Posters & Talks: Can you read me now?

Originally posted on March 12, 2018. You can find the original post here

I recently returned from an awesome SPSP in Atlanta. I had an excellent time catching up with colleagues and returning to a city were I lived in undergrad. Overall, it was a great conference this year; however, I was reminded about one big issue that I have with conferences as a whole: accessibility to presentations and posters.

During the presidential symposium, I saw a tweet that asked SPSP to standardize font sizes for presentations. I completely agree, although I can understand that practically, a rule would be challenging as some people recycle or adapt from old presentations. However, this issue is not a new one for me.

I am legally blind (i.e., my vision is 20/200 non-corrective), and it is a condition (Stargardt disease) that I have been dealing with since I was 13. I have trouble seeing things far away (especially text), and I often have to hold up “normal” 12 pt. text very close to my face to read it. I can comfortably read text at 18 or 20 pt. font. During symposia, seeing conference presentations from the audience (especially if I have to slip in in the back mid-session) can be a challenge. Typically, I can listen along, so it isn’t as problematic as a poster session.

Poster sessions can be a nightmare for me. Sometimes I just want to skim the titles of posters, but I have a hard time doing this most of the time due to low contrast or small font of titles. This year, I used the SPSP app to try to find posters on topics that I’m interested in, but even then, I missed quite a few that I ended up discovering mid-session. Most of the time, people put a TON of text on their posters and use too tiny font for me to read it without blocking the whole poster from everyone else. Ultimately, this means that I have to ask the presenter to give me a quick overview of their work, and people have varying skills to discuss their work in a pithy way (and admittedly, I may want to ask questions or get into a discussion, too). Yet if I am in a session that has a lot of posters that I want to see, I won’t have enough time to have talks with everyone. I love posters, but I always have a hard time with them, too.

So here are a few thoughts for presenters to consider to help me (and other people like me) out in the future. And who knows? These tips might be helpful for people who aren’t visually impaired, too.

Symposia presenters:

  1. Try not to use anything less than 18 pt. font. My last conference talk had 22 pt. font, which seemed to work well. For some results, I went up to 24 pt. font. My main exception is that parenthetical references can be in a smaller font, but even that was 18 pt. font. The SPSP template for presenters had 28 pt. font as the main text for some slides (and 16 pt. for a few others). That template is nice, but I am sure that some presenters modified it or used their own templates throughout the conference and did not stick to those font sizes.

  2. After talking to someone after a presentation, he mentioned that his advisor recommended that he use more photos and less text. People are going to listen to you and don’t need the text to follow along all the time. I’m not perfect on this one either, but sometimes less text and more pictures can be more engaging.

  3. Be mindful of text sizes in figures. This can be a challenge sometimes, especially if the image is copied straight from a paper (I had this issue recently, too). If the text is small in these figures, try to make it easy for the audience to follow along, or add arrows or key indicators to help people see your point.

  4. Avoid putting up a huge correlation matrix on one slide, please. Or any giant table of results, especially in teeny tiny font. If it is absolutely necessary, highlight the main results to make it easy to read. But sometimes, the best bet is to break it up across slides if you can.

  5. If you have a giant SEM/path model, be mindful of size. I am not going to read a path if you put the values in 8 pt. font. I often do abridged SEM models for the purposes of a presentation (and people can just assume my error terms are there).

  6. Be mindful of color choices. Many years ago, a presenter put black text on a navy background, and it was simply impossible for me to read, no matter the font size. See link in poster section #4 below for more information.

Poster presenters:

  1. Use larger font than you think is necessary. For my SPSP poster, I used 30 pt. font for my main text (and part of me considered whether that was enough). My title was 96 pt. font. My poster was 42 x 48 inches in size, but I still think the font rules apply regardless of poster size.

  2. Use less text. I am far from perfect on this one. I try to make it an outline of points to follow along. I like to think of posters as a starting point for a conversation, so everything does not have to be on there.

  3. If everything doesn’t fit, make it into a handout or something you have in addition to your poster. My recent SPSP poster had extra figures that I kept with me in a folder on the side that I included as needed in a conversation.

  4. Think of your color scheme. Some places use various color schemes, but high contrast colors can be helpful. White text on a black or dark background is easier for me to read (at a minimum, consider high contrast for your title). Also be mindful that certain colors are hard for people who are color blind. This website has a good reference for thinking about this issue.

  5. Use bolding to highlight key words. Bolded text is generally easier for me to read. Underling can help, too. Italics, to me, just makes things more difficult to read.

  6. Try to double-check the resolution of your poster. While cloth posters are great, I noticed that some of them were more challenging to read while at the conference.

For everyone: Upload your conference presentation or poster online (e.g., use the Open Science Framework or OSF). Digital versions are fantastic. I can zoom in all I need to in the PDF version of a poster or talk, so this is a great way to make things more accessible. For SPSP 2018, you can upload your poster or talk here.

I hope that this post was helpful. I just wanted to provide some advice on accessibility to consider the next time that you present.