Designing Inclusive Presentations

Submitted by Emily Shuman on Thu, 08/08/2019

Last month I wrote about why using a microphone during presentations is so important. As I stated then, the addition of a microphone is an easy way to make a presentation more inclusive. Beyond that, there are many things you can do to ensure your presentations are accessible and inclusive.

Planning - You won't always have control over the planning of a conference or event where you're presenting. When you do, there are several planning best practices.

  • Ask for accessibility requirements. Add a question on your registration form asking attendees what their accessibility needs are. This tells you exactly what auxiliary aids and services to plan for.
  • Secure an accessible location. Make sure you have investigated whether your event location is accessible. This includes all meeting rooms used, bathrooms, entrances and exits, paths of travel, etc.
  • Confirm access to microphones and a sound system. There should be several microphones available. One for each presenter and at least one for audience questions. The more microphones available, the better. Many conference spaces have an audio induction (hearing) loop connected to their sound systems. The loop transmits the sound output to headphones and other assistive listening devices.
  • Arrange for accommodations. As needed, make sure requested accessibility accommodations get arranged. This could include large print materials, sign language interpreters, and communication access real-time translation (CART) providers, among others.

When you don't have influence over the planning process, there are still plenty of things you can do to design an inclusive presentation.

Slides and Multimedia

  • Photos and videos - Adding photos, graphics and videos to a presentation can help keep the audience engaged. You must be careful about relying on these, because some may not be able to see and hear them. When used, it is important to make sure videos are captioned and photos have alt text.
  • Slide design - When designing slides, pay attention to your font, text size, and color contrast. Use a sans-sarif font and at least 18pt font size. If you can go bigger, even better. For color contrast, follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. There are tools available to help check your contrast. Generally, use colors that make your text stand out from the background. Be careful about laying text over images, as good contrast is harder to achieve. Finally, keep slides brief and to the point. This makes it easier for someone with an attention or processing disability to follow along.
  • PowerPoint accessibility - If you're providing your presentation in a digital format for people who use screen readers, take the time to make it accessible for that purpose. Fortunately, the Rocky Mountain ADA Center has developed a guide for doing this.


  • Room setup - You will likely have some control of the room set up, even if you weren't involved in planning. Make sure aisles are clear and wide enough for wheelchairs and there are unobstructed spaces for wheelchair users to sit. Ensure there aren't any cords that could be a tripping hazard and accommodate people who need to sit up front or in the back.
  • CART providers and ASL translators - CART providers need to be set up in an area where they can hear the presentation well. Similarly, ASL translators need to be able to hear and be visible to sign language users.
  • Use the microphone - It's best if there are also microphones available for attendees to use when asking questions or making comments. If that's not possible, repeat each question or comment using the microphone before responding.
  • Speak slowly - If you're like me, you have a lot to cover in one presentation and still leave time for questions. You may get nervous and start talking faster than usual. Despite this, it's important to slow down your speech. Talking too fast makes it hard for the audience to follow and CART providers or interpreters may be unable to keep up.
  • Describe visual information – Describe the images in your presentation for those who can’t see them. Caption videos for the deaf and hard of hearing. People who are blind or low vision may not be able to completely understand a video based on the sound alone, so describe videos when needed as well. Describe any important contextual information happening in the room. For example, if you poll the audience using a show of hands, you can say, "Only a few of you raised your hands."

There is a limitless number of accessibility needs that audience members may have. It would be unrealistic to try to plan for them all. If you can ask people what they need when they register you can accommodate everyone. If not, implementing these best practices will go a long way.

As always, I’m here to help! If you have questions, e-mail me at [email protected].


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The Rocky Mountain ADA Center's blog, Access Granted, tackles ADA issues through unique and diverse perspectives. Articles are written by staff of RMADAC and a variety of special guest authors. Some may be educational, others might be personal or thought-provoking. Either way, Access Granted will bring you the ADA of today!

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