Presentation hints to help participants who don’t have perfect vision

Eye glasses with clear plastic frames sitting on laptop
Following a few minor best practices drastically improves the experience not only for people with vision loss but also those who are neurodiverse.

I’ve worn eyeglasses since I was 12. A 9-inch growth spurt in twelve months left me with severe astigmatism. This was compounded by the standard vision deterioration that most people experience in their 40s. I then shifted to using bifocals, but my vision loss got worse when I developed glaucoma a few years later. A couple of years after that, I ended up having five eye surgeries in the span of 16 days to get the glaucoma and subsequent cataracts I had developed under control. Don’t even get me started on the fact that I am additionally a type 1 diabetic and a long-time user of Plaquenil, with a very high probability of developing macular degeneration according to genetic testing.

I have so many high-risk factors for vision loss it is ludicrous.

I feel that I am quite lucky to have the level of vision I have today.

Moving over to an all-zoom environment has been difficult for people with any level of vision loss. I’ve had days with more than a dozen 30-minute back-to-back conference calls. Inevitably on days like that, I end up doing a lot of squinting followed by developing an atrocious headache partway through the day that further impedes my ability to understand the technical minutia in subsequent meetings. Caffeine and ibuprofen have been my friend when this happens, but that can’t solve it all. Additionally, this is not a good long-term idea since those two substances can cause other health issues.

Here are a few best practices to follow to help me and others like me participate equally in all meetings.

Send out presentation materials in advance.

When presenters do this, I can download them prior to the meeting and magnify them locally without having to ask in front of an entire group, “can you make that bigger?”

Put URLs in the chat window.

When presenters do this, I can load the page locally and magnify it to the detail I need to consume the information and not get a headache. Again, without having to interrupt the call to request that stuff be made larger, which may impede the presentation.

Don’t embed text in images.

When presenters use images with embedded text, the text is no longer text. The text is now pixels. Pixels “pixelate” (surprise!), which is a fancy term that means get blurry when you magnify the screen. Pixelation makes text harder to read, which again triggers headaches and slower comprehension.

Don’t use low contrast or neon color combinations, especially with text.

Presenters should avoid using any combination of:

  1. Silver (grey below 40 % saturation for you color nerds) on a light background
  2. White text in combination with any pastel color
  3. Yellow and white on anything
  4. Neon colored text/background combinations

The reasons include:

  • Low contrast, even with magnification, is ridiculously hard to read.
  • Neon color combinations for some autistic individuals can be equally difficult to consume.

You might presume that the optimal text color combination is black and white. Research shows this is wrong. Off-white (think: cream or ivory) on a dark background (charcoal or navy blue) or even the bumblebee combination of yellow and black are actually much more inclusive. For people who nerd out on dyslexia or color theory, read this research paper for more details.

Stick with simple, sans-serif fonts with a decent font size

Serif or overly ornate fonts make things much more difficult to read. Use 24 or even 28 points as your starting size when you can.

Don’t use italics for emphasis.

Bold or underline or changing the color (or any combination of those three) is much easier for people with disbilities to pick up and read.

Red/Green color-blind proof your presentations

Anywhere that presenters use:

  • Red with dark colors
  • Green with dark colors
  • Red and green together

Screenshot the slide or webpage, dump it into Coblis, and do both a red-blind and green-blind simulation.

If the resulting simulated contrast is not good, you can’t use those colors, no matter how awesome it looks to you.

I work in tech, where 6.5 % of the audience is colorblind. There is nothing preventing people who are color blind from also having other vision issues.

Keep the motion to a minimum.

Motion, when magnified, can transition from a cute small animation to something that completely consumes the screen and can trigger motion sickness and migraines.

Avoid using optical illusions or parallax

Same reasons as minimizing motions.

  • Optical illusions (especially black and white ones) can create a condition called pseudoflashing that can cause migraines and in extreme cases, epileptic seizures.
  • Parallax causes the same sense of motion that triggers motion sickness as other more overt forms of motion.

When these basic best practices are not followed, this leads to restrictions in participation and performance by people with even small levels of vision loss.

Don’t be the barrier.

Be the solution.