ASSETS 2019 Accessible Posters and Demos Report

Martez E. Mott, Microsoft Research,
Kristen Shinohara, RochesterInstitute of Technology,


The ASSETS conference is a leading HCI venue committed to making computing accessible for people with disabilities. Increasingly, the venue itself has become more accessible as the ASSETS community strives for improvement. For example, the conference provides ASL interpreters and live captioning, and the ASSETS community strongly emphasizes the importance of accessible papers and presentations. However, posters and demos have rarely been accessible to attendees who are blind or low vision. As Posters and Demos co-chairs for ASSETS 2019, Accessibility co-chair Dhruv Jain reached out to us with an idea to make the poster and demo sessions more accessible to blind and low vision conference attendees. Following Dhruv’s lead, we added audio summaries and alt-text descriptions to the posters and demos web pages for the conference. Attendees could go to the ASSETS 2019 website, find each poster or demo title, and access a short 1-2 minute audio clip describing the poster and alt-text for imagery that appeared on the poster. In this article, we summarize our approach to making poster and demo sessions more accessible, provide some informal feedback from conference attendees about their experiences, and offer suggestions for future Poster chairs to make their poster sessions more accessible.

1. What We Did

Our goal was to make information about posters available to attendees who were blind or low vision, as they typically do not have access to the visual content of posters presented during the conference. We collected audio descriptions of posters and demos from presenters and posted them on the ASSETS 2019 website, which allowed attendees to follow posters in the room and access the audio content online.

1.1 Announce the requirement on the CfP

We updated the call for participation for posters and demos to indicate that audio descriptions would be required for presentation at the conference:

NEW* In addition, to make posters accessible to blind and low vision attendees, we are requiring authors to prepare a short audio speech file describing the content of their physical posters.

1.2 Provide Audio File Instruction and Coordinate Collection

After the review process concluded, we informed authors about expectations for the audio files along with their acceptance notices to give them adequate time to prepare their audio files alongside their posters. We described how long audio files should be and what information they should contain:

This file along with its text transcript should be uploaded to a Google form, link forthcoming, before Friday, Oct 25, 2019, 11:59PM PDT. The recording should be a maximum of 2 mins in length, in .mp4 or .m4a format, under 15MB, and contain:

We coordinated with ASSETS 2019 Web Chair, Anhong Guo, for how to collect the files and how to display them on the website. Our solution was a Google Drive folder where authors uploaded their audio files.

1.3 Coordinate Across other Poster Venues

Authors of papers in the Posters and Demos track are not the only attendees who present posters at ASSETS. Authors in the Student Research Competition and the Doctoral Consortium tracks, along with Travel Scholarship recipients, also present posters at the conference. Because posters from these various tracks are presented during the same sessions, we coordinated with the chairs of these tracks so they could inform their presenters about how to create and submit their audio files.

1.4 Collect Audio Files and Post Online

The week prior to the conference, we confirmed submission of audio files with authors and coordinated with Anhong to have them uploaded to the conference website alongside each poster (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
    Screenshot of poster information as shown on the website:
    Poster-5 Unlocking Accessible Escape Rooms
    Rachel Menzies  ACM DL (link) audio widget player transcript of audio file (followed by the transcript)
    Alt Text of Poster Images (followed by alt-text)
Figure 1. A screenshot of poster number, title, presenter, link to the ACM Digital Library publication, audio player, transcript and then alt-text. Anhong arranged for each poster/demo to be expandable to reveal the additional meta-data when clicked, saving space on the website.

1.5 Arrange Poster Presentation

Because poster information was presented online in an ordered fashion (we decided to list posters numerically according to their submission number, or author name if from a track like the Doctoral Consortium that did not have submission numbers), we wanted the layout of the posters on the floor to match what was presented online. Once we knew the layout of the room where posters were to be presented, we arranged the posters so that their physical location was aligned with the order in which they were displayed online. The floor arrangement included posters from the Posters and Demos track, as well as posters from Student Research Competition, Doctoral Consortium and Travel Scholarship presenters.

1.6 During the Conference

We had a poster session each day (two total, with sessions held twice per day during the coffee breaks), with the demo session on the last day of the conference. Each day we arranged the posters to match their order online. We arranged demos based on presenters’ needs (for example, if a demo required power we placed the demo near a power outlet). Although demos were not presented in numerical order, we made sure the order online matched the order on the floor. 

We announced the physical layout of the room and the numerical ordering of the posters to conference attendees prior to the first two poster sessions. We also provided a brief description of how posters were arranged to help with navigation.

2. Feedback

Authors responded positively to our initiative, as almost all authors submitted an audio file to accompany their poster information on the website. We also received positive feedback from conference attendees on this first attempt to make the posters and demos sessions more accessible. We are glad that this effort shows that it is possible to improve the accessibility of poster and demo sessions, and we hope this information helps future poster and demo chairs. We informally sought feedback from conference attendees, and we offer our own reflections on what we would do differently.

2.1 Audio Content and Access

Response to the access to audio content was positive as attendees appreciated being able to browse through the posters that were presented and to plan which posters they wanted to visit. Suggestions to improve the audio descriptions included making them available earlier (we posted some audio files online as late as the day of the poster session), and publicizing the availability of the audio content to attendees broadly before the conference.

2.2 Arrangement and Room Layout

We attempted to align the poster arrangement in the room to match the order they appeared online. In theory, one could start at the first poster and follow along with the audio online. We received positive feedback about matching the order to what was presented online and received suggestions for improving this feature in the future regarding communicating the information and arranging the room:

  1. We only verbally announced the room layout and poster arrangement on the first two days, and this information could easily be misunderstood, forgotten, or misinterpreted due to the complicated layout of the floorplan (the poster room had multiple entrances, so there was no clear language to orient a starting point). For example, one attendee stated, “The room layout description was good, but I needed a tactile map. I had a hard time anchoring the description somewhere but think I could have followed the described path if I understood the starting point.”
  2. Although we tried to arrange the room consistently (same starting point everyday) and we tried to communicate the flow, navigation was still difficult due to a number of factors including few goalposts to enable people to navigate other people, posters, food, or vendors independently, “even if you know the layout, it is really, really hard to know where one poster ends, and another begins. Especially with all of the noise and crowds around some posters, it is harder to localize conversations which can help draw those boundaries.” To address this, attendees suggested tactile maps, line-belts (such as used in TSA queues), dedicated student volunteers to direct foot traffic, and different floor arrangements of the posters themselves, “I (and a few other people who are blind) were not able to navigate the area independently. I don’t know if this would be possible space wise, but could we have posters arranged in a single shape e.g. a single circle instead of going back and forth?”

In hindsight, we could have prepared earlier to understand the room layout, and we could have done a better job aligning the physical layout of the posters with their presentation online. For example, it would have been more informative to describe where rows of posters ended and began on the webpage and to have an anchoring landmark in the room. However, we did not coordinate information about the room layout until quite late and could not facilitate directional information until the day-of, when posters were physically being arranged. To publicize the information ahead of time more effectively, it would be necessary to coordinate physical space and presenter arrangement to align with the online presentation early in the planning process.

3. Accessible Poster Session Suggestions

We learned a lot about what was useful and what we might have done differently. We offer our suggestions based on our experiences for others who might be organizing poster sessions at future conferences.

3.1 Coordinate

Local Chairs and Program Chair. Find out the physical layout of the room as early as possible and work with the local chairs or the program chair to find out how else the room might be used. Will refreshments be set up? Or vendors? Will it include wide walkways? What about other indicators for direction or navigation? For example, how many entrances will there be and from which direction will conference attendees likely enter the room?

Accessibility Chair. Find out if attendees or presenters have other requirements or needs that should be considered in layout.

Other Poster Tracks. Coordinate early with chairs from other tracks who might also have attendees presenting posters. Share with them information for creating audio files and where to submit them. Prepare to coordinate more than just the presenters in the Posters and Demos track.

Web Chair. Work closely with the web chair from early on about how to collect files, what file requirements they might have, how the information will be posted online (and make sure that it is accessible also). What really worked well for us was that the web chair was extremely responsive up to and during the conference.

3.2 Plan

Program. Be sure to post requirements for the audio files with the CfP, and again when posters are accepted. We would recommend a structured way to name files, perhaps collecting files with a form and not a folder, so that presenters enter author names and poster titles separately and that can automatically be paired with audio file names.

After acceptance notifications go out, plan how posters might be arranged around the room and begin drafting navigation directions. We advocate doing this early to enable directions to be posted early, or to facilitate tactile maps as suggested.

Share the audio and room layout information as early as possible before the conference begins. Advertise this information on the website and to conference attendees ahead of time, if possible.

Notify presenters at least a day before their session that they will have assigned locations for their posters, and if possible, to let them know where their poster is. If poster numbers are used on the website, provide numbers for the presenters to post conspicuously on their posters.


We’d like to thank Dhruv Jain for his initial suggestion, Anhong Guo for his quick responsiveness, Cole Gleason and Patrick Carrington for helping us with on-the-ground logistics. Special thanks to general chair Jeff Bigham for his support, and we also thank the attendees who provided valuable feedback.

About the Authors

Martez Mott is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Ability group at Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA. Martez conducts research in the areas of human-computer interaction and accessibility. He designs, develops, and evaluates intelligent interaction techniques that improve the accessibility of computing devices for people with diverse motor and sensory abilities. Martez’s current research focuses on making virtual and augmented reality systems more accessible to people with limited mobility.

Kristen Shinohara is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the Rochester Institute of Technology where she helps co-direct the Center for Accessibility and Inclusion Research (CAIR) Lab. Kristen’s research is at the intersection of human-computer interaction, accessibility, design, and disability studies, with a focus on accessible design and research. She studies how to improve design and research processes to include disabled students, designers, and technology users. She also conducts research to improve teaching accessibility in computing and information science.