Dr. Penny Rosenblum holding a microphone and an iPad while presenting at a conference.
Guide

When you have low vision and are the conference presenter: What works for me

Creating a slide deck is the easy part; can you/your student flawlessly PRESENT the material?

When I was in high school we used notecards when we did presentations. Today’s teens, college students, and employed adults use slides (PowerPoint, Google Slides, etc.). As a TVI, rehab professional, family member, etc. this article contains ideas you can share with low vision individuals to support them with planning and delivering their presentations. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making presentations and conferences accessible for everyone because of my work on a Toolkit to Design More Accessible Scientific Meetings and Conferences.

It’s a Saturday morning in Tucson and I just exchanged emails with colleagues in Taiwan who have invited me to come to a conference in their country later this year. I’m already starting to think about how I’ll ensure that as a person with low vision, my presentations run smoothly, and my visual impairment does not interfere with my delivery of the information I will share.

To prepare to write this post, I pulled up my curriculum vita (a much more detailed resume) because I thought it would be fun to include how many professional presentations and workshops I have delivered since my very first one in 1989. I stopped counting at 500 as I thought the time would be better spent writing this post!

So, how as a person who has low vision do I organize myself and deliver my presentation? I’ve written the information below for the person with low vision. If you’re a TVI, rehab professional, family member, or other individual, think about how you can support a person with low vision as they explore the many suggestions below. 

I am sharing what works for me. Finding “tricks” that work for you is important. Don’t be afraid to experiment and to ask those you trust for honest feedback.

Preparing My Presentation

I present using PowerPoint. I actually tell people I “think in PowerPoint” because I use it so much. This is what works for me:

Communicating with the Organizer

Since I’ve been doing this presenting thing for a long, long time, over the years I have found that communication with the organizer is really important. This way I know what to expect and they know what I am requesting well before the day of the presentation. Regardless of whether my presentation is in-person or online, I request that the organizer send my slides and other handouts to attendees prior to the presentation. I want to model for the organizer the importance of providing everyone with access to the slides. When people have my slides ahead of time, they can access them in whatever way they wish (e.g., using their screen reader, on their braille display, in large print). 

In Person Presentations

Here are the items I discuss with the organizer:

Online Presentations

Here are the items I discuss with the organizer:

Checking Out the Room and Getting Ready

Regardless of where I’m presenting, I always go to the room ahead of time to check out the set-up. For me this includes:

Delivering My Presentation

So, when the big day comes and it is time for me to deliver my presentation, I typically:

Penny holding a microphone and iPad while presenting in front of a large screen displaying her PowerPoint presentation.

A Few More Thoughts

I know other presenters who have visual impairments. Here are a few other thoughts based on my observations or discussions with them.

Not only do I present often, I also attend many conference sessions and professional meetings. I take note of things I see others do that I want to incorporate into my own presentation style. Having low vision can sometimes make it a bit more challenging for me as a presenter, but I think of myself as an ambassador helping others to see that a visual impairment isn’t holding me back!

Resources

By Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum

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