When preparing a presentation, I usually avoid putting a lot of text and then read the slides. To me, the best presentation contains very good figures with presenter explaining them, and not reading what is already written. Thus, I prefer using little to no text and use only figures if possible.

While I was helping a group of collegues for their project presentation, they mentioned that there is a visually impaired student in the classroom. Although I encouraged them to present the topic using figures and drawings (the topic was very suitable for this), I wonder now whether it is the best practice.

Moreover, I realized that this might also be the case during a conference talk, for which we do not have the prior knowledge of the presence of a visually impaired person.

So, my question is for the ones who have visual disability, who know such people, or who had similar experience. What is the best way to prepare a presentation? What to think and what not to overthink?

  • 1
    Just to clarify: are you asking if a lot of text would be better?
    – user64845
    Nov 1, 2017 at 15:58
  • 1
    @DSVA No, it would not make a lot of change. But when we use figures, unintentionally, we describe the figure using words like "as you see here, green area represents X" etc.
    – padawan
    Nov 1, 2017 at 16:01
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    @FedericoPoloni Blind means no eyesight. Visually impaired means little to none. Not trying to be politically correct, but I just wanted to cover a larger set.
    – padawan
    Nov 1, 2017 at 16:02
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    @padawan "unintentionally, we describe the figure" of course we do, if we could explain it without the figure (in a reasonable way) we wouldn't need the figure in the first place. I guess it depends a lot on the subject but at least in my field (organic/computational chemistry) we cannot get around using a lot of figures. In this case I doubt I it's possible to present it in a way that would allow such people to follow the talk and still have a good presentation.
    – user64845
    Nov 1, 2017 at 16:31
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    A colleague of mine has a visual impairment and encouraged us to ask him for feedback on our slides to check if they're easily readable for him. So, why not ask the student in question if your slides are ok for them to see/ read/ understand? Nov 1, 2017 at 18:26

6 Answers 6


From conversations with my wife, who is blind, you don't want to overthink this too much. Most of the things you can do to help the visually impaired will help everyone in the audience.

For starters, I'd suggest sending out the slide deck beforehand if at all possible, since this helps everyone be prepared. You should also make sure any figures have some sort of caption or title on them with a brief description of what's being shown. This will help anyone using a screen-reader to follow along.

The major thing that will help is making sure that you're giving general descriptions of the charts and figures, as well as the takeaway from those figures. This is good practice in general, since it ensures that your audience understands what you're trying to show with a figure and is invaluable to someone with low vision because it allows them to better understand the information being presented.

The true goal is to ensure that someone with only an audio recording of your presentation, no slides at all, can follow along to a reasonable extent. A couple of things may be missed, but the overall meaning should be apparent.

  • 3
    Yes you should give a general discription of figures but that doesn't mean that this is enough to follow along without seeing the figure. Figures are used because it either wouldn't be possible to present without them or it makes it much easier. Especially in chemistry for example it doesn't help to know what's in the figure if you cannot see the figure.
    – user64845
    Nov 1, 2017 at 22:00
  • +1 for send out in advance; offering to provide (large-)printed copies may also be helpful
    – Chris H
    Nov 1, 2017 at 22:03
  • It should still be possible to give enough of a description or overview of the figure that the overall meaning should be apparent, if not the details. If you can't give an overall reason why a figure is in the presentation, then it probably shouldn't be in the presentation at all. Figures may be used to show proof or give depth and detail, but words can still be used to convey what is being proven.
    – jhyatt
    Nov 1, 2017 at 22:07

From experience with someone who is visually impaired (but not blind): don't worry and go ahead as usual. Ask the visually impaired person what works best for them, if that is feasible. The person might want to use his/her own computer to look at your presentation, sit aside with at a special screen, or whatever works for them. One thing that would help in many cases is to use the mouse pointer instead of a laser pointer, since the former would be visible on the extra screen.


Figures and drawings with little text is best practice for presentations generally. Audiences can't really listen AND read full sentences at the same time, so you only want to use text in the form of signs and labels. The rest of the content should be either in your talk or in a handout available after the presentation (so they're not distracted by it during the presentation).

As for accommodating impairment, for colorblindness specifically check out this article: http://stephanieevergreen.com/handling-colorblindness/ (Stephanie Evergreen is an expert on presentations in general and I highly recommend reading more of her material)

Most other impairments are either near impossible to account for, or the person with the impairment will accommodate themselves because they have to for everything else anyway.

One caveat is when you have a regular attendee with an impairment that's specifically asked for help being accommodated. In such a case try to get a good understanding of what they specifically can and can't see and do your best from there. I don't think I'd go to the extent of running all my slides by them, but if you understand the disability well enough you shouldn't need to anyway.


Where I am, when a student asks for an official accommodation via Student Services the instructor is given exact details for what the student needs based on the types of materials used. I put all of my stuff in our course management system, I've had several visually impaired students and they asked for nothing extra - just the utilities on the computer to zoom text etc sufficed.

Most academic institutions and school boards will have some sort of "disability resources" office/person whose job is to make sure any accommodation is provided per the ADA or other relevant law (Americans With Disabilities Act - similar legislation applies in other countries)

If you are presenting in a situation where that isn't typical (open lecture, conference, etc) then I would provide some way for folks to get your slides online at the start of your presentation, so they can use whatever technology they have to access it in a manner that fits their needs as you give your presentation. Provide both a short URL for users to manually enter and a QR code or other commonly used scannable "pointer".


One approach is to read out precisely what is on the slides, word-by-word, image-by-image (with explanation) and prepare the slides accordingly. I'm not saying I'd welcome it in general, since it typically sounds really monotonous to the nonimpaired. But, if you do wish to get the message accross to the visually impaired listeners exactly, it is a good idea.

Another approach — again, assuming you do care about the visually impaired a lot — is to prepare a single, long HTML file instead of PDF slides and scroll it during your presentation. At least HTML 4.01 allows for nice gimmicks for the visually impaired, taking Braille devices and screen readers into consideration. HTML is definitely superior to PDF in this regard: e.g., when I look at text extractors for PDF or at optical character recognition tools, their low quality can make me cry.

Yet a third approach is to use as few visuals as possible. This requires good preparation on the side of the speaker. In general, this approach is the best one assuming it fits your contents. (Don't mention a talk on image processing here.)

(In general, if you don't know whether there will be visually impared listeners or not, you may ask about it in advance. Upon getting a positive answer, ask what they can/cannot read. This has been emphasized in the other answers a lot; I'm not going into details here.)


This is a partial answer, adding something I didn't see in the other answers.

Be careful not to pack each slide too densely. A typical slide layout shouldn't have more than approximately five lines of text. If it has more, then split it up.

This will push you to choose nice, big fonts.

This fits in with what @jhyatt wrote, "Most of the things you can do to help the visually impaired will help everyone in the audience." Overly dense slides aren't fun for anyone.

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