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Making Your PowerPoint Accessible for the Visually Impaired

May 1, 2015 / Blog, Rick Enrico Blog Power Point Tips, Powerpoint, visual impaired

When you’re up on the stage, you may notice that the crowd isn’t paying attention to your PowerPoint.

They might not be satisfied with your delivery style and content. But what if this disengagement is because of its design?

Though you may have used a template that appeals to you, you might unknowingly be making it harder for people look at what you’re trying to present.

To get your message across, it’s imperative to engage the audience in your discussion.

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There’s More of Them Than You Think

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “[In 2015] 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide—39 million are blind and 246 have low vision, which are caused by uncorrected refractive errors.” This means that your audience might be comprised of both people with normal vision and people with visual impairments.

Just because they’re not wearing prescription glasses doesn’t mean they’ve got perfect eyesight. Some people wear contact lenses or don’t even know they have a problem with their eyes.

Regardless of what corrective wear they’re using, an audience member’s visual impairment could be the reason they struggle to understand your presentation.

Common Visual Impairments

Low vision, color blindness, and dyslexia are three of the most common vision impairments.

For people with poor vision, objects appear out of focus whether they are near or far.

Color-defective people have a decreased ability to distinguish colors from others. Red and green are the most common colors that are hard to differentiate, while and blue and yellow are the least common.

People with a reading disability or dyslexia can take longer than others to identify colors, objects, or numbers.

This is what people with clear eyesight see versus what color-deficient people see:

visual impaired
visual impaired

If you’re new to making your design accessible to more people, don’t fret. Here are few basic guidelines:

How to Make Your Design More Accessible

Choose a Readable Font

Managing your content’s font and size helps your audience read your slides from a distance. The World Blind Union (WBU) highly suggests using sans serif font types such as Helvetica, Arial, and Verdana. Unlike serif typefaces, these font styles don’t have small finishing strokes, which makes them more legible and readable for people with low vision and dyslexia.

sans serif font
Left: “Sans” in sans serif font, without finishing strokes; Right: “Serif” in serif font, with finishing strokes.

When deciding what font size to use, consider what a comfortable viewing distance would be for a person seated across you—32-point is the ideal text size to use in most room settings. This is so that near-sighted people can understand what you’re pointing to, even from a distance.

Control Brightness and Contrast

Your template may have a vibrant and powerful look, but is it readable for your viewers?

Even if you painstakingly selected appealing colors for your PowerPoint, it’ll work against you if they’re virtually identical to each other. Using appropriate brightness and contrast is a great way to improve the readability of your slides.

Try employing a light background with dark text and graphics for your slides. This combination provides enough contrast that boosts the readability of your work for anybody who might have trouble distinguishing one color from another. When deciding on your color palette, always go for clarity instead of only visually appealing colors.

A good and bad example of color brightness and contrast. Here, white text pops out more on a dark blue background and is much more readable compared to a slightly lighter text of the same color. Image Credit: Effective vs. Ineffective

Limit Animations and Effects

Animations and effects might not sit well with visually impaired people, so keep them at a minimum.

Partially-sighted audiences wait for the text to stop moving before they can start reading it. Steer clear from moving text effects such as “Fly In,” “Bounce,” “Spiral,” or “Zoom.”

An example of text that has been unnecessarily distorted, making it harder to read without adding meaningful impact.

When it comes to choosing the appropriate effect, “Appear” suits most presentations because it’s the simplest and quickest animation.

Any effects that show one bullet point at a time are also good effects to consider. These help your viewers focus on specific points without getting overwhelmed by too much text on the screen all at once.

Preparing an effective PowerPoint is already a challenge. Preparing one for a visually impaired audience is even tougher.

Match your delivery technique with these design tips to provide a fully accessible presentation while leaving a great impact on your viewers.

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How To Make Visual Presentations Accessible To Audience Members With Print Impairments.” World Blind Union, 2012. Accessed March 24, 2015.
Comfortable Viewing Distance for Text on Presentation Visuals.” Think Outside the Slide. n.d. Accessed March 24, 2015.
Choosing the Right Colors for Your PowerPoint Design.” SlideGenius, Inc. June 3, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2015
Design 101: Basic Principles for Your PowerPoint Designs.” SlideGenius, Inc. July 31, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2015
“Visual Impairment And Blindness.” World Health Organization. August 2014. Accessed March 24, 2015.

Update: There are now 1.3 billion people living with some form of visual impairment worldwide. Thirty-six million are blind while 217 million people have mild to severe vision impairment. (2018)

Featured Image: Pixabay