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:
I use a black background with white font. I prefer Verdana. I try to not put too much text on my slides, but I will admit sometimes they have more text than they should! I find audience members appreciate the white on black combination as it is easy on their eyes whether or not they have a visual impairment.
I include Alt-Text for my images so those with low vision or who use screen readers will have access to the images.
My presentations often include pictures and videos of people with visual impairments. To protect their confidentiality, I prefer to give my audience an outline of my presentation. I then provide the Alt-Text content for everyone by including it in the outline. This way all audience members get the same handout, and it is accessible.
For myself I always put my presentation on my iPad. To do so, I save it as a PDF and then place it in iBooks. I find that when I’m presenting (see below) it is easy to flick through the slides.
I print a copy of my presentation with one slide per page. This is my backup. We all know technology is not 100% reliable! Before I print my presentation, I change the style to black font on white background so I don’t waste a lot of ink.
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:
Room set up: Knowing if people will be sitting in rows or at round tables helps me visualize the room and think about where I will stand. If I am planning activities for attendees to do, I can also think about what the directions will be that I will give to them based on how they are seated.
Using my own equipment: I explain that I want to use my own laptop so I can ensure I can see my screen. There is nothing more frustrating to me than to be told I must use the organizer’s equipment and to then find the font is small and the mouse pointer is a tiny thing with no reverse contrast.
Microphone: I explain that I want a cordless microphone so I can move around the room as I wish. Advice here for anyone, be sure the microphone is off before you go to the restroom!
Clicker: I ask that they have a clicker because it never fails that when they don’t my clicker decides it doesn’t want to work! By the way, I always bring extra batteries for my clicker.
An extra set of eyes: I ask that there be someone identified in the room who will “be my eyes” if needed. This individual may be the person who calls on people raising their hands or who can signal me to let me know people are looking confused about what I’m sharing. I may ask this individual to click on play for me if I’m showing videos so I don’t have to move over to my laptop and locate the play button on the slide.
Here are the items I discuss with the organizer:
Controlling my presentation: I confirm that I will be able to share my screen and advance my own slides.
Back-up: As a backup I ask if I can send my presentation to the organizer so that if there is an issue with the technology, they can share my slides and advance them.
An extra set of eyes: I explain that I will not be able to visually monitor the chat, attendees raising hands etc. and I work out with the organizer who will “be my eyes” for these tasks.
Text me: I ask the organizer to text me during the presentation if there is something I need to know. I put my cell phone on silent and keep it in my lap. If it vibrates, I can look down and see if the text is from 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:
Locating where the equipment is positioned: I check to make sure there are no wires that haven’t been taped down. If there are, I ask that they be taped down or I make a large mental note to avoid that area of the room.
Lighting: Typically, I will turn off the lights in the front of the room to increase contrast for both me and my attendees. I determine if I can adjust window coverings if needed. Often when I visit the room ahead of time, the sun is in a different position than it is when I present, so I want to be sure I know how to adjust the window coverings if needed.
Audio: I ensure the microphone works and there is no buzzing from speakers.
Clicker: Because I use a clicker and I constantly put it down, I put a colored tape or a bright sticker on my clicker. I do this because almost always there is a black tablecloth, and my clicker is black.
I fully charge my iPad and ensure that my presentation is the first item I’ll find when I open iBooks.
Delivering My Presentation
So, when the big day comes and it is time for me to deliver my presentation, I typically:
Arrive early, set up my equipment, and adjust the lighting as needed.
Have my backup print version of my presentation ready so I don’t have to look for it if it is needed.
Have my iPad in hand with my presentation open and my clicker at the ready. Each time I click to advance a slide, I advance on my iPad. This way I can see what my audience is seeing without having to get close to the screen and turn my back to the audience.
Share with the audience that I will not see if they raise their hand or look confused. I let them know it is fine to call out if they have a question. I also stop periodically to ask if anyone has a question. I’ll count on the person who is assisting me to let me know if I’m not seeing someone raising their hand.
Describe the images on my slides to ensure accessibility for everyone.
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.
If you know braille, consider making yourself a set of braille notecards to refer to. I know a woman who is primarily a print reader, but when she is presenting to a group, she prepares braille notecards because she wants to be sure she is looking at her audience and not holding her device 6 inches from her face.
If you have materials you’ll be passing around to the attendees, consider having someone else take responsibility for passing out and collecting the items. This way you’re not trying to monitor other things besides your presentation.
Some organizers have someone sit in the front row to hold up signs to let presenters know how much time is left in the session. If you have some usable vision, ask that different colored paper to be held up (e.g., blue for 15 minutes, green for 5 minutes, and red for 1 minute). Bring the color sheets of paper with you that you see best so you can ask the timekeeper to use your sheets rather than the pre-printed ones provided by the organizer.
Set silent alarms or reminders on your device to alert you to how much time is left in the session.
Consider setting videos to play automatically so you do not need to locate the play button on your slides during your presentation.
Ask someone to “be your mouse” and click through your slides for you as you move through the presentation. Consider having a signal so you don’t have to continually say “next slide.” For example, you may do a subtle thumbs up when ready for the next slide.
If you have someone who is assisting you with your presentation by advancing your slides, starting your videos, passing out materials at designated times, etc. provide them a copy of the presentation ahead of time so they can become familiar with the content to be covered. Point out to them specific instances when their assistance will be needed.
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!