Make your presentations accessible

I 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:

  • longdesc
  • ARIA
  • aria-labelledby
  • aria-describedby
  • iframe
  • seamless
  • attribute
  • JavaScript
  • CSS
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Contextual
  • describedat


  • Jennison Assuncion
  • webaxe

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.

Covid 19, brain fog, and inclusive design from Ted Drake

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



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