Conference content accessibility

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Conference accessibility refers to the series of actions taken to make an event inclusive of people with disabilities and involves 2 different parties: organizers and speakers.

While organizers are the first in line to ensure inclusiveness, since conferences are mostly about the shared content, speakers are also responsible for delivering their talks following some simple guidelines for accessibility:

  1. Provide content warnings for flashing content, audio/video/animations, strong language or disturbing content.
  2. Use large fonts for all the content on slides, code editors and CLI tools.
  3. Use high contrast in your slides, code editors and CLI tools.
  4. Use magnifying tools for anything that you cannot control the size of, like operating system menus and buttons.
  5. Describe in words all visual content to make it available for people that cannot see.

1. Provide content warnings

We all have good intentions, especially when we want to present something in front of a crowd. But the content that we deliver might hurt some people from the audience, both physically and emotionally.

That's why it helps a lot to provide content warnings at the beginning of your talk for various types of content.

Flashing content, animations or videos

Keep in mind that there might be people suffering from Photosensitive Epilepsy in the audience and certain types of images might cause them a seizure. You should warn the audience if your presentation contains any of the following:

  • flashing content (videos, transitions, animations, etc);
  • contrasting patterns (ie: white stripes on a black background);
  • videos or animations with high-contrast content.

Audio content

Seizures can also be triggered by various types of sounds in the case of persons suffering from Musicogenic Epilepsy or ADPEAF. You should warn the audience if your presentation contains any of the following:

  • buzzing, humming or ringing sounds;
  • any type of music.

Strong language

Generally speaking, profanity should be avoided in conference talks, because even though part of the audience might enjoy it, there will be people that will consider it offensive.

Ask yourself "Why do I want to use strong language?" and "What reaction do I expect?". Could you rephrase your content, without losing the essence of what you want to say, in order to avoid strong language?

If you really want to stick with it, then please make sure you warn your audience if your presentation contains any of the following, in written or verbal form:

  • swearing;
  • blasphemous language;
  • vulgar language;
  • anything else that could be considered offensive.

You should display and say that:

This presentation contains strong language.

Disturbing content

Some people from your audience might be emotionally affected by certain types of content that could be considered violent or upsetting, so this should be avoided.

However, if this kind of content is required for your presentation, then please make sure to warn your audience about it, using a warning such as:

This presentation contains visual content that some viewers may find disturbing.

Sexual content

Sexual or sexist content should be completely avoided. We also mentioned this in the Code of Conduct.

2. Use large fonts

This might seem obvious and you’d think it should go without saying. But remember how many times you told a fellow speaker to increase the font size because you couldn't see the text or the code in his/her presentation.

This applies to all the content that you display on the screen:

  • slides;
  • code editors and IDEs;
  • terminals and CLI;
  • browser content.

The minimum recommended font size is:

  • 40pt for slides;
  • 30pt for code and CLI.

Also to keep in mind:

  • Don't display large chunks of code (maximum 5-6 lines per screen);
  • Always check if the smallest text is visible from the back of the room. Depending on the size of the room and the screen, you might need to adjust the font size.

Always remember that nobody will ever tell you that the font is too big.

3. Use high contrast

Some LED screens might have very bright colors, while an old projector might have low contrast. So, setting a high contrast from the very beginning will ensure your content is well displayed on any screen.

We suggest you stick as much as you can with black and white, unless you are aware of the different levels of color blindness and you plan your presentation accordingly.

Always use dark colors on light backgrounds or light colors on dark backgrounds. Try to avoid colored text on colored backgrounds.

NOTE: code editors and CLI tools should also display high contrast color themes if you use them during your presentation.

4. Use magnifying tools

You may show content that cannot be zoomed in, such as:

  • operating system menus;
  • code editors or browser buttons, etc.

For content that you cannot control in terms of size, you should use the accessibility magnifying tools, available on Mac and Windows, to magnify the area that you want to present.

5. Describe in words all visual content

This is a very important topic. The basic idea is to explain in words all the visual content that you present.

Please watch the 1st minute of this talk by Clarissa Peterson for tips on the matter.


The idea is to have a "blind-first approach", pretending that your audience cannot see, so you should do whatever is necessary to deliver the content in words, just like an audiobook:

  • Never say "as you can see" without describing in words what is being displayed on screen.
  • Never say "then we go here" without describing in words what "here" means.
  • Don't use images, memes or gifs without describing what they contain or represent.

Live coding

Describing code is a bit more difficult, but not impossible.

  • Describe the code that you display on the screen. It doesn't have to be a line-by-line description, but it must explain what the code does.
  • Describe the code that you write, don't rely on what people see on the screen.
  • Describe the code changes when you switch branches. That's sometimes difficult to grasp even if you can see the code.

You might think: "But what if my talk is very visual? How can a visually impaired person experience what I'm presenting?". The answer is imagination.

Think about reading a book. You get no visual content, only text. But if the text describes well what you should imagine, then you just visualize it, without actually seeing it.


Describing in words all your visual content brings additional benefits:

  • Detailed descriptions can be transformed into live captions at the conference, so hearing impaired people can also benefit from them.
  • Live captions can be used in transcripts on the recorded videos, so everybody around the world can benefit from them as well.

Conclusion

Making conference content more accessible is not difficult. In fact, by adhering to simple guidelines for accessibility, you might even discover new dimensions to your presentation, which will be highly appreciated by people with:

  • visual impairment;
  • hearing impairment;
  • epilepsy;
  • dyslexia;
  • non native English speakers.

Please feel free to drop us an email if you think we should add anything to these guidelines.

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