Find out the best practices you can take to plan virtual events that are accessible to everyone.
When it comes to events, people with a disability often end up excluded because planners overlook accessibility in design considerations.
For instance, if you don´t work on web accessibility, you will exclude people with a visual impairment. If you don´t include captions in your videos, you will exclude people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In that light, planning accessible and inclusive virtual events should be a priority for organizers. Accessible events benefit all of us, as everyone ends up having equal access and opportunities to participate.
To help you plan accessible virtual events, we have outlined some of the best practices that you can implement now.
Ask attendees for required accommodations
Asking attendees if they need any accommodations is the first step to include people with a disability in the event planning.
An accommodation is any change from the way things are customarily done and that provides an equal opportunity for participation.
In practice, you could include an accommodation statement in your registration forms, email invitations, and event landing pages. Harvard University Disability Resources provides a standard reasonable accommodation statement that you can use as a template for your event.
And, designate a person within your team that will oversee accommodation requests, encourage open communication, and take actions to implement them.
Allow mobile and dial-in access
Then, offer attendees the option to join the event via mobile or to dial in by phone.
Indeed, not everyone has access to a computer or an internet connection. Giving this option can broaden your event audience and make it more inclusive.
In addition, consider distributing a manual on the different ways to access your event and on how to navigate your virtual event platform. Joining instructions need to be crystal clear or your attendees will give up on your event.
Provide accessible event materials
Furthermore, consider whether every event publicity material is accessible for people with a disability.
Ensure your event website and emails have alt text, which helps screen readers describe images to visually impaired readers.
Additionally, if speakers are using a PowerPoint presentation during the event, you should distribute a copy or make it downloadable for event attendees. And, make these presentations accessible to people with disabilities, following best practices available in Microsoft´s step-by-step guide.
In that line, the best action you can always implement is using PowerPoint´s built-in accessibility checker. For every slide, this tool outlines warnings and a list of recommended actions (e.g fonts, color contrast, paragraph spacing).
However, if you do not distribute slides beforehand, brief speakers on taking the time to describe what is on them. Descriptions of visual content can be immensely helpful for people with a vision or cognitive disability.
Alternatively, audio description services narrate what is on screen for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Provide Live Captioning
Over 5 % of the world´s population live with disabling hearing loss. In that context, embedding captions is an effective way to deliver an inclusive event experience.
Captions – which are often confounded with subtitles- capture the dialogues but also non-spoken information such as background sounds, music, laughter, etc.
For virtual events happening live, the best type of captioning is called CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation). In essence, it is real-time speech-to-text captioning, where a stenographer types what is being said as the event is happening.
Alongside helping people with a disability, it can also facilitate understanding for attendees who are not native English speakers.
If you can´t take this on because of budget limitations, automated captioning based on speech recognition software may prove a viable option.
Added to that, think about embedding captions in all your videos – not only the event sessions. If your event marketing includes promotional videos, embedding captions will boost your reach and inclusivity.
If you want to provide captioning but don´t have the capabilities in-house or don´t know where to start, here is a useful list of vendors.
Hire a sign language interpreter
In the US and Canada, ASL (American Sign Language) is the natural language of around 500 000 million people. In the EU, around 750,000 people use sign language as a first language.
Therefore, hiring a certified and experienced sign language interpreter can make your event more inclusive and deliver an engaging experience for everyone.
It may prove particularly relevant in the case of hybrid events, where a sign language interpreter can be on-site while also streaming to virtual attendees.
Ensure Clarity of Visuals and Sounds
Finally, ensuring audio-visual quality is a key part of accessibility as well. Check speakers are well-lit and their microphone is working properly. Beware of visual sensory overload and flashing lights as they can trigger negative reactions.
Then, keep background noise to a minimum and avoid speakers talking over each other. A moderator can help in providing a clear structure, identifying each speaker, and reading questions and comments in the chat aloud.
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