2021 NASPA Virtual Conference

Universal Design in Virtual Presentations: A Necessity and No Longer an Option

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Universal Design in Virtual Presentations: A Necessity and No Longer an Option

With the exponential rise in digital mixed media, and more reliance on virtual environments for instruction, public information, and entertainment, the importance of incorporating Universal Design in presentations is tantamount to provide access for Persons with Disabilities. The benefits of Universal Design apply not only to Persons with Disabilities; Universal Design has a positive impact on diverse learners with different learning modalities.

The concept of Universal Design is not new, its origins go back three decades. However, during this time a paradigm shift occurred, resulting in the importance of its applicability that initially started with buildings and topography, then included curriculum and the dissemination of public information, and now includes technology.

A key step in integrating Universal Design is to take a step back and analyze your presentation. What information are you presenting, and what are the Audience Learning Outcomes (ALOs) that you want all viewers to learn and apply to their work? You need to clarify your objectives to provide your audience with the most effective manner of delivery for comprehension and future application of your information. Once you have your ALOs, establish your “how.” Your “how” helps the presenter create their definitive information, to then help the viewer engage in the session and learn from you, regardless of Disability and/or learning modality. Think about how you will present your information, so that it is understandable, current, and accessible by every viewer.

            As a presenter, check to make sure the entity, organization, or institution with whom you are working is amenable to the use of assistive technology. This check-in is not just for legal compliance. If they are on-board, they will be more inclined to work with you, should there be some technical issues for accommodations that need to be clarified. These issues will need to be addressed before the presentation; you, as the presenter, must be willing to work with the event host in thinking “out of the box” to resolve any accommodation questions as necessary.

            I also recommend that presenters use their imagination. Place yourself in a situation where you are attending a virtual presentation and are also Blind. What areas would be lacking to access the presentation? How would you remedy those issues to provide access? If you are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, how would you have full access to the presentation if you cannot hear the presenter’s words and media? The scenarios are not exhaustive when accommodating learner diversity. Are there benefits to others if your presentation has captioning? Absolutely! For example, those who could benefit, include, but are not limited to: people whose first language is not English, people whose Disabilities preclude them from taking effective notes, and people who are expecting and whose pregnancy has caused them to have Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. Captioning will help diverse groups, along with having text of notes made available that the presenter can email to individuals in need.

Tips for an Accessible and Learning Diverse Presentation

  1. Confirm with your conference or meeting host that their compliance with any accessibility mandates has been addressed. The earlier you can confirm this, the better.
  2. If possible, provide the agenda, guide, or ALOs to the presentation audience at least three days prior to the presentation to give the participants ample time to read what will be planned for that session.
  3. Confirm that the organization has made available an accessibility statement that the site complies with, and which states the contact information for any participant who needs to request accommodations.
  4. Create an accessible slideshow for your presentation. Use the font checker to determine an accessible typeface and font size for viewing on a computer screen. Two websites that are a great reference are The Incredible Access Presentation, and How to Determine Font Size for Accessible Media. Also, leave the bottom line of each slide blank, so text from the live captioning does not obscure the image or words on the slides. Create a text file of the slides so you can easily email them to an audience member who needs to access them with Text to Speech technology. During your presentation, be descriptive and indicate what is on the slide. Pointing with the generic statement of directionality “over here” and “there” is of no benefit to someone who is Blind or Low Vision.
  5. Provide in as far in advance as possible to the interpreting and captioning professionals your slides, and/or a list of the presentation’s lexicon of the subject that will be used and what the terms are referring to for the presentation. At times, the interpreters must confer with the individual requesting services on an agreed-upon sign representation if there are no signs for particular words, technical terms and/or phrases, and finger spelling will not work. Captioners need the lexicon and slides to ensure that they have familiarity with nomenclature to be transcribed as correctly as possible.
  6. Before your presentation begins, confirm that the captioner can successfully log onto your site and onto your virtual platform. Confirm that the video overlay on the side of the screen with the remote interpreter is visible and not blocked by the images you present on the screen or disrupted by screen colors that contrast brightly. Extremely bright colors or a very lighted screen can be visually distracting to a person viewing and relying on the interpreters. A helpful contrast checker is located at WebAIM Contrast Checker.
  7. When you start your presentation, or if you have your host introduce you, please ensure that they describe what you look like and what you are wearing. Remember to indicate your pronouns that you use in describing and referring to yourself. All presenters should take these steps at the beginning of the presentation/during introductions.
  8. At the beginning of the presentation, ask the audience to reserve their questions for the last few minutes of the presentation, and to state their name before asking their question. This additional step will cut back on confusion with the vendors who are captioning or interpreting the event. 
  9. If you are showing any media, clips, or films, make sure this media is captioned or can be captioned. If there is action in the video, it would be prudent and proactive to investigate, and have available audio descriptions of the media for Blind or Low Vision Audience Members or Participants. Further information about audio descriptions can be found on the ADA Title III website.

Assistive technology sites, techniques, and standards can change quickly. If you are unsure, or you encounter a technical problem and your links are coming up with little information, always ask, never assume. There should be an assistive technologist on your campus, and/or a person designated to work on technology compliance at your place of employment. Sources like WebAIM have a plethora of information on the creation of virtual presentations. To continue learning about how Universal Design is proactive in assisting people with diverse learning modalities, check out the included below:

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