How to Make Your Presentations and Webinars More Accessible

September 7, 2022

Accessibility is something every B2B business needs to understand and work to optimize.

We take access ramps and bathroom handlebars for granted as essentials that make your workplace accessible to people with physical disabilities, but what about making your presentations and online events accessible to those with visual impairments or neurological differences that make regular internet access more complex?

Full disclosure: We’re not experts on this topic. It’s as eye-opening to us as it is to you, so we’re learning and sharing as we go.

We found some helpful basics in this introduction to web accessibility by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and these best practices on making PowerPoint presentations accessible supplied by Microsoft.

If there are other online resources you recommend that we tap into, please share them and we’ll update this post and pass them along to our community.

Here are some of the hot tips we’ve picked up so far…


Accessible Presentations

We’ve all attended presentations that are difficult to follow and where the visual aids (i.e., the slide deck) are too complex, colorful, or colloquial for us to comprehend.

Now put yourself in the shoes of someone who has difficulty seeing, hearing, reading, or processing the information being shared and you can imagine how bad it gets.

Making your presentation more accessible need not take a great deal of additional time and will make it available to a wider audience.

Here are 9 tips to keep in mind when building your next slide deck:

  1. Include talking points on your slides so people can choose to read or listen. There is a school of thought that words on slides should be minimized, with most of the information being conveyed by images and the voiceover. However slick this might be, it reduces accessibility. Aim to find a balance where readers can follow along and the presentation is still slick.
  2. Include key takeaways as text on a slide. Building on the previous point, you should at a minimum include a slide with each of your key takeaway points written out in full. Since your objective is to convey those points to everyone who attends, this will help fill any gaps that might have been caused by less accessible slides earlier in your presentation.
  3. Use a larger font size (18pt or larger), sans serif fonts, wide line spacing, and leave sufficient white space. In addition to helping those with reduced visual capacity, it’s also great for people with dyslexia for whom smaller and closer-spaced text sometimes merges or becomes distorted.
  4. Use a high-contrast color scheme. Built-in color schemes use high contrast colors that are easy to read. While it’s common practice to modify them to match your company’s branding, take care not to compromise their readability for the visually impaired. This is especially important if you use a colored background.
  5. Use patterns as well as color to convey information. People who are blind, have low vision, or are colorblind might miss out on the meaning conveyed by colors alone, so try to incorporate other ways of distinguishing one element from another, especially in charts.
  6. Add alt text to any pictures, graphs, and other embedded media. Alt text is what screen readers use to describe pictures. This is important for people with visual impairments, people with cognitive impairments, and people who are less proficient in your language. While alt text provides a one sentence description, you can use image descriptions to include a longer explanation of what’s shown in an image.
  7. Avoid using too much animation. Rapidly moving images can lead to nausea or even seizures for people who get vertigo or who are sensitive to moving or flashing images. Honestly, it gets annoying for other participants, too, if it distracts from what you’re saying and the information you’re trying to convey.
  8. Use screen reader compatible templates. One of the dangers of modifying a presentation template is that screen readers may jump around or not convey critical information. If you must create a custom template, consult online resources for guidance on avoiding these issues.
  9. Use the accessibility checker. Both PowerPoint and Google Slides have built-in accessibility checkers that will verify whether your presentation is accessible and offer suggestions on how to fix any issues. These algorithms check your slides against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which help ensure that screen readers and people with reading disabilities can access your presentation.

And here are three bonus tips to remember when delivering the presentation:

  1. Speak clearly and slowly and use straightforward language. With webinars reaching a global audience, it is critical to avoid colloquialisms, metaphors, and complex word choices that might not be understood by non-native speakers or people from a different region. Speaking slowly and enunciating your words will help everyone understand, including your transcription software!
  2. Describe the visuals on your slides. There’s no substitute for explaining what you’re showing. Avoid saying things like “as you can see from the chart on the right”. Instead, try “the chart on the right shows…” and offer a full explanation of what your visual is designed to convey.
  3. Repeat questions before you answer them. This is equally important for in-person and online presentations, since not everyone might be able to hear or read the question that’s asked from the back of the room or in the chat window. Paraphrase long questions as best you can, then give your answer. If you’ve drastically shortened a long question, check at the end whether you satisfactorily covered the issue that was raised.

Promoting Events in an Accessible Way

If you will be delivering your presentation online and promoting the event, here are some pointers on how to make that step accessible to a wider audience:

  1. Make sure all your promotional material is accessible, including ads, emails, and social media posts. If important information appears in an image, make it available in text format as well. This often applies to dates, times, places, registration details, and other calls to action.
  2. Ensure your social media posts—including images and text—are optimized using the accessibility features and best practices specific to each social media channel. 
  3. Make sure the registration process can be completed using a screen reader, and that alt text has been applied to all the images and buttons. 
  4. During sign up, ask registrants whether they have any accessibility needs, which will give you time to meet as many of them as you can.
  5. Have a plan to include people who may not be able to access the event. For example, you might live stream the session and share your presentation with them ahead of time in a format they can access.


Virtual event platforms offer features like live captioning and transcription

Making Live Events More Accessible

Virtual event platforms have come a long way since pre-COVID times (sounds like a prehistoric era, right?). Nevertheless, you should check their accessibility features each time you plan a virtual event.

Zoom, Teams, and Google Meetings all offer features like live captioning and transcription. However, some of these features are limited to premium subscribers, so check your user status ahead of time and upgrade if necessary. There are also several third-party apps that enable live transcription, such as Otter Live Notes for Zoom.

Here are 8 tips for delivering an accessible online event:

  1. Make sure the platform you choose is both keyboard-accessible and screen reader supported.
  2. Provide speakers with a checklist of accessibility tips (maybe even including a link to this blog post!) and encourage them to plan for accessibility where they can.
  3. Test your equipment to ensure that your microphone and any embedded audio or video elements in your presentation are coming across clearly.
  4. Once the webinar starts, introduce yourself and make small talk as people arrive to allow participants to adjust their audio.
  5. Review any accessibility features that are available to participants, such as captioning, so that they can take advantage. Let them know when video recordings and copies of the presentations will be made available, and whether those videos will be captioned and if you will be providing a transcript.
  6. Make a copy of the presentation available in original and PDF formats so that participants can follow along on their device and use their own accessibility settings.
  7. Provide a transcript so that deaf and hard of hearing people can follow along. Other groups also benefit from having access to a transcript, so make it available to anyone who wants to use it.
  8. Ask for feedback at the end. Your participants may have helpful recommendations on how to make future events even more accessible and inclusive.

Accessible Recordings and Other Post-Event Tips

Although the automated and included tools will do a decent job of captioning and transcribing your presentation, it’s worth investing a little effort after the event to give the best possible experience.

Live captioning isn’t always accurate and doesn’t capture everything that’s said. Either edit or replace the captions after the event.

Whether you did so at the event or not, always provide a transcript afterwards.

And, make recordings and transcripts available on accessible platforms. If they are posted behind a login, make sure someone it is accessible to someone using a screen reader.


In Summary

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important considerations in every aspect of business. Giving presentations, whether in person and online, should be no exception.

Producing a slick, graphic-heavy, animated presentation was, for a time, the key to getting invited to speak at industry events. However, those criteria can have negative consequences when it comes to reaching a wide, diverse audience.

Focus on providing your customers with relevant, helpful information in ways that they can readily access and process. If this means less flash, more function, then so be it.

If you'd like to learn more about making your website and content more accessible, consider signing up for an accessibility training course. There are an increasing number of them available online, including this free Digital Accessibility Foundations course offered by the Web Accessibility Initiative, which I referenced in the introduction.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock


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