Research can be hard to access for people with disabilities, even with recent tools such as screen-readers and auto-captioning. Luckily, it has never been easier to make your work more accessible for a wide audience.
Below are a few resources to increase the accessibility of your presentations, articles, and images. This list is not exhaustive, and I did not create any of these resources and can’t guarantee their accuracy, but they have been useful for my own research. You probably spent many hours on your most recent article or presentation, why not spend five minutes making it easy to access to anyone who is interested?
If you have any other resources or suggestions related to accessibility in general or of my work specifically (I’m sure there are plenty of ways I can still make my own work easier to access), please feel free to email me.
Presentations, talks, and webconferences
- Microphones: Something like 15% of U.S. adults report some amount of hearing loss. Microphones don’t just make your voice louder, they make it easier to distinguish from background noise, and audible in an entire room.
- Link: Here is a website with simulations of how even mild hearing loss can make it very difficult to understand un-amplified speech.
- Captions and auto-captions: If you are recording a talk in advance, using videos in your slides, or using certain meeting and presentation software suites, you can often create captions, or have them automatically generated for you.
- Link: Here is information from Microsoft about subtitles and captioning in Powerpoint, and here is something similar for Google Slides.
- Link: Zoom now offers free auto-generated captions for all web-conference users.
- Larger fonts: The default font sizes for slides and documents are often very small. See this page from Microsoft for some useful guidelines on font sizes and other tips to make your Powerpoint presentations more accessible. Changing font sizes in plots is slightly more involved or at least requires more forethought; see the next section.
Articles, website pages, and text documents
- Section headers: One way to make documents easier to access for visually-impaired readers is to make sure your articles and other text-based documents have hierarchical section headers, so they work better with screen-reading technology. In text editors like Microsoft Word and Google Docs, headers are easy to add to do by changing the “style” of your text. For web publishing, you can set styles in a similar way with a commercial website CMS like WordPress, or manually using CSS.
- Link: The University of Minnesota has a nice guide to using headings in all kinds of text documents.
- Link: If you create HTML documents in Markdown (for example, output of R scripts), the R Markdown Cookbook has a nice page on accessibility.
- Equations as text: Some researchers insert mathematical equations in documents as images, rather than editable, highlightable text. Screen readers usually won’t be able to read those images aloud unless you manually include alt-text for each one (more on that below). If you’re using Microsoft Word, it’s easier to just write your equations in the built-in equation editor.
- Link: Some detailed tips on best practices for accessible equations from the University of Bath.
- Link: Here some suggestions that may be helpful for LaTeX documents from Lancaster University.
- OCR for scanned documents: If you are using scanned pages of a book or an old article, for example to assign to a class as a reading, try to run it through optical character recognition software first. There are many free tools to use OCR online.
- Link: You can also use OCR in Adobe Acrobat.
Plots, data visualizations, and other images
- Alt text: One way to make images more accessible for readers who are visually impaired is to add “alt-text”; a description of the image contents that is included with the file itself.
- Link: For example, here is a guide to how to include alt-text on images you post on Twitter.
- Larger fonts in plots: If you create plots as images, and then paste them into your slides and documents, you will probably have to set the text size when you create the images. This sometimes requires a little bit of trial and error, but will make your figures much easier to read, especially at a glance.
- Link: Here is a guide to changing font-sizes in ggplot2 in R (these days I just add “theme_classic(base_size=16)” to every plot I create, which makes the text a lot bigger than the default size).
- Colorblind-friendly palettes: Researchers often use distinct color schemes to make plots eye-catching and easy to parse. Some color combinations are hard for colorblind viewers to distinguish, but it can be hard to tell if you are not colorblind yourself. Luckily, there are now a lot of colorblind-friendly palettes you can use in your own plots with little effort.
- Link: The viridis color maps for R look nice and are colorblind-friendly. There is a matplotlib version for python users available online too.
- Link: Viz Palette: This web tool tries to give you a sense of how easy or hard to tell apart your color palette is for people with various kinds of colorblindness.
- Link: Here is a guide with some useful illustrations of less and more effective approaches to plot data in a colorblind-friendly way, including relying on things like shape and textures instead of colors alone.
Other links and resources
- Microsoft now offers an Accessibility Checker to automatically check documents, spreadsheets, slides, and even emails for potential accessibility issues before you share them.