Prioritising Accessibility in Organising Online Events

In this post, Serah Njambi Kiburu and Emily Lescak summarise Serah's presentation and discussions from her Code for Science and Society community talk on accessibility in virtual events, and share an accessibility checklist to guide you as you plan virtual events.

This blog post was also cross-posted on Code for Science and Society’s Event Fund blog and the CSCCE blog.

Accessibility is to equity as a foundation is to a house. A well-rounded and intentional approach to making your community spaces and resources accessible levels the playing field for all in your community, and benefits everyone in the long-run.

December 3, 2020 was last year’s International Day for People with Disabilities. Under the theme, ‘Not all Disabilities are Visible,’ the day’s focus was on spreading awareness and understanding of disabilities that are not immediately apparent, such as mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, diabetes, brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, among others.

This is an important reminder for us all as community conveners - assumptions and observational insight are not enough in helping us put together accessible events. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves on matters of accessibility continually. We can do this by:

  1. asking well-crafted questions that invite the perspectives of the communities we are hoping to bring together,
  2. paying attention to the accessibility needs and requests for accommodation that our community members make of us,
  3. enlisting the services of subject experts,
  4. committing to apply what we learn, no matter how hard we perceive the work to be, and
  5. communicating clearly and consistently about the approaches we are taking, the challenges we are faced with, and how we hope to overcome these.

To audit your processes and decisions and ensure you are centering accessibility in your event planning, a good question to keep in mind as an event organiser would be: Can people with disabilities get the same information, perform the same interactions, and function as others with comparable ease?

“At the heart of accessibility is the notion of designing a diversity of ways for people to participate in an experience so that everyone has a sense of belonging.” (Susan Goltsman, Play for All Guidelines and The Inclusive City).

Here are ways you can prioritise accessibility as you plan virtual events:

  • Ask speakers and participants if they have accessibility requirements.
    Include questions in registration forms and speaker confirmation emails that prompt event participants to detail what accessibility accommodations they need around live captioning, large print, advance copies of slides, sign language, etc.

  • Provide telephone-based connection options in addition to web connection links because not all web clients for online meeting tools are accessible.

  • Think about how participants with assistive needs and those dialling in from their phones will participate fully in your event:
  • How will they ask questions and provide suggestions?
  • How will they respond to polls, interact with links, and comment in the chat?
  • Are you able to share speaker slides or reading material in advance so they have context for what is being presented?

  • Choose an accessible online meeting platform i.e. go for platforms that have integrated captioning, screen reader compatibility, and multiple ways of communicating with and engaging participants. Take these options into consideration when choosing a platform.
  • Invest in interpreters, live captioners and live translators where possible. Interpreters in virtual settings might make it possible for multiple-language representation at your event. Plan for good visibility of the speakers and interpreters.
    • Who should have their video and audio on and when during sessions?
    • How can you best place the speaker and sign language interpreter on the screen, especially when the speaker is also sharing their screen to show slides?
  • Inform speakers of accessibility requests that have been made and the accommodations that you are making available as the event organiser.
    • Rehearse presentations with the platform and tools that will be used during the event.
    • Share best practices for accessible presentations, such as testing presentations against accessibility checkers, adding captions against embedded multimedia resources, using plain language, issuing content warnings in advance, and only using relevant multimedia.
  • Make your event website and the resources that you will share accessible. Indesign’s Pablo Stanley offers an elaborate and insightful set of best practices in this web accessibility blog post. Summarily:
    • Make content and structure available, robust, and understandable by anyone.
    • Improve the color contrast, make content easily understandable, and observe header etiquette.
    • Use patterns in addition to colors for visual content, offer transcriptions and captions or subtitles, and underline or bold links.
    • Use alternative text on embedded images.
    • Use labels and add instructions to form fields in addition to accurate placeholder text.
    • Test your content with assistive technology.
  • Design accessible pathways for interaction and collaboration throughout your event. Think about:
    • language translations in collaborative documents,
    • live captioning during sessions,
    • live and collaborative notetaking in a publicly accessible document
    • multiple ways for people to ask and answer questions, meet and collaborate during sessions at your virtual event
  • Make transcripts available alongside audio and visual content after the event on your website.

Here is a PDF version of the checklist that you can download and use as you plan your virtual events.

We would love to hear from you: how has accessibility been prioritised in the virtual events you have attended? Tweet @thecarpentries to share! We also invite your participation to help us improve accessibility across all our resources in The Carpentries.

Here are some additional resources that expound on various aspects of accessibility in virtual settings:

Dialogue & Discussion

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