Accessibility: Get ahead of the trend

This news might come as a surprise, but a good number of the people gathered to hear your carefully crafted speech or presentation are missing the point -- and a lot of other information besides. That’s because roughly 40 percent of Canadians are dealing with at least one disability at any time, some of which make it difficult for them to see, hear, follow or process your words and ideas.

So, how is that your problem? Well, once again, the answer might surprise you. The way you design and deliver a talk can determine whether you reach all of your audience or leave some of them out of the conversation.

Canada leads the world in accessibility legislation and innovation. The evidence is everywhere. Automatic doors, wheelchair ramps and Braille imprints on elevator buttons are now commonplace in public and private buildings alike. However, accessibility isn’t just a matter of making it easier for people with physical disabilities to get around. It also involves designing information and communications tools for a wide range of users.

The way we think about accessible design today is much the same as the way we viewed “green” activities a decade ago says David Berman, an expert on sustainable design. “Back then, green bins were not a common sight. Today they’ve gone from being on the fringe to being in the mainstream. Accessibility will follow the same route. And the changes will come about very rapidly.”

A good number of those changes will end up benefiting everyone David says. "Many of the technological advances we take for granted actually started out as aids to help people overcome disabilities. The telephone, microphone, speech synthesizer and even email were all originally designed to deal with the extremes and eventually migrated to mainstream use.”

So, move ahead of the trend by thinking about accessibility next time you prepare a speech or presentation. The following tips will give you a start.

• When planning an event - Ask people to self-identify disabilities and use this information to accommodate them. If, for example, some registrants indicate they suffer from hearing loss, reserve seats for them where the sound level is best and make sure to use a microphone.
• During your talk - Use simple conversational language. Research shows that comprehension drops as sentences get longer and more complex.
• During the Q&A session - Always repeat the question, or paraphrase it, then answer (especially if the questioner didn’t have the benefit of a microphone).
• When using visuals - Headline each slide with a complete thought that encapsulates the point you want to make. Favour images, charts and graphics over words, and design graphics using shape and size as well as colour to distinguish objects. Favour sans serif (no curlicue) typefaces such as Arial and Helvetica and choose a large font size for body text e.g. 30 pt.
• When producing handouts - Use size, shape and (in the absence of colour) patterns to distinguish objects. Keep sentences short, succinct and make sure they branch right. (A right-branching sentence begins with the main clause, with the subject and verb as close together as possible, then, follows with descriptive clauses.)