4 bite-sized insights into making our coaching materials more accessible

Have you ever thought about how accessible your slides and other coaching materials are?

I have to admit I’ve been as guilty as anyone else of being blithely unaware of how inaccessible most resources are for those living with a variety of conditions. From low vision to being hard of hearing, from having motor or physical disabilities to living with dyslexia or being on the autistic spectrum – there are a whole host of people out there whose needs are not normally considered when learning and other resources are being designed. Most coaches live and breathe to help other people find ways of overcoming challenges they face or dig deep to become even better than they already are. Yet, we may not spend even a few moments considering how easy it can be to make our materials accessible to all.

Cartoon man and blank slide showI’ve had the good fortune to benefit from a CPD session on this subject delivered by two specialists in accessible design. Emma Pearson is Learning Developer (Inclusive Practice) at The University of Manchester in the UK, and she teamed up with her colleague Carlene Barton (e-Learning Technologist) to produce an eye-opening set of insights which revolutionised the way I view the whole issue of accessibility. You’ll be glad to know that they were kind enough to make a recording to accompany the slides of their session after the event for the benefit of anyone who wasn’t there on the day. You can take a look at it here. Remember to click on the CC icon in the bottom right hand corner of the screen to see the subtitles!

What follows is my top  4  takeaways from the session, which I’m sharing with you so you can start to make your resources more accessible too.

1. Creating accessible materials benefits everyone, not just those with special needs

If asked to think about the matter for the first time, some people might feel that taking steps to make slides and other materials accessible to all could in some way be inconvenient, making the job of preparation harder and more time consuming. Others might suspect that it would mean everyone who doesn’t have special needs would of necessity have to learn how to use new and strange materials. Rest assured that neither of these assumptions is correct. In fact, the opposite is true.

The main takeaway for me was that understanding the basics of accessibility means we can design materials and services that work better for and benefit everyone, whether they have a special need or they don’t.

2. Small adjustments make a big difference

The small but significant changes good practice recommends result in clearer materials that are easier to understand for all. Emma and Carlene discussed various types of modifications, tips and tricks which make life simpler for a number of users with particular needs. A handout on designing for accessibility was circulated comprising posters prepared by the UK Government Digital Service. Here are links to the posters for you take a look, each listing design do’s and don’ts relating to particular categories *:

3. Advice for producing accessible slides

Checklist boxes plus handMany of us deliver presentations using slides, and I have to say that the phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’ is widely used to describe the all-too-common experience of how inaccessible such presentations are, even for those who don’t have special needs. The advice Emma and Carlene gave on this score resonated with me particularly, because it was of value in making presentations more approachable for everyone clamouring for better PowerPoint slide design – including me! Here is their advice, taken from their ‘Checklist for accessible slides’:


  • Use large font size, 22- 26pt  with a larger size for the slide heading
  • Use a sans-serif font, for example Arial, Tahoma, or Verdana
  • Use dark text on a pale background, for example pale cream or pastel colours
  • Keep text left-aligned
  • To emphasise a word, use bold, rather than underlining or italicising it

Images and videos

  • Make sure images are clear, high quality and relevant to the point you are making
  • When using pictures, photographs or diagrams, use alternative text (alt text) to describe the image for people with low vision (see how to do this below)
  • Avoid patterned backgrounds behind text as it can be distracting and unclear
  • Position smaller images alongside text rather than behind it. When using a large image as the background, use a textbox to position text clearly
  • Use subtitles or transcripts when playing videos

Language and layout

  • Whatever language you’re using on your slides (English, French, Spanish etc etc), make the words plain and simple, and avoid ambiguous language
  • Keep slides clear, simple and uncrowded
  • Explain processes with step-by-step diagrams or numbered bullet points

How to add  alt text  to a slide or document

  1. Right click on the image
  2. Select ‘Format Picture’
  3. Select ‘Alt Text’
  4. Add your title and brief clear description of the image


4. Example of a document modified to reflect accessibility best practice

PDF iconKeen to put into practise some of this excellent advice, I was determined to modify one of the documents I’d uploaded to my blog for the use of readers – ‘The Spectrum of Coaching Skills’. In collaboration with Carlene, I produced something which I believe is much easier to read, follow and absorb than the one I originally designed. Click on the PDF icon to take a look for yourself at what we came up with. You can check out the original here. Which do you think is easier to read?

The improved design features to look for are:

  • Keeping any diagrams below the title
  • The use of a gradient on the arrow to indicate the changes in the spectrum of skills and how some behaviour is associated more with one end of the spectrum than the other. The use of colour in the gradient further indicates this relationship (keeping to dark shades for contrast), and it’s also reflected in the accompanying text
  • Keeping to the alignment style throughout, with most things being aligned to the left. This helps the reader see the order at a glance
  • Remembering that if a coloured background is used and text is not sitting over a diagram, text boxes do not need to be filled. This can indicate that text boxes are separate, but on this particular document they form part of the same model

So there are my 4 bite-sized insights into making our coaching materials more accessible! I hope they inspire you to look into this subject too…

*The UK Government Digital Service produced the handout ‘Designing for accessibility’ under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. For more information on accessibility in the UK, they recommend emailing:  access@digital.homeoffice.gov.uk

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