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10 ways to make virtual events more accessibleBlog
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1 in 10 adults are living with a functional disability. These may include visual and hearing impairments, restricted mobility, or challenges related to neurodivergence that present difficulties when individuals try to access the event, engage with content, and participate in networking and other activities. As a result, those living with a disability may find it challenging to both receive and contribute value to a virtual event, which is a loss for all involved.
In fact, accessibility is such an imperative that many regions have regulations in place to mandate it, and non-compliance could have legal ramifications. In addition, many organizations, associations, and sponsors have a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policy in place that extends beyond the protections and accommodations the legislation requires.
While there are well-established protocols and precedents for accommodating these challenges in a physical space, there is less guidance for accessibility within virtual events. As such, event organizers and venues need to invest in making information, activities, and environments sensible, meaningful, and usable for as many people as possible.
With a multitude of platforms and technology tools available, how do we ensure we’ve made our virtual event as accessible as possible?
Plan to include session captioning, transcripts, and other accommodations for the hearing impaired to ensure that they can follow session content, and allow attendees to ask for other accommodations during the registration process to ensure ample time to coordinate them. Ensure there is a line-item in the budget for such measures, which might include sign-language interpreters for networking activities for which AI-generated captions may not be suitable.
Provide a “what to know before you go” package for attendees that includes details about how the virtual event platform works, the kinds of activities that will take place, and the provisions available for those living with a disability.
Create a forum where you and others can make recommendations around digital accessibility. For example, highlight browser functions and extensions like Google Screen Reader, which assists those with visual impairments by reading aloud text on screen.
Setting expectations early and providing attendees with pertinent information gives them an opportunity to prepare, but also to involve you in the process, if necessary. This in turn solidifies their willingness to participate and assures all participants that full engagement is achievable.
A virtual event’s success is rooted in the preparedness of speakers and moderators, but training should go beyond virtual engagement to how to best accommodate different disabilities. For example, using large fonts can be beneficial to those with a visual impairment, and being conscientious of the pace of speech and clear annunciation can improve the effectiveness of AI captioning software for the hearing impaired.
Retaining new information and best practices takes time for all learners, but those who have challenges related to receiving that information can benefit from extra time to go over session materials and process the information. With this in mind, it should be part of your virtual event strategy to include segment breaks – especially before collaborative activities and sessions that require more active participation.
It may also support those whose neurodivergence makes it difficult to sustain long periods of engagement, or who gain more value from passive informational sessions but would prefer to duck out before the more socially intense collaborative activities.
Outlining the agenda, including the breaks, will keep all participants on the front foot when planning their own attendee journey and the accommodations they will need along it.
Risk planning is a part of all events but often fails to consider those living with a disability, especially as it pertains to notifications. For example, if a live stream cuts out in the middle of a session, those with a visual impairment may not understand what is happening if the communications are all visual. Similarly, if a speaker makes an announcement during a session and there are no written instructions, those with a hearing impairment may struggle to understand.
Put in place multiple forms of messaging, including audio and visual notification alerts, and make a policy of using them whenever the audience needs to be advised.
Ensuring that participants have guidance on what they need to do or what is happening in the event of an unforeseen issue will make them more likely to stay in the session and make the most of it.
The goal of session engagement is to bring the audience together to think and feel as one. Creating multiple points of entry to engagement is key for accessible virtual events.
Engagement activities during sessions offer a safe place for insights from peers that may not always be noted by a speaker, and ensuring that those with a disability can participate fully will give everyone access to the benefit of their experience and knowledge.
Moreover, these activities also spur discussions that instill a sense of community and understanding. Feeling seen, heard, and felt by fellow peers is the optimal experience.
In the planning phase, think through how these interactions will be set up. For example, a global event should feature language translation tools in all areas where conversations (audible or text chat) will be available. For breakouts, include a moderator who can drive the conversation and ensure all participants are given an equal chance to participate.
Advising attendees that session content will be recorded and made available after can reduce the stress they feel around catching everything live, which can be more of a challenge for those who have trouble accessing events and receiving information in real-time due to accessibility-related issues. This may help to ease their frustrations by reassuring them that they will have an opportunity to access the learnings on their own time and on their own terms.
On-demand recordings are a step in the right direction, but captioning services can leave much to be desired from those with hearing impairments. When using subtitles or captions, the speed is often not customizable, and in the case of AI-generated text, it can be inaccurate. This results in some users missing insights and information and feeling frustrated.
Consider providing edited transcripts along with recordings to ensure that session content is clear for those who rely on visual communication. The more materials an attendee is given without having to ask for them, the more meaningful and memorable the experience.
The good, the bad, and the ugly – you need to hear it. Participant feedback is necessary for overall improvement, but is especially valuable for establishing best practices when dealing with relatively new event spaces and formats.
Adopt a feedback plan that consists of various channels that can be accessed in a number of ways, including post-event surveys, individual follow up phone calls, a dedicated inbox, and focus groups.
Virtual events evolved extremely rapidly during the pandemic, but now that they are commonplace, investing in accessibility is critical for allowing everyone to participate equally and creating inclusivity. Taking these first steps will put you on track to establishing a baseline for accessibility and forming a foundation on which to make future virtual events inclusive and welcoming to all.
Virtual events that take place within a 3D space give every attendee an opportunity to experience the event in a format that reflects an in-person experience that would otherwise only be accessible to a few. If you’d like to learn more about how Prismm can make your events more inclusive and accessible, book a demo.