We tend to think of hybrid and virtual events as being easier for people with disabilities to attend than face-to-face events. However, hybrid and virtual platforms present their own challenges and potential barriers to enjoyment. That’s why, if you want to create truly inclusive online events, it can’t be an afterthought.
“Start with your event strategy,” says Samantha Evans, certification manager for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. “Accessibility [should] be part of the beginning discussions about any event and activity … to make sure that human experience is inclusive for people with disabilities.” Then, the conversation about accessibility at events should continue through the planning, budget, implementation and post-event phases.
The event accessibility planning timeline
“From an event planner’s perspective, the [digital] platform is your first discovery conversation,” Evans says. “Talk about accessibility, and whether or not the platform is accessible for people who use assistive technologies.”
Your goal is to design an inclusive and welcoming event, with reasonable accommodations, that everyone can enjoy. And that starts with considering the diversity of needs, preferences and abilities that inherently will be present among your event participants.
Of course, you need to understand the hybrid or virtual event technology and how the digital event platform you’ve selected works, but Evans says it’s even more important for you to understand how people use assistive technologies to engage with the digital world.
“Is the platform accessible for people who use assistive technologies? Can they navigate it with a keyboard? Because not everyone uses their eyes and a mouse to do digital tech.”
After that, determine the components you want to build into your event platform. Options may include:
- Translation services
- Alternative text for images and videos
- Alternative media for presentations
- Sign language interpretation
- Keyboard navigation
Ask your vendor partners what other accessibility options they have. Encore’s platform, Chime Live℠ offers solutions with visual, auditory, cognitive and physical disabilities. Our platform complies with international WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility standards.
“There are things everybody in every role in every organization can do to contribute to accessibility and inclusion.” Here are Evans’ Top-5 tips for making events more accessible of hybrid and virtual events.
- Visual Aid: make sure there’s alternative text or a text equivalent for any graphics, videos or presentations. Coach speakers to describe anything they’re referring to visually.
- Transcription: caption all videos and provide a transcript for anything that is audio-only.
- Assistive Technology: make sure documents can be read by computer technology. For example, assistive screen readers can read text files, but cannot read a PDF or explain an image to participants.
- Diverse Knowledge: assemble diverse teams and be inclusive in gathering input from a variety of peoples and identities during the planning process. That naturally broadens our thought processes.
- Accessible Communication: consider different types of communication methods and preferences participants have. For example, sign language and captions both serve deaf and hard of hearing audiences, but sign language is a language and a preferred communication style. So be aware that requests may come in for both, and one does not substitute for the other.
Once you’ve identified the components and types of accessibility accommodations you want to provide, budget for those expenses. Understand the timeframes required to secure them from vendors and services.
Also, look at the price differentials and weigh how options impact the experience. For example, AI-enabled captioning is less expensive than using a captioning service with a human, but it isn’t as accurate.
During the registration phase, Evans says it’s important to communicate what accessibility features you are including, what accommodations you can provide, and how much notice you require to provide those accommodations.
Also communicate with speakers and anyone presenting the information. “Make sure [they] know how to present in an accessible format,” Evans says. For example, coach them to shy away from saying things like “as you can see” or pointing at things. Teach them how to use some audio description tips to be inclusive about how they talk about what they’re presenting. For example, “I’m a woman with gray hair and purple glasses” or “the chart on the screen right now shows a year-over-year increase of 23 percent.” If they have handouts, make sure those documents are submitted in an accessible format.
Train your team on the technology you’re using so they understand how to navigate the system. “During the event, they need to be able to support the needs of people who might encounter challenges.”
A nice touch is to allow participants and speakers to show off their home office surroundings, Evans says, describing what is present in the background. “This allows them to express their identity or identities and intersectionality of who they are. It allows panels or guests to express the diversity of the human experience, as well.”
Don’t forget to consider accessibility issues post-event! For example, a five-star rating might be what your organization loves using, but if it’s not compatible with assistive devices, then use different kinds of questions for your post-event survey.
Collect feedback from attendees with an accessibility questionnaire, analyze it and use their suggestions to improve the next experience. If you share anything based on their feedback, share that. People love knowing that you’re listening and using their suggestions to improve.