Make your presentations accessible

Accessibility lecture at the University of WashingtonI give a lot of presentations at conferences that include people with vision and hearing disabilities. I try to make my presentations informative for the entire audience. Here are some of my tips.

Create a vocabulary list for sign language interpreters

Before I give a presentation, I spend a few minutes going through the slides and writing down terms that may not be easy to interpret. This may include technology and coding terms, names of people or products, and terms that are not relevant to the discussion. I try to print this in advance, but sometimes I simply keep a note in Evernote, and show this to the interpreters prior to the presentation.

The response from the interpreters has always been very positive. Your efforts will be appreciated. Here is the vocabulary list I created for my presentation at CSUN 2013 Infographics, making an image speak a thousand words.

Non-standard words within presentation


First infographic sample has “Mahatma Gandhi”

Travel infographic:     MapQuest

Coding terms:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Jennison Assuncion

Keep Visuals Minimal

I try to keep my slides minimal for many reasons. One is to let the blind members of the audience know they are not missing anything visually. I want people to spend less time looking at the screen and more time listening to what I have to say. Perhaps that is selfish, but I believe it provides more of an equal experience for all.

I will start the presentation by telling the audience the slides will not have significant content and that I will describe what is on the screen when it is relevant. This presentation on Mobile Accessibility is a good example. Some slides included screen shots of mobile products, I gave descriptions of the products and their features. Other slides included images that did not need to be described.

Upload your presentation to Slideshare prior to the event

Keeping a minimal slide design can be frustrating for those in the audience that want to take photos or notes about resources mentioned in your presentation. We’ve all seen and heard people taking photos during a presentation, mainly because that moment may be their only chance to capture a link or reference.

I always post my presentation to SlideShare prior to a presentation and give the link on the first slide. I let people know in advance they can download the slides, this lets the audience relax and listen to what I have to say. If possible, I will tweet the URL before the conference starts to give the audience a preview.

It’s all about the presenter’s notes

My philosophy is to keep the slides minimal but put the important information in the presenter’s notes. This is a feature of Keynote and PowerPoint that allows you to leave comments about each slide. Most people use this as a reminder of what to say, without making it public. I use it to publicize the resources for each slide.

Prior to uploading to Slideshare, I create a .pdf version of the presentation and I make sure it includes the speaker notes. Slideshare will parse that pdf and include the speaker note resources within their transcription. Here’s an example of an  iOS7 Accessibility presentation I gave at the Mobile+Web conference. It helps to uncheck the option within Keynote to include the date on slides. This gets annoying.

Make your presentation accessible

While it’s commendable that Slideshare is able to parse the pdf and create a transcript, this is not the most accessible way to view the content. I use this transcript as the basis for a blog post that combines the Slideshare version of the presentation, embeds of included videos, and a semantic representation of the slides and the relevant speaker notes. This is what I consider to be the final result of a conference presentation.

This wrap up of the presentation YUI + Accessibility includes the slides, a video recording of the talk, links to resources, and the relevant information from each slide and sample code.

Final Suggestions

  • I taught at Palomar College for 7 years and have a degree in Radio and Telecommunications, so I’m no stranger to standing in front of people and talking. Practice makes perfect and you should take any opportunity possible to speak in public. Local meetups are a great opportunity to speak in small groups about a subject you know well.
  • Watch Christian Heilmann speak whenever you have the opportunity. I am always energized and inspired by his presentations. Further, you know he’s always going to say something new. I believe it’s important to avoid canned presentations and treat each audience with respect by at least customizing the presentation for each event.
  • Christian has also created a great article that has helped me significantly: A few tricks about public speaking and stage technology. His suggestions about using technology and prep are tips you’ll only learn from constant practice.
  • Avoid coffee! This is something I’ve learned the hard way. I can go on some massively bizarre detours while talking on a caffeine buzz. I’ll have a cup of coffee in the morning, but avoid caffeine for a few hours prior to speaking. However, hot lemon tea is  your friend. This is an old radio trick, as it helps clear your throat. Also keep water handy on the podium.
  • Arrive early and watch the prior speaker. This shows respect for your fellow speaker and gives you a chance to watch the audience reactions, technology snafus, and get an idea of the knowledge level of the crowd.
  • Use social media to extend your presentation beyond the room. Announce everything on Twitter, including particularly helpful links mentioned in the presentation. Just don’t get spammy. Announce your Twitter handle on the intro slide for those live tweeting your talk.
  • Small audiences are a good thing. It’s great to look out at a packed room and feel important. However, some of my best experiences have been with less than a dozen people in the room. I gave one presentation about building search engines in London where the question and answers led to a patent: Creating Vertical Search Engines for Individual Search Queries. So give them the same energy you’d save for 100 people and take it as an opportunity to make it more interactive.
  • Last but not least, a cool laptop sticker helps people remember you. 🙂
    Ted Drake and his dog


Accessibility + YUI – creating accessible forms

This presentation was created for the YUI Conference, November 2013 by Sarbbottam and Ted Drake. Sample code is available at GitHub Bruce Lee toy photos courtesy [CC] images by Shaun Wong on Flickr. Watch the full presentation (includes closed captions):

You can also view the slides:

Accessibility + YUI

Sarbbottam | Ted Drake YUI Conf 2013

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”
― Bruce Lee

1:6 Medicom Bruce Lee Inaccessible web sites are usually caused by ignorance rather than bad intentions. This presentation will introduce what is needed for accessibility and how Sarbbottam used ARIA, JavaScript, Progressive Enhancement, and semantic HTML to create a truly accessible and dynamic form. This will help you with your projects as well.

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

The WCAG 2.0 accessibility specifications focus on the user’s experience. It distills this to 4 key factors. Essentially, the user needs to know:

  • what is on the page
  • be able to focus on the content
  • interact with the objects
  • the product should work with all combinations of browsers, devices, and assistive technology.

ARIA Today


Now that we have the basics for accessibility, let’s look at how Sarbottam created a visually dynamic form that provides ample feedback for screen reader users. This form includes:

  • Progressive enhancement (works without javascript)
  • Everything is keyboard accessible
  • Works in multi-language/direction/keyboard

Let’s look at how a screen reader interprets our sample form. Watch for the following elements in this video:

  • Each form input has clearly defined label, state, and properties, i.e required.
  • The screen reader lets the user know how to interact with dropdown components
  • Screen changes are announced to the user.

Drop Down

This drop down button uses background images for the flag and triangle. The only text node is the country code value. But is this enough for a user? The drop down updates the button’s aria-label to let the user know the button’s intention. Further, after the user has chosen a country, the aria-label is updated to show it’s selected value.

country code dropdown buttonWhat is this button?

This button includes a flag, a triangle, and the text “+852”. The flag and triangle are using spans with background images. What does the +852 mean? How can the user know exactly what this will do?

    aria-label="Hong Kong (+852) Country Code for optional recovery phone number">
        <span class="flag-hk"></span>&nbsp;
        <span class="drop-down-arrow-container">
            <span class="drop-down-arrow"></span>

Many times people assume their background image is providing enough information. However, background images provide no context for the screen reader or voice recognition user. This drop down button is clearly labeled with the country name, the phone number extension, and the context (optional phone number). Further, the user knows this will generate a menu via the aria-haspopup=”true” attribute. The aria-label attribute is updated when the user selects a new value.

This video shows how the drop down button is announced as a pupup button with the full information. This interaction uses onkeydown to grab the arrow keys. onkeypress was exact character code of the key pressed. This was a problem with international keyboards. Escape key closes the drop down and is announced as the help text. See the aria practices: #focus_tabindex

Live Regions

ARIA live regions trigger screen readers to announce content when it changes on the screen. This could be when an object is given display:block, when content is inserted via innerHTML, or similar moments.


The password field connects to a paragraph that displays the password’s strength with aria-live=”polite”. This paragraph is empty when the page loads, but content will be inserted via JavaScript as the user creates their password. This means the new content will be announced after the user stops typing. Use assertive to interrupt the user. Nothing is announced while it is empty.

        Password must contain 8 characters.

The paragraph now includes text. This will be announced when the user pauses. ARIA live regions can be triggered via innerHTML content changes.

        Not bad, but you can make it better.

Every time the content changes, the user will be notified. You are already doing the presentation changes, the ARIA attributes just surface that content to the assistive technology.

This video shows how the password strength indicator is announced as the user enters their password.

Username Suggestions

autofill suggestions for user name

The username suggestions drop down uses ARIA to define the label and possible error messages. The suggestions have the menu role. Using live regions, a hidden div is used to surface suggested usernames as the user arrows through the choices.


The username text input turns off HTML5 autocomplete, uses aria-required for required status, aria-describedby points to potential error message, and aria-labelledby points to the label.

<p class="clipped"

The class hides this paragraph visually. aria-live forces the changes to be announced immediately, aria-atomic announces changed content, not the entire paragraph each time, aria-relevant announces all additions and removals.

This JS snippet shows how the content is inserted into the live region via innerHTML.

highlightSuggestion : function(suggestion) {       
    var readOutText = suggestion.get('innerHTML');       
    suggestion && suggestion.addClass('suggestions-hovered');  
    if(this.selectedIndex === this.list.length - 1) {         
        readOutText += this.endOfsuggestionsMessage;       
    this.suggestionsReadOutContainer.set('innerHTML', readOutText);     

This video shows how the username suggestions give the user information on available options and how to navigate


This form includes some basic form validation. When an input has been defined as invalid, we will add the aria-invalid=”true” attribute

    placeholder="First name"

The input is connected to the error message container via aria-describedby. The paragraph container has aria-live=”assertive” to announce the error message when it is populated.

    placeholder="First name"
    aria-invalid= "true"
        Enter Name

Add aria-invalid=”true” to the input when it is defined as invalid. The error message will be announced as soon as it is populated due to the aria-live attribute. The error message will also be announced when the user places focus in the input.

This video shows the First and last name inputs. The initial focus announces the placeholder, label, and the required state. It also shows the error state inputs are announced as invalid and the error message is read as the help text. NVDA and JAWS on windows will announce the error message without the delay.

Yahoo User Interface Library

Accessibility is built into all YUI widgets. All YUI widgets include ARIA, Keyboard accessibility, and HTML best practices. Use these with confidence. Please note: 3rd party components within the gallery may not be accessible.

QuickBooks Desktop Accessibility

Find out how QuickBooks Desktop for Windows was rebuilt to make it accessible. QuickBooks for Desktop was originally developed before Microsoft’s accessibility APIs. The program was built upon custom drawn elements and the accessibility was always minimal.

However, a small group of developers and users worked together in 2013 to fix the issues within the core and added screen reader scripting to make QuickBooks 2014 accessible.

This presentation was developed for the ATIA 2014 conference in Orlando to show what is possible, even with a legacy product, when there is a commitment to making an accessible product.

Continue Reading QuickBooks Desktop Accessibility

Developing a mobile accessibility strategy

This presentation was created for the TechShare conference in Delhi, India Feb. 2014 It shows how Intuit’s mobile strategy has encouraged accessible mobile applications. The secret behind Intuit’s mobile accessibility strategy is that it has less to do with accessibility and everything to do with user experience and user-based design.

Continue Reading Developing a mobile accessibility strategy