12 Tips for Accessible Webinars
In this post, Sojin Rank shares tips on how you can create webinars that everyone can understand and enjoy, regardless of ability.
You put a lot of time and effort into each webinar.
From building slide decks to dry runs ahead of the live event, even simple webinars can take weeks of planning, practice, and promotion.
It’s a ton of work. So why wouldn’t you take a few extra steps to make sure that everyone can understand and enjoy your presentation?
People talk about webinar best practices all the time. But they don’t always mention the accessibility of webinars — and frankly, I’m not sure why.
After all, about one in six people globally lives with some type of disability. That’s more than one billion potential attendees who might struggle to understand your presentation, if you don’t build it with accessibility in mind.
Fortunately, there’s a ton of overlap between the best practices of accessible design and general webinar best practices. So by creating webinars that are accessible to people with disabilities, you’re also supporting greater comprehension and engagement for all participants.
Not sure where to get started? Here are 12 tips to help you create accessible webinars:
01. Make It Easy to Request Accommodations
Accessibility doesn’t start on the day of the webinar. As you promote your event, explain how you’re making it accessible and give people multiple opportunities to request accommodations ahead of time — whether it’s downloading a copy of the presentation or hiring an ASL translator for the event.
- Give people multiple opportunities to request accommodations.
- Establish a point of contact who can respond to requests.
02. Choose Your Platform Carefully
The platform you use to host your webinar is just as important to its accessibility as your speakers or slide content.
As you evaluate different solutions, be sure to prioritize the following:
- Live transcription or closed captioning, either through the platform itself or a third-party app: Zoom offers live captioning, transcription, and closed captioning to premium users, while Google Meet offers live captioning and plenty of keyboard shortcuts.
- Keyboard accessibility and screen reader support: Both Zoom and Google Meet are compatible with screen readers and provide plenty of keyboard functionality, such as push to talk and camera controls.
03. Be Careful to Not Overcrowd Slides
If you catch yourself shrinking text or playing Tetris just to make all of the info on a slide fit, it’s a good sign that your slide is overcrowded. This can be a problem for every reader, but it’s especially problematic for people with dyslexia (by far the most common learning disability) or low vision.
As a general rule, we recommend using sans serif fonts that are 18 pt or larger and making white space a priority.
- Choose an accessible font for your slides.
- Embrace white space. One or two bullet points that support a speaker’s talk track are more effective than large blocks of text.
05. Ask Speakers to Describe Themselves
For people with visual impairments, a quick audio description of each speaker can help them feel more connected to the presentation and participants.
As a best practice, encourage each speaker to come up with a quick description of themselves and any other information they wish to share (for example: their gender, ethnicity, clothing, or camera background).
07. Describe Key Information on Slides
As a general rule, any slide that you present as part of your webinar should be a supporting character — not the protagonist. The last thing you want are large blocks of text or complicated graphics that draw focus away from your speakers.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn't value in visual aids. You just want to set a high bar for what makes it into your presentation. If something is on your slide, it better be important. And if it’s important, you should take the time to describe it briefly for people who cannot perceive the slides visually.
- Write a short audio description of the most important elements on each slide. And remember to keep it simple: Your description should sound like you’re describing the slide to a friend over the phone.
- During your dry run(s), determine who is going to share the description. It could be the moderator or the first speaker on that slide — but be sure to iron this out in advance.
- Add alt text to images to ensure that key information — whether it’s a logo strip of current customers or details on market sizing or annual revenue — isn’t lost to people who cannot perceive images visually.
- For any image or graphic that is not key information, be sure to mark it as decorative.
“When describing a slide, be sure to include descriptions of any visuals that add to the presentation. Important information isn’t just in the text. You included that image for a reason.”
– Charles Hiser, A11iance Advocate
08. Set the Reading Order of All Slide Content
Some people with visual impairments use screen readers to read the information on a slide. By default, screen readers will read objects on a slide in the order they were added — which is not necessarily the logical reading order.
You can avoid confusion by setting the order in which objects on a slide are read. The name of this function varies depending on the tool you’re using, but it’s often called something like Reading Order (PowerPoint) or Arrange > Order (Google Slides).
09. Use High-Contrast Colors
For people with color vision deficiency (also called color blindness), color contrast can be the difference between a presentation that is easy to follow and one that is completely illegible.
According to WCAG Success Criterion (SC) 1.4.3: Contrast (Minimum), the visual presentation of text and images of text must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5 to 1. That ratio drops to 3 to 1 for large text, which WCAG defines as 18pt and larger, or 14pt and larger if it is bold.
However, it’s important to remember that slide decks are not always viewed in full screen, so the visual presentation of your slides might be smaller — and you should adjust your minimum contrast accordingly.
As you create your presentation, be sure to actively test the contrast ratio of each slide, because it’s not always obvious which color combinations have low contrast. For example, white text on a plain red background (which is used by many of the largest brands in the world) has a contrast ratio of just 3.99 to 1. That means it only conforms to WCAG if it’s used with large or bold fonts.
- Use a free color contrast checker to test the contrast of your slide text and any visual aids, such as charts or graphs.
- Check your slides for visual aids that use color alone to convey information. For people who are color blind, it can be hard to tell the difference between red and green (colors commonly used to indicate pass/fail, yes/no, etc.)
10. Invest in High-Quality Audio
This feels like one of those tips that should go without saying. Of course you want audio that’s crisp, clear, and free of background noise! However, it’s especially important for webinars.
For people with hearing impairments, poor audio quality can be a major distraction. Many people with deafness still have some level of hearing. People with hearing loss tend to be able to hear better — whether they’re using hearing aids or not — when there is minimal background noise getting in the way of what they want to hear.
In the run-up to your event, make sure you focus on audio quality — and remind each presenter to speak slowly and clearly!
- Ask each presenter to use a good-quality handset or headset.
- Ask each presenter to find a quiet room free of background noise, from other people to air conditions, heaters, and cell phone notifications. As an added bonus, this will also help transcribers hear the audio better and write more accurate transcriptions.
- Run a sound check on every presenter 15 minutes before the webinar starts, so you have time to resolve any audio issues.
“Be careful to only have one person speak at a time. This avoids overloading people with too much audio, and makes captioning clearer.”
– Charles Hiser, A11iance Advocate
11. Hit Pause on Animations
For people with disabilities, animation can make for a distracting, uncomfortable, or outright intolerable experience. In fact, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) include a number of success criteria related to the use of animation.
As a general rule, we recommend avoiding animation unless it is essential to the understanding of a slide (for example, to show progress on a slide or demonstrate product functionality). And if you do include an animation, avoid having it loop.
And no matter what, stay away from flickering lights and intense motion, which can cause seizures or lead some users to experience distraction or nausea.
12. Record Your Webinars
I always encourage people to record webinars for several reasons. Not only does it let you repurpose it as a sales asset or piece of marketing collateral, but it also lets attendees go back and listen to parts of the presentation that they might have missed the first time.
Most webinar platforms offer recording options, or you can use a third-party screen recording tool if you’d prefer to handle it independently.
Get More Accessibility Best Practices
There are many other considerations for the accessibility of digital content. For tips on everything from websites to video and PDF documents, check out AudioEye’s Comprehensive Guide to Accessible Design.
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