue, yellow/black, off-white/black). 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.
  • 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.

Optimize Content for Assistive Technology

  • 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.
  • Use descriptive hyperlink text. 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.
  • Use built-in options for tables, charts, and data visualizations, if possible, rather than importing as an image. 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.
  • Narrate what is happening. Report on interactive polls, moving gifs, or chat messages you want people to be aware of.
  • Read aloud the text on your slides as you present, and describe any images so the live audience is fully aware of what's going on.
  • Number the slides, and tell people which slide you are on as you progress through your presentation. You can also use audio cues such as a click noise every time you change slides in PowerPoint (this option is available in Google Slides.

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.
  • Because pre-recorded presentations will be captioned, do not use the automated captioning options in PowerPoint or Google Slides.

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.

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