At the Event

Design presentations and programs for an audience with diverse access needs using the following best practices:

eight symbols of accessibility span the page - wheelchair, captions, assistive listening device, braille, asl, audio description, person with a navigation cane, large print

Presentations and Printed Materials

  • Ensure your presentation is accessible (whether Powerpoint or Word Document or PDF)
  • Verbally describe visual materials to the audience such as slides, charts, etc for guests in the audience who may have low vision.
  • Videos used during the presentation should be captioned in advance for guests who may be deaf or hard of hearing. If the video is not captioned, sign language interpreters or real-time captionists may be needed for access to video content of the event.
  • If requested, print and/or digital materials should be made available in alternative formats. (For example, someone who is blind or has low vision may request an audio file, Braille, large print, etc.)
  • Post printed materials electronically, if possible, for reference after the event.

Create an Accessible PowerPoint

  • Use a sans serif font (i.e. Arial or Calibri)
  • Use a large font size -- at least 22 point
  • Use a good contrast - a dark font on a light background
  • Provide “alternative text” descriptions for all images, pictures, graphics, tables, etc
  • Text on a slide should have nothing behind it that obstructs viewing (no watermarks or images)


  • Control background noise to the greatest extent possible.
  • Microphones should be used by all speakers and attendees. 
  • Repeat questions posted by the audience before responding, especially if there is not a roving microphone available. Presenters or audience members may express confidence that they are loud enough and do not need a microphone. Regardless, ask them to speak into one to ensure accessibility.

*Portable Sound System Available for Loan*

Through our assistive technology lab, University Disability Resources has a portable sound system available for loan at no cost that can be used anywhere on Harvard’s campus.  The system consists of:

  • 2 speakers
  • 2 speaker stands
  • 1 wireless microphone
  • 1 microphone stand (compatible only with the 1 wireless microphone)
  • 2 wired microphones
  • 1 lapel microphone pack
  • 1 assistive listening system

The equipment is available for pick-up at our office in the Smith Campus Center and is packaged in storage tubs with a dolly for easy transport.  For additional information or to schedule an appointment, please email or call 617-495-1859.


Tips for using Microphones

Microphone use for meetings and events

Microphones are a great way to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard at a meeting or event. Sometimes it can feel awkward or even unnecessary to use one. However, it is important to use microphones to be sure that your meeting or event is inclusive and allows everyone to participate in the conversation.

Why use microphones?

  • Hearing loss is an invisible disability, and you won’t be able to tell who can hear and cannot hear.
  • Microphones provide amplification to the important sound - the person who is speaking. People with hearing loss sometimes have difficulty hearing the important sounds over other noises in the room or other people speaking.
  • Using microphones encourages turn-taking, which makes it easier to hear if people are speaking one at a time. It also identifies the speaker to the individual with a hearing impairment.
  • Individuals who use hearing aids may be connected to the audio system via bluetooth or other technology, which may not be apparent, since most of this technology is wireless. The technology can only provide these benefits if the microphones are used.
  • The speakers connected to the microphones offer a range of sound that is usually multi-directional and fills the room. It is a much different sound experience than someone just trying to speak loudly in a room, which is unidirectional.
  • Avoiding microphones or stating things like “I’ll just speak louder” is a form of exclusion and prevents those with hearing loss from being a part of the conversation.

Please take the time to use the microphone and wait until a microphone is passed to you before starting to speak. This sends the message that everyone in the room is a valued member of the conversation!

Handheld Microphones

  • Many people tend to get quieter when talking into a microphone. Maintain a full, normal speaking voice when using a microphone.
  • Hold the microphone no closer than the width of two fingers (about two inches) away from the mouth. The microphone is designed to capture a voice that flows over or across it, not into it, so if used too close to the mouth, the microphone will amplify every breath, click and hiss of words said.
  • Conversely, keeping the mic too far away from the mouth will result in not being heard. Keep the microphone no further away than the width of your hand (about 6 inches).
  • Hold the microphone at a 45 degree angle for perfect placement. Holding it too low will result in being unheard, while holding it too close may block the face.

Lapel Microphones

  • Lavaliere, or “lapel” microphones, work best when clipped to clothing and placed 8 to 10 inches below the chin - ideally, in the center. If presenting and using a PowerPoint, fasten the mic slightly towards the side where the slides will be shown, since presenters will be looking at the slides from time to time while speaking. If the mic is placed too high, it will create hot and cold spots when the head is turned. One good rule of thumb is to imagine a shape of the letter "V" coming up from microphone. Speaking within this “V” area should be heard clearly.
  • Make sure buttons, material, jewelry, and strands of hair are well out of the way. Remember that each small rustle will be amplified and transmitted with movement.


What to Know about Effective Communication

The primary types of effective communication access includes the use of:

  • Sign Language Interpreters
    • Provide reserved seating in the front of the event for the participant who has requested sign language interpretation. 
    • Sign language interpreters should be situated in the front of the room proximate to the speaker and within the sight line of the Deaf attendee so that both the interpreter and speaker can be viewed simultaneously.
    • A spotlight should be on the interpreter if the lighting in the room is dimmed.
    • Provide an advance copy of presentation materials so that the interpreter will be well prepared to sign any specialized vocabulary and names.
  • Communication Access in Real Time (CART)
    • CART reporters will require some space for equipment set-up.
    • Reporters using projection equipment should be situated in close proximity to the projection unit.
    • Provide an advance copy of presentation materials to the CART reporter to prepare him/her for any specialized vocabulary and names used in presentation.
  • Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs):
    • If ALDs will be used during the event, the speaker must use the transmitter and the listener must use the receiver.
    • Test ALDs in advance of the event.

Food Allergies

  • Clearly indicate allergens and gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or other options on any food served.

Service Animals

  • Under the ADA, organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. Therefore, Service Animals accompanying visitors to campus are permitted access and visitors do not have to formally notify the campus of the animal’s presence.