How to make slides that are accessible for those with hearing or sight impairments; Issue #151 January 22, 2008

PowerPoint Tip: Making Accessible Slides

Last year I worked on a project for my publisher, Prentice Hall, that was interesting and highly informative. The topic was how to make PowerPoint presentations accessible to those who have hearing or sight impairments. It is a requirement on some college campuses and we would all do well to be aware of some of the ideas in order to be able to make our messages accessible to everyone in our audiences.

In today's article, I want to share some of the key techniques for making your PowerPoint slides accessible. Not only will these ideas help when you have someone who is visually or hearing impaired in your audience, but in many cases the suggestions will make your slides clearer for everyone.

First, pay attention to the design of your slides. Make sure you have selected colors that have enough contrast. Someone who has trouble seeing needs a high degree of contrast between text or shapes and the background. Use the Color Contrast Calculator to check the contrast of the colors you select. Use sans-serif fonts that are at least 24 points or larger so they can be easily seen.

Next, make your content clear to your audience. Two ideas from my upcoming book work well here. One is to create a meaningful headline for each slide instead of a generic topic title. A headline tells the key message of the slide and makes it easier to understand. Next, use callouts on visuals to make the point clear. Someone who is hearing impaired can't hear where you are asking others to look on a slide, so use a callout to direct everyone's attention.

When your presentation is going to be delivered to someone who is hearing or sight impaired, you should also give them a version that contains what you will say on each slide. To capture your commentary, use the Notes section of the slide and fully describe what you want to say on that slide. Describe any visuals with context and meaning. Elaborate on text bullet points. Include a transcript for any media clips along with a description of the setting and context for the clip. For animations that show a specific movement, describe the movement fully. To see if your explanation is clear enough, read the explanation to someone who has their eyes closed and see if they can correctly tell what the slide looks like and means.

The next step is to create a document that hearing impaired people can read and sight impaired people can have read to them using screen reader software. The easiest way to do this is to use the PowerPoint feature to Send the presentation to a Word file (found on the File menu in PowerPoint 2003 and in PowerPoint 2007 it is Publish Create Handouts in Microsoft Office Word on the Office menu). Select the format that has the slide image at the top of the page and the Notes underneath the image. You will now create a document that others can read or listen to and get the full meaning of your presentation.

With PowerPoint presentations becoming more of a standard way to communicate information of all types, we need to keep in mind that our first responsibility is to our audience. We need to use the ideas above to make sure that we make our presentation accessible for everyone.