Persons practicing in assistive technology are often asked to present information at poster sessions. Accessibility of poster sessions currently equates to the physical presence of the author during the display of a printed poster. This paper considers multiple audio solutions to making printed posters more accessible. Although a range of technology is discussed, many options consist of using off-the-shelf or consumer-friendly technology. Making printed posters more accessible benefits all involved: conference attendees with accessibility needs, poster designers expanding their accessibility skills, students learning to create professional products, and people accessing distance learning platforms.
Accessibility, posters, distance learning
Persons practicing in assistive technology are often requested to present information at professional conferences. Although sessions have different names, typically there are two formats: platform and poster. A platform session has a lecture-type format that frequently includes presentation software projected as a sequence of electronic slides. For a poster session, the presenter is provided a large board to display a printed poster, assigned set-up and dismantling periods, and scheduled a time to be available for short individual presentations.
At conferences, accessibility of presentations is dependent on the availability of the presenters. With multi-slide presentation software and a corresponding lecture, a platform session has both visual and auditory components. A standard poster session, however, is visual unless the author is available to provide the auditory component. Although poster sessions have evolved in appearance over two decades, accessibility for persons with disabilities has not changed: accessibility equals the physical presence of the author. One conference provides an accessibility reminder to make certain that potential authors know they must be physically present during assigned times for poster sessions (1, p. 5).
Students graduate from most professional training programs having completed several platform-type sessions. But since many national professional conferences have moved from platform to poster sessions because of increased interactivity, students need to learn skills inherent in the design and delivery of poster presentations (2). In addition, students taking online professional courses may face additional challenges of delivering poster sessions on distance learning platforms (3).
The objective is to consider solutions in making printed posters more accessible.
Requiring the author to be present at a scheduled time is the current method of addressing accessibility concerns of the traditional printed poster session at a professional conference. An author, therefore, is usually available only during a small percentage of time the printed poster is exhibited. This method has multiple accessibility concerns. The primary concern is related to persons who have difficulty accessing visual information. Without the author present, visual poster information is not available. Another concern involves missing any interactions exhibited by the poster (such as sounds or actions) if the author is not present. A third concern typically happens during poster presentations: multiple conference participants approach the author simultaneously, but only catch components of the author’s explanation or ask the same questions answered moments earlier. A fourth concern, another typical conference occurrence, is having the author available later for new questions or additional verbal exchange.
A better idea is to make the printed poster session stand alone for anyone to view, at any time. Certainly, the author, if available, can provide explanation as requested. Some conference participants, however, wish to view posters at their leisure. Accommodating attendees, regardless of their individual needs, abilities, or learning styles can be relatively easy. Conference participants most likely to benefit from solutions to make printed poster information accessible at any time are individuals with visual disabilities. For a printed poster presented at a professional conference, with a total exhibit time consisting of hours or days, it may make more sense to use an inexpensive or low tech solution. If the printed poster is exhibited for much longer periods of time, a more complex or high tech/higher cost solution might be economically justified. In either situation, application of off-the-shelf or consumer-friendly technology can make printed posters more accessible.
A common solution in making visual information more accessible is to create either haptic (i.e., touch or tactile sensation) or audio representations of the text and/or graphics. This paper provides audio solutions. For audio solutions, making a text file may be the first step. Screen-reading technology (audio out) used to access information projected on a computer screen can be used by a poster author to capture printed poster information in a text file. The text file would then be converted to an audio file. When creating the audio file, an author should consider adding stereo or other sounds that enhance understanding and learning presented in a printed poster along with any descriptions of the graphics presented.
There are several audio file formats, but a simple “wav” or “mp3” file will probably be sufficient and keep costs low. The audio file should be created with natural “human” voice, at a speed understandable by the general population rather than a speeded-up version, such as those used in screen reader software packages. All of the following ideas are possible ways of delivering an audio file to attendees:
Other options include using an interactive white board or tactile graphics tablet used for the poster board backdrop. Fully touch-sensitive, an interactive white board could easily “play” an audio file for each area “touched” on the printed poster. Interactive white board, interactive “overlay” for white boards, or even a tactile graphics tablet could be used as the poster board or placed over the poster board backdrop. Each of these technologies offer full touch-sensitive capabilities, allowing attendees opportunities to “play and listen” to audio associated with the text as touched in different areas of a poster.
Some of the commercial “system” solutions include Talking Signs (5) or Touch Graphics Ping! (6). Talking Signs uses an infrared transmitter that directly beams audio information a user can receive and interpret using a battery-powered low cost receiver. Touch Graphics Ping!, while still being developed, uses a wireless network of audio that can be received on a standard consumer cell phone. For more permanent poster displays, many of the ideas already applied in museums (7) across the country would certainly be appropriate for consideration, but are beyond the scope of this paper.
In part, solutions to making posters more accessible already exist. Reasons why solutions have not been implemented probably vary, but include costs. Many of the solutions presented here are not difficult or costly to implement. For example, some faculty and students create multimedia presentations and podcasts for distance learning platforms. Aggregating each person’s presentation podcast to a conference website would not add significant cost, but would provide increased accessibility and educate authors in the art of creating “meaningful” audio descriptions of their graphic information, a skill which is continually in demand for talking books, distant education, internet web sites, and captioned/described movies.
Likewise, many of the sound player options available are inexpensive to purchase or are already in hands of consumers. Most people have cell phones, mp3 players, or cell phones capable of playing mp3 files. The optimal situation is to find ways to use technology the attendee already owns, is familiar with, and understands. As cell phones continue to advance in capabilities [e.g., see the latest offering from Apple (8)], there are probably going to be even more solutions to these types of accessibility issues.
Of course, one way to avoid accessibility concerns with printed posters is to eliminate the poster session as a conference format option. The authors of this paper do not believe this is a viable solution. Posters are invaluable for interactivity, networking, and moving professions forward.
This paper provides possibilities for making printed posters more accessible, but does not address a typical occurrence at conferences: the attendee has new questions for the author or wishes additional exchange of information. Again, using technology that currently exists is a practical option. A question could simply be transmitted to the poster author using text messaging or using an internet relay chat (IRC) system, both of which might be more responsive to the timeliness of the question when the author is not available.
Making printed posters more accessible would benefit all involved: conference attendees with accessibility needs, poster designers expanding their accessibility skills, students learning to create professional products, and people accessing distance learning platforms. The authors hope this paper will open dialog about possibilities available to improve accessibility of printed posters delivered in a variety of settings.
Aimee J. Luebben, EdD, OTR, FAOTA
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712-3534
Mark Novak, PE
National AgrAbility Project
Biological Systems Engineering Department
460 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706
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