Can You See What I See?


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Can You See What I See?


We, as presenters, frequently subscribe to the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But, what if your audience cannot see the picture? Are your visuals as effective as you imagine them to be? When creating and preparing your presentations, do you consider the visual limitations of your audience? If not, you could be guilty of unintentional discrimination.


Section 508 of the American Disabilities Act was enacted to combat unintentional discrimination. Section 508 requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. We, as members of a civilized society, have a responsibility to avoid discriminatory practices and Section 508 makes it a law for federal agencies and employees. Presentations are the acts of making something publicly available, presenting information by broadcasting or printing. Presentations can and should be accessible regardless of limitations.


You are nearly certain to have an audience member with some type of visual limitation, even if you aren’t aware of it. Many types of visual limitations do not require special assistance and therefore, will never be mentioned by your audience. For example, you’ve created a wonderful winter holiday presentation using a green background and red text. Unfortunately for you, a member of your audience has red/green color vision deficiency. Consequently, the slides look blank to him or her. Did you know they were colorblind?  No. Will they remember (and share) your unintentional slight? Probably.


A few simple guidelines will help you create the visuals your really want to share with all members of your audience.


  1. Colors and Design
    Your first consideration should be the color and contrast of your presentation. Color blindness (color vision deficiency) is a condition in which certain colors cannot be distinguished. Red/Green color blindness is the most common form and causes problems in distinguishing reds and greens. Another color deficiency Blue/Yellow is rare. Color blindness seems to occur in about 8% - 12% of males of European origin and about one-half of 1% of females. Total color blindness (seeing in only shades of gray) is extremely rare. There is no treatment for color blindness, nor is it usually the cause of any significant disability. However, it can be very frustrating for individuals affected by it.  For more information about color vision deficiency visit:


  1. Titles and Text
    Fonts should be large and easy to read. Avoid serif fonts such as Times New Roman. Serif fonts look great on paper, but are difficult to read on a large screen. Instead, stay with sans serif fonts such Arial and Tahoma. I highly recommend “Slides That Win” available at: This CD provides a wealth of guidance on creating high quality presentations.


  1. Images
    Images should be large enough to be seen. If the image is integral to the presentation, be prepared to audio describe visual elements of the slides.


  1. Projection Equipment
    Make sure everyone can see your presentation. Screens should be large enough to be seen clearly from the back of the room. Projection equipment should display the presentation with sufficient color contrast. Projection equipment should avoid screen flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz. Screen flicker can trigger seizures in some persons.


  1. Audience Demographics
    How old/young is your audience? Eyes over forty may not see your presentation as well as 20 year old eyes. Actively seek to make accommodations for audience members with special needs. Be prepared to provide a text only version of your presentation.


  1. Look Beyond the Screen
    View your slides “with new eyes.” Ask yourself, is there any way this slide can be interpreted differently than what I intend? Does this visual or sound still make sense if I can’t see the slide?


This article has touched on only a few issues regarding live presentations and visual limitations. It is not a definitive guide for creating accessible presentations. Additional limitations to consider are hearing, mobility, cognitive and language. The main purpose of this article is to increase awareness of an audience diversity that you may have overlooked. I hope to provide future articles on tools and utilities for distributing accessible presentations and authoring for accessibility. In the meantime, you can find additional information about accessibility at the following sites:


Equal Access to Software and Information:
Section 508 Awareness Training:
Web Accessibility In Mind:


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