Virtual events remove a lot of the geographic and financial barriers to attending an event, but they often still exclude people with disabilities. Here's what planners should keep in mind to ensure that their virtual events are as inclusive as possible.
The conversation around diversity and inclusion in events has recently been increasing, and part of this is ensuring event accessibility. People living with disabilities are often neglected when large shifts take place, and they certainly were not at the forefront of the industry's discussions when it came to pivoting to virtual.
Virtual events are more inclusive than physical events in many ways — for example, they tend to be more affordable and don't require any travel — and many have enjoyed higher attendance rates throughout the past year as a result. However, they're still lagging when it comes to including deaf and blind participants, or those with learning disabilities.
However, with the proper planning and tech, eventprofs can proactively ensure accessibility at their virtual events. Here are four strategies for keeping your events accessible to all.
Virtual Event Accessibility Considerations
We spoke with Eric Ascher, Communications Associate at RespectAbility — a nonprofit organization that works to promote inclusion for people with disabilities — about the most important considerations for planners when it comes to virtual event accessibility.
Include Live Captioning And Translations
The must-have features, according to Ascher, are live captioning, real-time ASL translations, or both. These are the bare minimum in terms of making an event inclusive. In fact, RespectAbility now has a policy not to promote any events that don't have at least one of these features.
Ascher adds that, "if you're recording the event, you should try to put accurate captions on it before you post it."
Ask About Accommodations During Registration
Ascher notes that in general, "it's much easier to make an event accessible when you start thinking about it from the start than to retrofit it last minute.”
One of the easiest ways to ensure that planners are keeping the needs of their participants in mind is to ask about accommodations on the registration form. It's also important to list a contact person that attendees will be able to get in touch with if they need any assistance before or during the event.
Distribute Presentations In Advance
While live captioning and ASL translations help make events more accessible to deaf participants, sharing event materials such as powerpoint presentations in advance will facilitate the event experience for blind attendees.
"By distributing the powerpoints in advance, people who rely on screen readers can understand what's in the powerpoint before the event," says Ascher. "In addition, people should always identify themselves when they begin speaking."
Planners should also ensure that the powerpoints themselves are accessible — Microsoft offers a useful guide to help with this.
Aim For Accessible Networking Features
Most of these accommodations will help make session content more accessible, but one-on-one networking calls are a little more difficult. Ascher mentions that "if you're having an event with someone who's deaf and you can afford to pay for an interpreter, that's the best option."
However, as virtual tech continues to improve, it will become easier to offer more inclusive features. For example, Zoom recently released a live transcription service for paid plans that provides automatic captions for everything being said during a meeting. It's far from perfect, but it's a start.
Virtual events are naturally more inclusive than in-person events in many respects, but there are still a lot of things that planners can do to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.
Accessibility should be considered throughout the planning process to ensure that various accommodations can be made should people need them, and relatively basic features like live captioning will go a long way to making a digital event more inclusive.