Real-time captioning is another
request that can be made by deaf
audience members. Such requests are
typically satisfied by using a professional
captionist, who in real time creates
a written transcript of what is said.
The transcript could be broadcast
on a screen for everyone to see, or on
an individual’s laptop display. In the
not-too-distant future, automated
or crowdsourced speech-to-text may
replace professional captionists.
Regardless of how real-time captioning
is done, it is important to note that a
deaf audience member can focus on
only one thing at a time: the captions,
the speaker, or the slides. Again, there
is a slight delay in transforming speech
to text. This means that the same
principles applicable to sign-language
translation also apply to real-time
Telepresence robots may be requested
by members who wish to remotely
attend a conference. Most often, a Beam
telepresence robot is used; the attendee
can personalize the robot to wear a
badge and other accessories. With
the robot, the attendee can navigate
the conference and participate in the
audience. The person may be following
along with slides on their own computer.
Speak clearly and somewhat slowly so
this kind of attendee can follow along.
Advance materials may be requested
by blind or low-vision audience
members. A speaker may be asked to
provide an advance copy of the talk
in an accessible format. Fortunately,
PowerPoint and some other systems
support accessibility such as alternative
text for images. The notes section of
each slide can be used to provide textual
descriptions as well. In the future, it
may be possible for the slides to be
automatically described rather than
having the author add annotations
in the notes section. Sign-language
interpreters and captionists can
also benefit by having copies of the
presentation slides ahead of time.
Here is a short list of practical
suggestions for giving an accessible talk:
• Minimize the amount of text on slides.
This should help keep the focus of the
audience on what you are saying. As
soon as the slide appears, announce
it, then pause for a few seconds to let
people read it before saying anything.
This will allow deaf people and
everyone else in the audience to read the
slide before you start talking. Repeat
the text on the slide to make sure blind
people in the audience know what is on
• Minimize the number of visuals on
slides. Again, this should help keep the
focus of the audience on what you are
saying. Each image should be described
so that blind people in the audience will
know what is there. Graphs and charts
should be described and summarized.
DOI: 10.1145/3085564 © 2017 ACM 1072-5520/17/07 $15.00
Here is a short list of resources that may be valuable in preparing your talk and your paper:
• Cavender, A., Trewin, S., and Hanson, V. SIGACCESS Accessible Writing Guide; http://
• Trewin, T. SIGACCESS Accessible Conference Guide; http://www.sigaccess.org/
• Foster, S., Long, G., and Snell, K. Inclusive instruction and learning for deaf students in
postsecondary education. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 4, 3 (1999), 225–235.
• Foster, S., Long, G., Ferrari, J., and Snell, K. Providing access for deaf students in a
technical university in the United States: Perspectives of teachers and instructors. In
Educating Deaf Students: Global Perspectives. D. Power, G. Leigh, eds. Gallaudet Univ.
Press, Washington, D.C., 2004, 185–195.
• Foster, S. and Holcomb, T. Hearing-impaired students: A student-teacher-class
partnership. In Special Educational Needs Review: Volume 3. N. Jones, ed. Falmer Press,
London, 1990, 57–82.
• Holcomb, T. and Foster, S. Communication in mainstream classrooms: A matter of
courtesy. Perspectives in Education and Deafness 11, 2 (1992), 10–11.
• Burgstahler, S. Universal design: Implications for computing education. Trans. Comput.
Educ. 11, 3 (Oct. 2011), Article 19, Page 7.
• Supalo, C. Techniques to enhance instructors' teaching effectiveness with chemistry
students who are blind or visually impaired. Journal of Chemical Education 82, 10 (2005), 1513.
• Minimize the number of slides. No
one wants to be shot with a fire hose
while trying to understand your talk.
• Keep graphics simple. No one wants
to read a complicated graphic when
there are only a few important facts
about it. Save the complicated graphic
for the paper.
• Use high contrast and take care
with colors. Audience members with
low vision or color blindness will
• Avoid or control the speed of
animations so they can be described fully.
This will help people who cannot see
the animation clearly. All audience
members will appreciate an animation
that moves slowly and is explained.
• Make sure that videos are captioned
and audio described. Sometimes it is
good to give a brief description of what
is in the video before it is played. This
will help blind audience members to
establish context for what they will
• Make sure the Q&A period is
accessible. This is helpful if the speaker
or audience members cannot easily see
who is asking a question, or if audience
members are sitting toward the back of
the room, or if the room is large. If there
is a microphone for questioners, make
sure they use it. Otherwise, repeat the
questions so everyone can hear them.
If a member of the audience is using a
telepresence robot, make sure they have
the opportunity to ask a question.
The preparation of this article was
supported in part by National Science
Foundation grant number CNS-1539179.
Richard E. Ladner is professor emeritus
in computer science and engineering at
the University of Washington. His research
interests are in HCI with an emphasis on
accessibility for people with disabilities. He
also leads AccessComputing, an NSF-funded
alliance to increase the participation of people
with disabilities in computing fields.
Kyle Rector is an assistant professor of
computer science at the University of Iowa. She
has research interests in human-computer
interaction and accessibility. She is specifically
interested in developing eyes-free technologies
that enhance quality of life, including exercise
and art technologies for people who are blind
or low vision.
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