Virtual events and meetings have become increasingly popular in these times of social distancing and remote working. In fact, the video conferencing platform Zoom has seen its daily active users balloon 10 million to over 200 million active daily users. For some people, the transition to digital events, meetings, and conferences has been no more difficult than figuring out how to unmute themselves. But for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, this transition can be different and more complicated.
According to the CDC, there are approximately 61 million people in the United States living with a disability — in fact, 26% of Americans have some type of disability. Yet, some parts of our digital lives still don't provide basic accommodations for users with different abilities. A recent national study conducted by RespectAbility, found that even before the pandemic, only 14% of people say their organizations routinely use captions on video content.
For organizations in the progressive community, nothing is more important than ensuring that everyone has a seat at the proverbial table — and this means striving to ensure all information and tools are accessible to everyone.
With this in mind, we’ve created a list of tips and resources to ensure your next virtual event is accessible for all audience members. Our intent is for this list to be a starting place — technologies are constantly evolving and your audience may have unique needs. The work of accessibility is never complete. In the progressive movement, we must always be working to ensure everyone is able to participate.
Things to think through before your event
Establish an accessibility contact: In all communication around your upcoming virtual event, ensure you include a contact person for accessibility needs. This way, attendees can reach out with any accessibility questions or requests before the event begins.
Distribute slides/presentation material before the event: Provide any written or visual materials ahead of time. Be sure to use an accessible file format.
Provide an agenda before the event: If applicable, make your event agenda available so attendees know what to expect.
Include breaks: Include processing time/breaks into your event. As a general rule, provide at least one scheduled break per hour.
Always use video captioning: It is always a good practice to include video captioning on all video content.
Ensure video service is compatible with screen readers: Make sure the video service platform you’re using to host your event is compatible with assistive technology, like screen readers, so all audience members can access the presented materials.
Use easy-to-read fonts and colors: Ensure that all fonts used are easy to read (refrain from using cursive, if possible), text is large, and all materials have color contrast.
Allow attendees to submit their questions before the event: Allow attendees to send questions and comments in advance. This provides attendees who need extra processing time with a chance to review material and ensure they have all their questions answered.
Ensuring Accessibility During and After Your Event
Use the mute feature: Make it a consistent practice to mute all attendees not speaking to ensure background noise is kept to a minimum.
Always provide image descriptions: Describe all images, read aloud all text that appears on screen, and describe anything that you gesture at as if you were explaining it to someone who isn’t in the same room as you.
Make sure to use accessible language: Refrain from using jargon or slang, and always spell out any acronyms in their entirety the first time you use them.
Never using flashing or strobing features: Using flashing or strobing animations in a presentation or event can trigger seizures in some people with epilepsy. If you must include content with these features, always provide a warning beforehand.
Provide content warnings: If your event or materials will be addressing any potentially sensitive content, provide a content warning in advance. This allows people to step away if they need to.
Record your meeting: If applicable, record your events and make the recording available to all participants.
Allow attendees to provide feedback: Offer your attendees the opportunity to provide feedback about the event, including feedback on accessibility, to help you prepare to plan for your next one.
Ensuring everyone can access your virtual event is an intentional process that can often take time and research. There are plenty of great resources out there to help you and your organization continue to facilitate this accessibility process. Here are just a few to help you get started:
Information on video software accessibility features:
Toolkit For Accessible Virtual Events - RespectAbility
Accessible Meeting and Event Checklist - Cornell University
Guide: How to Caption Your Videos – See Hear Communication Matters Blog
Accessibility Tips for a Better Zoom/Virtual Meeting Experience - Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology for People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
We hope these tips and resources help your organization think about the ways you’re hosting online events.
Did we miss something? Still not sure what platform is best for your next virtual event? We want to hear from you! Schedule a call with the ACM Strategies team today.