Create accessible presentations and documents

Date of publication

Yes, you can also ensure accessibility for documents and presentations. The principles that have already been described here for HTML apply here.

The question of "why?"

Let me take you on a mental journey. Imagine you see nothing and you find yourself at a barcamp, for example. Don't worry. We'll leave aside the points of getting to the event rooms and finding your way in the maze of people. So you have arrived at the talk you want to follow without any accidents. The speaker has thrown some slides on the wall to support his presentation, which the audience can use for orientation. All you can do is listen extremely attentively. Depending on your speaking style and concentration, this is possible. But you will always miss something.

At the moment we all can't attend events on site. However, this has not only disadvantages. For example, in BigBlueButton it is now possible for me to read the presentation in real time during a lecture, just like sighted participants. But this only works if a few basic rules are followed. The good news is that many of them can be implemented without much effort. And you can also make your presentations or documents searchable. But more on that later. Let's start at the beginning:

Structure

Whether it's a document or a presentation, both need a coherent structure. A text reads better if it is divided into paragraphs. You'll find what you're looking for even faster if topic blocks are introduced with appropriate headings. As a sighted person, you orient yourself to the formatting.

You can use exactly this orientation option to make your documents accessible. For example, instead of simply increasing the font size in LibreOffice Writer, you can use paragraph formatting to highlight headings so that they look nice and are also recognizable as such for screen readers. You'll even have to click less. Less work for you and more clarity for me. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Images

Images can be tagged with an image description just like in HTML. Using LibreOffice Writer as an example, I explain how to do this:

  • Inserts an image into a document.
  • Double-click on the inserted image to open the image properties.
  • Under the "Options" tab you will find several text fields.
  • In the field "Alternative text" you enter the image description.
  • With the button "ok" the input is confirmed.

I was recently asked about the fact that people like to use handwritten presentations and that this is probably not accessible. Yes, it can. As long as the presentation is made in advance, you can export the individual pages or presentation slides as graphic files and paste them into a new presentation or document. Once you have done this, you can add alternative texts as described above. The alternative texts will of course correspond one-to-one to what can be read on the respective image. This way you have the aesthetic effect of the handwritten presentation - and I can still read it with my screen reader.

Watch when exporting

If the following two things are followed, a lot is already done:

  • Work with headings where this makes sense
  • Provide images with image descriptions.

Now all that remains is to save the presentation or document. And already it can be included, for example, at BigBlueButton as a presentation.

When saving as PDF, there is an option in LibreOffice called "Universal Accessibility (PDF/UA)". This must be selected for the PDF file to be accessible. Afterwards you will see a list of possible errors like missing image descriptions. Please use this list to correct any errors. If you do not see this list? Then you have already done everything right and I congratulate you on the successfully created, accessible PDF file.

As always, the same applies here: If you think about these steps from the beginning, they will cost less time and effort. A small change in workflow can make a huge difference.

The Positive Side Effect

As a bonus, documents and presentations become searchable. If you've made your presentation available and at some point someone searches for a keyword you've handwritten in it, they'll find your remarks in the search results. This can potentially lead to new orders.

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DeepL is a deep learning company that develops AI systems for languages. The company, based in Cologne, Germany, was founded in 2009 as Linguee, and introduced the first internet search engine for translations. Linguee has answered over 10 billion queries from more than 1 billion users.

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Dennis Westphal

Dennis is an IT consultant at the Company for the Development of Things. His field is accessibility. Helpfully, Dennis has been blind since birth. He creates his screencasts with open source software.