Email: spd@societyforphilosophyanddisability.org

Using QR Codes to Make Presentation Materials More Accessible

Shows an Apple iPhone pointed at a document with a QR code on it. The phone has a QR code reader app open and shows an image of the document with the QR code in the middle. Shows a screenshot of an Apple iPhone after it has automatically read the QR code and directed the user to an electronic version of the document.

Handouts, PowerPoints and other presentation and teaching materials are often not fully accessible to people with disabilities and others who have trouble seeing or reading printed or projected material.  I know first-hand, as a visually impaired person, that lectures and talks are very difficult to follow when I cannot read the handout or see the PowerPoint slides.  Presenters, lecturers and teachers, however, are often reluctant to make their material available ahead of time because many of us are working on them up until the last minute.  QR codes are a free, easy, convenient and effective way to make handouts, PowerPoints and other presentation and teaching materials more accessible to people with disabilities and others.  These codes can be easily generated from a shared link to your materials, which then allow blind and visually impaired people, along with other audience members, to aim their smartphones in the general direction of those materials and instantly download a copy of your document to their device.  Once they have an electronic version of your document, they can enlarge the text, use screen-reading software, adjust the color contrast and make use of many other kinds of accessibility features, both during the presentation and afterwards.  Once the presentation is over, the QR code can be cancelled, which prevents others from gaining access to the document that was shared during the presentation (although anyone who downloaded a copy of it during the presentation will still have access to it).

Including QR codes on presentation materials is a very effective way to help ensure that your talks, lectures and classes are fully accessible to all.

If you are ready to jump right in, you can jump directly to the how-to guide for presenters or the how-to guide for audience members.  You can also take a more in-depth look at the basic problem that QR codes can help to solve and why they should become an integral part of our approach to accessibility.

The Basic Problem and a Proposed Solution

The basic problem: Presentation materials are often not accessible

Many people who have vision problems, as well as those with certain kinds of learning disabilities such as dyslexia and ADHD, have difficulty reading or quickly comprehending material that is presented in written or visual form. Following along with handouts and PowerPoint presentations, in particular, can be onerous or impossible for some people, which can put them at a significant disadvantage during talks, lectures and other presentations.

The basic goal: Make presentation materials available electronically

The only or most accessible way for many people with visual and learning disabilities to properly read circulated material is when that material is available to them in an electronic format. An electronic document, for example, can be enlarged or fed into screen-reading software; and its color contrast can be adjusted.

Difficulties in making presentation materials accessible

There are several obstacles, however, to making presentation materials available electronically:

  • Speakers often have good reasons not to make their handouts or PowerPoint slides available before their talks (e.g. they are working on these materials at the last minute).
  • Making accessible materials available can be somewhat burdensome and inconvenient for speakers, especially for those who are not technologically savvy.
  • Speakers may want to control access to their presentation materials.
  • Speakers may not want to make their materials publicly available.
  • Accessing electronic material during a talk is often difficult for people with visual or learning disabilities because it is tough for them to figure out where the material resides.
  • Often it is difficult to know, before or during a talk, if members of the audience need material in an electronic format because the disabilities that make such accommodations necessary are often invisible and people who have them are often reluctant to request relevant accommodations.

A new way to make presentation materials more accessible: QR codes

A QR code for the National Council on Disability website (ncd.gov)


A sample QR code that encodes a link to the National Council on Disability website (ncd.gov)

A QR is an optical, two-dimensional barcode that is easily readable by computers or smartphones with a camera. When a QR, or 'Quick Response', code represents a website address, pointing a camera at the code will, with the appropriate software, automatically direct the computer or smartphone to that website, without having to see or type in a website address.

  • Software that can read QR codes is amazingly forgiving. You do not have to be especially accurate when scanning them. Pointing your camera in the general direction of a QR code, even at a significant distance, will usually be enough for the computer or smartphone to translate the underlying data and send the user to the relevant website address.
  • File-sharing services that many of us already use, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, can easily generate website addresses for handouts and PowerPoint presentations.
  • These addresses, however, are often relatively long, which means that QR codes that encode them must be relatively complicated and so more difficult for computers to pick-up, especially at a distance. Free services are available that shorten website addresses and so make QR codes simpler and, as a result, more accessible.
  • These shortened addresses can then be encoded into QR codes using free online services.
  • The resulting QR codes can then be put on handouts and on PowerPoint presentations in unobtrusive ways that nonetheless make it much easier for people with visual and learning disabilities to access those materials.
  • Simply announcing that there is a QR code on the handout or on the current PowerPoint slide would allow a disabled person to point his or her smartphone camera at it and immediately be taken to an electronic version of those documents, which they can then use to follow along the presentation in much the same way as others.

In the guide for presenters and the guide for audience members, I discuss how, in particular, to use QR codes in this way.

Advantages of this approach

There are several advantages to using QR codes in this way:

  • Unlike just listing the website address directly on presentation materials, audience members do not have to see well or at all in order to use QR codes as a means to access those materials.
  • Allows speakers to avoid reading out a website address, which can be obtrusive and difficult to accurately follow for people with certain kinds of disabilities.
  • The process is very fast for speakers and audience members.
  • The approach is free for speakers and audience members.
  • Many people who are not disabled might appreciate having handouts and PowerPoint presentations in an electronic format.
  • Speakers can make their materials available in this way with little effort or technological know-how, even right before their talks, as long as they have internet access.
  • Distribution of presentation materials can be regulated by who has access to the QR code.
  • Speakers can also cancel the links they have created by moving or renaming their file or by cancelling the shortened link they created.

Potential drawbacks of this approach

Using QR codes is not perfect, but many of its drawbacks can be overcome:

  • Some file formats, such as PDFs, may not be easily accessible, so it is usually better to use native file formats (MS Word, MS PowerPoint, etc.).
  • Blind members of the audience may not be aware that a QR code is visible, so speakers must make this announcement.  Once they have done so, the audience member can open the appropriate app on his or her phone, point it in the general direction of the speaker and wave it around a bit, which is usually enough for the app to pick-up the QR code and direct him or her to the presentation materials.

How-to guides to using QR codes in order to make presentation materials more accessible

There are many ways to use QR codes to make presentation materials more accessible. Below I describe some free methods that speakers and audience members can use to do so.

Guide for Speakers

  1. Install Dropbox, Google Drive or a similar file sharing service.

    Dropbox

    Dropbox logo with a link to a guide about how to install Dropbox

    Google Drive

    Google drive logo
  2. Make sure that your file is saved as a Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint or other commonly available, natively formatted file. PDF versions are usually not as accessible as native file formats.
  3. Save your file to a file-sharing service (e.g. save your file anywhere in your Dropbox folder or on your Google Drive).
  4. Generate a link (i.e. a website address or URL) for your handout, PowerPoint or other presentation material and copy this link to your clipboard.

    Dropbox (Windows)

    Find your file in your Dropbox folder, right-click on it and select ‘Copy Dropbox Link’, which will create a link to your file and copy it to your clipboard.

    A context menu is open after right-clicking on a file in the Dropbox folder. The option 'Copy Dropbox Link' is highlighted.


    Choose 'Copy Dropbox link'

    Dropbox (Mac)

    Find your file in your Dropbox folder, right-click on it and select ‘Copy Dropbox Link’, which will create a link to your file and copy it to your clipboard.

    A context menu is open after right-clicking on a file in the Dropbox folder. The option 'Copy Dropbox Link' is highlighted.


    Choose 'Copy Dropbox link'

    Google Drive

    In your web browser, go to your Google Drive, find the file you want to make available, right click on it and choose 'Get shareable link'

    A context menu is open and the option 'Get shareable link' is highlighted.


    Choose 'Get shareable link'

  5. (This step is optional but it helps to simplify the QR code and so makes more easily readable). Go to Google’s URL shortener website and paste the link you just created into the box that says 'Your original URL here'.
    Shows a link pasted into Google's URL shortener service at http://goo.gl/


    Past the link to your file into Google's URL shortener.

  6. Click Shorten URL, which will give you a shortened form of your link.  Choose 'Done'.
    Shows a webpage with a shortened version of your url, a preview of your document, the original link to your document, and a 'Done' button.


    Click 'Done'

  7. Hover over your shortened link in the table that is displayed (yours should be the first one on the list) and move far to the right in order to click the icon that appears with three vertical dots.  Click that icon and choose 'QR Code'.
    Shows the list of shortened links with the first link highlighted and the options menu on the far right selected. The context menu item 'QR Code' is highlighted.


    Highlight the link you just generated and choose 'QR Code' on the far right context menu.

  8. Click 'QR Code', which will bring up an image of your newly generated QR code.
    Shows the QR code that you generated


    This is your QR code.

  9. Right-click on the QR code and either copy the image to your clipboard or save it to a directory.

    Copy Image on Mac

    Shows a screenshot of a Mac computer, right-clicking on the QR code, with the 'Copy Image' option highlighted


    Choose 'Copy Image' to copy the image to your clipboard.

    Save Image on Mac

    Shows a screenshot of a Mac computer, right-clicking on the QR code, with the 'Save Image As' option highlighted


    Choose 'Save Image As' to save the image to your computer.

    Copy Image on Windows

    Shows a screenshot of a Windows computer, right-clicking on the QR code, with the 'Copy image' option highlighted


    Choose 'Copy image' to copy the image to your clipboard.

    Copy Image on Windows

    Shows a screenshot of a Windows computer, right-clicking on the QR code, with the 'Save image as' option highlighted


    Choose 'Save image as' to save the image to your computer.

  10. You can now insert your QR code into your document, either by pasting the image or inserting the image file that you saved.

    Word for Windows: Paste

    1. Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' icon
      Shows a screenshot of a Windows computer, right-clicking on an open space in a Microsoft Word document, with the 'Paste' icon highlighted.


      Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' icon.

    2. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.
      Shows a screenshot of a Windows computer, after the QR code has been pasted into a Microsoft Word document


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.

    Word for Windows: Insert

    1. Choose the 'Insert' tab and click the 'Picture' icon.
      Shows a Windows computer with an open Microsoft Word document. The 'Insert' tab in the top ribbon is selected and the mouse is hovering over the 'Picture' icon.


      Choose the 'Insert' tab and click the 'Picture' icon.

    2. Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.
      Shows a Mac computer with an open Word document. A file dialog box is open and the file 'chart.png' is selected.


      Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.

    3. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.
      Shows a screenshot of a Mac computer, after the QR code has been pasted into a Microsoft Word document.


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.

    PowerPoint for Windows: Paste

    1. Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' icon.
      Shows a screenshot of a Windows computer, right-clicking on an open space in a Microsoft PowerPoint .


      Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' icon.

    2. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint presentation. You can either put it only on the title slide or you can also put it on each of your slides.
      Shows a Windows computer, after the QR code has been pasted into a PowerPoint


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint presentation. You can either put it only on the title slide or you can also put it on each of your slides.

    PowerPoint for Windows: Insert

    1. Choose the 'Insert' tab and click the 'Picture' icon.
      Shows a Windows PowerPoint. The 'Insert' tab  is selected and the mouse is hovering over the 'Picture' icon.


      Choose the 'Insert' tab and click the 'Picture' icon.

    2. Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.
      Shows a Windows computer with an open PowerPoint. A file  box is open and the file 'chart - powerpoint.png' is selected.


      Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.

    3. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint document.
      Shows a Windows computer, after the QR code has been pasted into a PowerPoint presentation.


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint document.

    PowerPoint for Mac: Paste

    1. Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' option.
      Shows a Mac computer, after the QR code has been pasted into a PowerPoint presentation.


      Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' option.

    2. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint document.
      Shows a Windows computer, after the QR code has been inserted into a  Word document.


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint document.

    PowerPoint for Mac: Insert

    1. Choose the 'Insert' tab, click the 'Picture' icon, and select 'Picture from file'
      Shows a Mac computer with an open PowerPoint. The 'Insert' tab is selected and the 'Picture from file' option is highlighted.


      Choose the 'Insert' tab, click the 'Picture' icon, and select 'Picture from file'.

    2. Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.
      Shows a Mac computer with an open PowerPoint. A file box is open and the file 'chart - powerpoint.png' is selected.


      Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.

    3. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint document.
      Shows a Windows computer, after the QR code has been inserted into a Word document.


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your PowerPoint document.

    Word for Mac: Paste

    1. Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' option.
      Shows a screenshot of a Mac, right-clicking on an open space in a  Word document.


      Right-click where you want to insert the QR code and select the 'Paste' option.

    2. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.
      Shows a Mac computer, after the QR code has been pasted into a  Word document, near the top.


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.

    Word for Mac: Insert

    1. Choose the 'Insert' tab, click the 'Picture' icon, and select 'Picture from file'.
      Shows a Mac with an open Word document. The 'Insert' tab is selected, the and the 'Picture from file' option is highlighted.


      Choose the 'Insert' tab, click the 'Picture' icon, and select 'Picture from file'.

    2. Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.
      Shows a Mac with an open Word document. A file box is open and the file 'chart.png' is selected.


      Find the file that you saved and click 'Insert'.

    3. You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.
      Shows a screenshot of a Mac, after the QR code has been inserted into a Word document.


      You can now place and resize the QR code you inserted into your Word document.

To turn off the link

The QR code that you generated refers to the shortened version of the link that you created, which in turn refers to the original link you made from Dropbox or Google Drive.  The best way to turn off access to your file is to cancel that original link, which will render its shortened version and your QR code ineffective.  In other words, once your original link is destroyed, neither it nor anything that refers to it (e.g. your QR code) will give anyone access to your file.  Here's how to turn off that original link that you created:

Google Drive

  1. In your web browser, go to your Google Drive, find the file you made available, right click on it and choose 'Get shareable link'
    Shows the Google Drive website with the context menu of a file open. 'Get Shareable Link' is highlighted.


    Right click on your file and select 'Get Shareable Link'

  2. Click on the green toggle to turn off link sharing.
    Shows the Google Drive website with a file selected. A popup menu says 'Link sharing is on' with a green toggle.


    Click on the green toggle to turn off link sharing.

  3. Once you click the green toggle, link sharing for your file will be turned off, which means no one can use that link to access your file.  Your QR code to that file will no longer work.
    Shows the Google Drive website with a popup menu that says 'Link sharing is off' with a grey toggle.


    Once you click the green toggle, link sharing for your file will be turned off, which means no one can use that link to access your file.

Dropbox

  1. On your web browser, go to Dropbox and sign into your account.
    Shows Dropbox website after login, with list of your files..


    Your dropbox files and folders, once you've logged into www.dropbox.com

  2. Select 'Sharing' on the left menu.
    The lefthand menu on the Dropbox website. The 'Sharing' option is highlighted.


    Select 'Sharing' from the lefthand menu.

  3. Select the 'Links' menu near the top.
    A snippet of Dropbox website, with the 'Links' option highlighted.


    Choose the 'Links' option.

  4. Find your document, open its context menu by clicking on the three dots next to it, and click 'Delete link', which will render that link, and so the QR code that refers to it, inoperable.
    Dropbox website, with context menu showing 'Delete link'.


    Find your document on the list, click its context menu by selecting the three dots icon next to it, and choose 'Delete link'.

You can always generate a new QR code by following the guide for presenters again.

Guide for Audience Members

  1. Install a free QR code reader on your smartphone or tablet - there are many available.  For example:

    QR Scanner for iOS

    Link to QR Scanner in the App Store

    Bar Code for Android

    Link to Bar Code in Google Play
  2. Open the app and point the camera in the general direction of a QR code. You don’t need to get the code in the middle area or stop moving the phone – the app will very quickly pick up the QR code most anywhere on the screen.
    iPhone screenshot of a QR code reader app showing a QR code.


    Open your QR code reader app and point your phone in the general direction of a QR code.

  3. Depending on what sort of link is encoded in the QR code:

    Dropbox

    1. A screen will quickly appear asking what to do with the Dropbox file.
      iPhone screenshot showing a webpage.


      The app automatically opens the link to the presentation material without you having to do anything.

    2. The file can then be opened and viewed in the Dropbox app.
      iPhone screenshot showing the material opened in the Dropbox app.


      The file can then be opened and viewed in the Dropbox app.

    3. You can either open the document in your Dropbox App, if you have it installed, or you can or click the icons in the upper right corner, which gives you a choice of saving the file to your device or saving it to your own Dropbox folder.  If you choose the latter option then you can open the document on a laptop or other computer.

    Google Drive

    1. A screen will quickly appear showing the presentation materials.
      iPhone showing options to sign into Google Drive and to download the file.


      The app automatically opens the presentation material.

    2. From here you can view the file, download it to your device, or save it to your Google Drive by signing in at the top right corner.
  4. From here you can access the file as normal: You can use screen reading software, for example, enlarge the text, change the color scheme, etc.

 

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