Highlights and takeaways from #24NTC

Notebook with colorful stickers (doughnut, rose, logo, 24NTC powered by NTEN) and a bookmark about "Planning welcoming and inclusive projects" with 10 strategies: 1. Determine your
inclusivity metrics, set
goals, and track success
to start. 2. Made for you 3. Create safer
spaces 4. Virtual
accessibility is
the new normal 5. Access,
access, access. 6. Plan for
multiple ways
for people to
process and
participate. 7. People are
more than data. 8. Name the
power dynamics
and account for
impact. 9. Stay flexible
and pivot. 10. Name the
labor and
celebrate
successes.
While I don’t pick up much swag when flying internationally, I do always love stickers, and small things like this bookmark courtesy of Big Duck from their great presentation about inclusive project management.

There are still many things I am processing from NTEN’s 2024 Nonprofit Technology Conference (and all the wonderful, expansive conversations I had before, during, and after). However, writing is a good way to process learning and reflect on things so, here we go…

As I walked into the Oregon Convention Center to pick up my badge, there were signs of the ways in which NTEN is intentional about supporting the community (e.g., local vendors from the craft market) and making sure the conference is inclusive and supports us humans attending as our full selves (e.g., designated spaces for lactation and prayer and racial affinity, a table at lunchtime for those fasting for Ramadan).

Hallway that shows 3 rooms with signs outside of them: prayer and meditation room, lactation room, racial affinity lounge

While I unfortunately missed Sabrina Hersi Issa’s keynote (and am hoping I can watch a recording later), the other two keynotes really shifted the lens for me, even in topics that I thought I knew a little something about.

Though I’ve been mulling for a while on the dominance of English online, in academia, and generally in traveling the world (even though I benefit from it daily), Anasuya Gupta (Whose Knowledge?) somehow managed to elucidate the depth and vastness of this – tracing its roots back to colonization and somehow, lest we feel overwhelmed, also sharing very tactical ways we might go about decolonizing the internet. I am still mulling over her questions:

  • Whose internet?
  • Whose knowledge?
  • Who owns and controls the infrastructure?
  • Whose structures and classifications? (e.g., in structured data)
  • Who and what is invisible?
  • Whom do we learn from, listen to, cite, and speak of?

(See my sketchnotes of Anasuya Gupta’s talk on “The Internets of Liberation”)

Actually, invisibility tied into Amber Case’s keynote as well, which made the case for calm technology – and for invisible technology, which allows you to focus on the task rather than the tool. For example, a window is invisible technology. Mind already blown. How did I not see that before?! (Pun not originally intended but now I feel compelled to leave it in there.) And bananas – their peels change color to indicate when they’re become ripe and when they’re going bad. It made me feel hopeful that we’re not doomed to drown in the proliferation of noxious features and products clamoring for our attention—that feels like the water we are currently swimming in. While I am uncertain if a seal of approval is a strong enough incentive, it was a good reminder that all design is governance, and I will be thinking about how to apply the clear, compelling, and practical principles of calm technology that Case has laid out.

(See my sketchnotes of Amber Case’s talk on “An Introduction to Calm Technology”)

On the theme of what’s visible/invisible and who controls what, The Glass Room had an exhibit about the journeys of the personal data that countless companies extract from us each day. The one about “The Real Life of Your Selfie” particularly stuck out as throughout my trip, I’d been through (at that point) 4 different airports 5 times within 6 days and I’d had my face scanned multiple times by both airlines and government agencies. Do I have the knowledge and privilege to say no? Yes. Did I have the energy resources to refuse after many hours of travel through multiple time zones and after having been jostled repeatedly by passengers who had shown they were capable of navigating around trashcans but not me, an actual human? Not really.

Poster of The Real Life of the Selfie showing and listing examples of the data that can be extracted from the picture of face and the ways in which it can be used

This year, I gave a talk on “Strategic Team Meetings for Teams of One.” True to the laws of technology, I ran into some technology issues at the start of my presentation. However, NTEN being the community that it is, I had three people jump out to help me trouble shoot (in front of a room full of people, no less). People even got up to help close door to the noisy hallway. And that’s not even including the friends and acquaintances who picked me up beforehand, when I expressed my nervousness, and during, when I was trying not to panic that I couldn’t actually show my slides to the audience. (Thank you, Brian, Adrienne, and Alexa for your help to fix that!)

Janice stands, speaking and gesturing with her hands, while standing next to a large screen with a slide about a Meeting with a partner activity. The first row of tables appears empty.
My dad’s initial comment when I sent him this picture per his request: “It looks like you’re speaking to an empty room, Janice.” I promise there were people! I also promise that my dad is actually very supportive of me even though it is very on brand that this would be the first thing he blurts out. (Thanks for the photo, Mark!)

If you missed my session, I also got the opportunity to talk about the topic on the Nonprofit Radio podcast, so stay tuned for when that episode comes out!

There is never enough time to talk with all of the people you want to nor attend all of the interesting sessions—and it wasn’t made easier by having 3 workshops for my coaching training that were overlapping with the conference. (But, oh, were they three transformative sessions!)

Here are some other highlights and things I’ll be continuing to think about (in no particular order):

  • Getting to meet many people in person whom I’d only ever spoken with online before
  • Catching up with old friends and meeting new ones – including someone else form Queens!
  • Mark Root-Wiley’s workshop on “DIY Accessibility Testing” – Every person who is responsible for a website should go through this, truly. It was very easy to do and very eye opening. If you’re attending the Washington State Nonprofit Conference in May, he’ll be presenting that workshop there!
  • Bettina Sferrino, Dani Faulkner, and Tristan Penn’s thoughtfully put together fireside chat on “Things We Wish Our White Colleagues Knew” (I have since shared these notes with a number of people not at the conference but whom I’ve had similar conversations with)
  • The way in which conference attendees challenged each other and made valid points while upholding community values in several specific conversations that could have easily turned into complaining or pre-decided arguments – windows rather than mirrors
  • A great session on proactive accountability and an intriguing session on sociocratic decision making
  • Brianna Collins’s amazing framing of being each other’s professional wingwomen – may each of you have someone like Brianna in your life! (But also, if you need a visual storyteller to help you communicate the change you’re making at your nonprofit, reach out to Brianna!)
  • A session that reminded me that language justice is not only about thinking about access for non-English speakers, but also for Limited English Proficient communities, access for D/deaf and hard of hearing communities, and access for Blind and visually impaired communities
  • The deliciousness I had while in Portland, OR, at Tusk, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Portland Cà Phê, GrindWitTryz, and Kachka
  • Stumbling across cherry trees in bloom at a riverside park – and someone I knew, making for a lovely walking catchup amidst the beautiful scenery
As seen from above, a park along the river with a winding path lined with blooming cherry trees, a bright blue sky and a bridge in the distance

A few things I’ve learned about creating accessible slides

Apologies if you came here expecting that I was a playground designer, although there are people who make accessible play areas!

View seated for a conference talk in a room set up with tables and chairs and printed materials on the tables. At the front of the room is a glowing projector screen with a blank screen. No one else appears to be in the room.
Are you typically creating slides that you’ll present online? In person? (This photo was taken before someone else’s presentation at a conference several years ago.)

There is no perfect way to make things 100% accessible to everyone because people are different. I state that upfront as a reminder to myself as much as to anyone else that this work is not perfect, that it is messy, and that none of this should stop us from working to make things more accessible to more people right now.* I do not and I am not going to get everything right. I’m sure I’ve failed on a lot of these points in previous slide decks and I will continue to make mistakes. None of these tips are foolproof, and this list is not exhaustive. Perhaps you’ll read it and say you knew all these things already—and that you have some things to teach me! (Which would be great! Please do.) But, hey, maybe some of this will be new to some people. So, I will continue on with my imperfect notes on how I’ve been trying to make my slides more accessible.

Some of these things I learned from the speaker guide for NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, some from a class in graduate school on making information accessible (taught by the awesome Dr. Renee Hill!), some from independent learning about accessibility, and some things by trial and error.

The context of this post is creating slides that I’m preparing to present, such as for a conference talk, as opposed to other purposes. Although I may sometimes mention things related to presenting, the focus will be on the slides themselves. I most often use PowerPoint, so I mention some specific things in the version of the program I have, so if you have a more recent version or use something else for creating slides, those functions might be called something else or work a little differently.

Here are some things I’ve been learning and working at incorporating in my slides:

  • Always check the template (and any other colored elements you are choosing) to ensure you have sufficient color contrast. Unfortunately, those default templates are not necessarily accessible – even when they are labeled as such. You’ll want to check things like the color contrast for people who are colorblind or have low vision. If you like to create your own templates, start with a color palette that has sufficient contrast. Of note, color contrast is not only about the colors, but sometimes about the size and font weight. Black text on a white background will work at any legible size, but certain color combinations that are readable at font size 40 will not be readable by everyone at a font size 20. While it’s not perfect, if your combination doesn’t work if printed in grayscale, you should probably adjust the color palette.
  • Make sure every slide has a title. Occasionally, I will not use the template title area, or because I am not using a template, it is unclear which text is the title of the slide. While it might be obvious to a sighted person, it’s important to make sure someone using a screen reader would be able to use titles to help navigate through the slides. In PowerPoint, if you turn on “Check accessibility,” an Accessibility tab will be added to the ribbon at the top. You use the button for setting the slide title to set a specific text box to be the slide title.
  • Include an agenda and let people know what point in the presentation they’re at. This is more of a presentation tip, but it’s helpful to orient people to what’s going to be covered and to give people a sense of where they are in the agenda. This can be especially helpful for people with cognitive or learning disabilities, but it’s helpful to everyone. I usually include a slide with a numbered list of the topics or sections, and then each section starts with a section header slide that references the section number and where we are in the presentation. (If it’s hard for me to break it out this way, then it probably means the presentation needs some further organization.)
Slide that shows the section header: "1 / 5 What is service design?" followed by some footer information with the name of the presentation and the presenter
In this example of a section header slide, the title of the section, “What is service design?” follows “1 / 5” to indicate that this is the first of five sections in the presentation.
  • Use a font size of at least 18, but preferably larger! Using a larger font size also prevents you from putting too much text per slide, as slide are intended to be presented. If you truly need to write that much, you are writing a report! Or at least an article or blog post. They’re fine formats, but they are formats that meant to be read at your own pace instead of at the speed at which someone is giving a presentation.
  • IF YOU WRITE IN ALL CAPITALIZED LETTERS FOR VERY LONG PORTIONS OF TEXT, THIS IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR EVERYONE TO READ. That took you an extra moment to read and comprehend, didn’t it?
  • Leave the bottom 20% of the slide blank so that captions won’t cover up any content. Occasionally you might be presenting within a platform where the captions are not on top of the slides, but if you’re not sure, the bottom is often where captions are placed on a screen. (Unsure if there will be captions? Ask! It doesn’t matter whether you personally need them. Other speakers and attendees might, and they shouldn’t have to ask.)
  • Include alternative text for images, videos, diagrams, and other visual elements that are relevant. Avoid text in images; simply use the text. (This is inaccessible both to people using screen readers and to people using translation software or other text-based tools.) For videos, you’ll need to consider both captions and video descriptions (a description of what is happening visually) so that the content is accessible to audience members who are blind or D/deaf. You can mark decorative images as decorative and skip the alt text, although it’s worth asking the question of what those images are adding to your presentation.
  • Plan to describe the images verbally if they’re relevant. Okay this isn’t about the slides, but during the presentation, make sure you verbally describe the visual elements that you created alternative text for. Or if you are demonstrating something live, then describe what you’re doing – like if you were on a cooking show.
    • Speaker descriptions: Some people say the speakers should describe themselves, and others say this isn’t really useful information. Within the blind community, there are a lot of differing opinions on speaker descriptions. Unless I’m asked to describe myself visually, I tend to use the guideline of whether it is relevant. If the topic is related to career development, then the fact that I am an Asian American woman in my mid-30s is relevant. If I am talking about working remotely, then it makes sense to reference my surroundings. If I am showing people how to create diagrams, then a description of my visual appearance and what sighted people can see in my background feels performative rather than adding anything to an understanding of the topic.
  • Review the order of object order on your slides. If someone is using a device like a screen reader, you’ll want them to go through everything on your slides in the correct order. An easy way to test this is to use the Tab key to tab through each object (title, text box, image, etc.) on each slide. You can usually right click to move an object forward or backward. (Reading order starts in the back and moves forward to end in the front.)

My process for creating slides

Sometimes it’s difficult to take a collection of tips and figure out how to apply them in practice. My process for creating slides and presentations may be different from yours, but here’s a rough summary of my current process:

  1. Draft learning objectives, usually as a document.
  2. Use the learning objectives to draft an outline, usually in the same document.
  3. Start a new slide file and pick a template.
  4. Check that the template color contrast is sufficient. (Turn on accessibility checker to help me with this if it’s available.)
  5. Edit the template if needed.
  6. Start building out the content in the slides – usually putting the bullet points from the outline as the temporary slide titles.
  7. Work on developing the text and the speaking points in whatever order I can get it to come out in. Usually I put in placeholders for visuals that I need, but also sometimes information that I need to go find. I typically turn off or ignore the accessibility checker during this part.
  8. Lots of iterating, editing, filling in those placeholders, refining speaking points.
  9. Once the visual elements are finalized, I write alternative text. (I usually turn the accessibility back on at this point because it helps me tick off images that need alt text.)
  10. If I forgot to describe something in the speaking points, then I incorporate the description of visuals.
  11. Review and address any other accessibility issues that come up – with the exception of slide order, which I leave until last in case I need to make other changes.
  12. Go through the presentation as a whole, both the slides and practicing the speaking, to make sure everything works together as a whole (and within the allotted time).
  13. Check the slide order by tabbing through each object on each slide and adjusting the object order as needed.
  14. If there’s a method for making the slides available to attendees ahead of the presentation (so they can review as needed, at their own pace, using the appropriate tools, ahead of time), then I do that.

What else? I’m open to learning how to do things better! Email me and let me know if you learned anything new from this post, have suggestions, or what your process looks like for creating slides.

*While there’s no such thing as perfect accessibility, there is indeed possibility to do things that make the situation worse. For example, using an accessibility overlay on your website often makes a website less accessible than say, if you had forgotten to put alt text for images. (Okay, that’s not great, but at least it doesn’t break the other parts of your website.) Better to keep things simple, and to keep working at making your website more accessible.