Guidelines for an Accessible Presentation

The Disability Research Interest Group (a Special Interest Group of the Society for Medical Anthropology) encourages presenters at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meetings to abide by common accessibility guidelines. Similar guidelines have been adopted by other organizations as standard policy. We ask that you review this document and make your presentation and roundtable events as accessible as possible.

2018 is the first year that the AAA will send out a link to the guidelines along with notification of panel and paper acceptance (in mid-summer 2018). In 2017, the guidelines were posted and referred to in the “Know Before You Go” email sent to conference participants in advance of the AAA Yearly Meeting.

Embodied capacities for vision, hearing, and sustained interaction in large crowds vary between people, and wax and wane for each of us from hour to hour and over the course of our lives. Maximizing the accessibility of our presentations furthers our professional work. It helps our work reach a wide academic audience, which furthers the core goals of scholarly exchange. You will not always know when another member of the audience is hard of hearing or has a vision impairment. Thus it is best practice to follow the guidelines even if you think you know everyone in the room as nondisabled.

Your talk:

  • Participants should bring 2-3 copies of their presentations, even in draft form, for the use of members who wish or need to follow a written text.
  • At least one of these  “access copies” should be in large print, size 17 font or larger.
  • Feel free to add a disclaimer: “Please do not distribute without the expressed permission of the author” with your name and contact information. You can also ask people to return these print copies at the end of your talk.
  • Alternatively, you can put the text on a website for people to access from their devices. This can use a unique and private link, and has the added benefit that readers can chose their own text size. You can take down the link after the conference.
  • Note that providing an alternative presentation model is appreciated by people for many reasons, including language fluency, learning style, and personal preference.

Is your powerpoint accessible?:

  • Use a high contrast powerpoint. Try to use a sans-serif font, such as Arial, and maintain a large font size (17 size font or higher).
  • Avoid using too much text on a single slide.
  • Is there visual information on your slide? Describe all images – do not assume that your audience can see ANY of the images. If an image is decorative, say so very briefly (see this guide for examples). Include information about:
    • Content
    • Aesthetics and style
    • Connection to the main ideas of your talk

Roundtables & Q & A:

  • All speakers should use a mic at all times. Audience members asking questions should use a mic, or a mic user should restate any questions asked without amplification.
  • As with presentations, if an ASL interpreter is present, it is best practice to check if the interpreter has finished interpreting before proceeding.

If there is an ASL interpreter present:

  • ASL interpreters sign in American Sign Language, which has its own grammatical structure. When interpreting academic English, interpreters often spell out proper nouns or jargon terms letter-by-letter, which takes longer than speaking.
  • As such, when you are presenting a text that is being interpreted into ASL, it is best practice to pause slightly to allow the interpreter to convey names, place names, or jargon terms.
  • Address comments / questions to the scholar themselves, rather than to their interpreter.

General Access Guidelines:

  • Minimize perfume and even lightly perfumed personal hygiene products. Opt for scent-free products instead.
  • Allow dry-cleaned clothing to air out before wearing.
  • Refrain from eating high-allergen snacks in closed and public spaces (e.g. peanuts or snacks with peanuts).
  • Panel organizers or panel chairs reading introductions should check in with co-panelists in advance about pronunciation of names, pronouns, and access needs.

Links to accessible presentation policies and guidelines for other organizations:

American Sociological Association:

Modern Language Association:


SfAA (based on the same original draft as these guidelines):


These Guidlines were provided by SMA’s Disability Research Interest Group, for further information please contact Michele Friendner at