Many event planners mistakenly view accessibility as a nice-to-have, which is a disservice to your event community and greatly limits your event’s potential.
You may not realize that more than 430 million people worldwide experience ‘disabling’ hearing loss, and 247 million experience moderate to severe visual impairment or blindness. Crafting an accessible event spans more than physical ability, too, to include considerations like internet and technology access and literacy, work/life commitments, and mental disability.
We connected with two accessibility and user experience experts, Melissa Eggleston and Rachel Wendte, to explore what accessibility means in the virtual and hybrid event space and how event planners can prioritize accessibility at every step of their planning.
What Is Accessibility For Virtual and Hybrid Events?
Virtual and hybrid event accessibility aims to remove barriers when your audience seeks to join and engage in your event. Accessibility impacts every step of the event process, from registering for the event to joining sessions and navigating the virtual event platform.
“Web accessibility is making your online offering as simple to use for as many people as possible. That means considering tools, your language, and your presentation so that everyone can be involved,” Rachel says. “For an online event, that may mean using a platform that enables closed captioning, or offering a transcript for attendees. It’s also ensuring that your event is hosted on a platform that’s friendly to multiple kinds of devices.”
Not only is it the morally right thing to prioritize event accessibility, but blatant disregard of accessibility could pose a legal threat to your team, Melissa warns. “Accessibility lawsuits continue to be on the rise. Although the courts to date have been split on whether a website is a public space of accommodation, the Department of Justice recently put out guidance on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
What Are The Main Accessibility Considerations for Virtual Events?
To ensure that your event adheres to accessibility best practices, consider and address each of these key areas:
- Audio and Visual CAPTCHA: “For any CAPTCHA verification, make sure that the registration website offers an audio and visual version,” Rachel recommends.
- Camel Case Hashtags: Melissa says you should “use hashtags that are more readable, using camel case. For example, use #DigitalMarketing instead of #digitalmarketing. The capital letters make it easier to read. Using a camel case hashtag also signals to your audience that you are paying attention to accessibility.”
- Image Alt-Text: Every image used to promote your event through your website, email communications, or paid advertisements must include alt-text. “Make sure that you add alt-text to your primary event image with the name of the event in the photo,” Rachel says. “This helps people using screen readers verify that they are on the right page. [Include alt-text like] ‘People are gathered in a mixed group for the 1st Annual Discussion on Accessibility Trends, hosted by ABC Company.”
- Live Captioning and Sign Interpreters: Some of your event attendees will be unable to access your event audio. Melissa advises that you enable live captioning for those without hearing or who can’t have sound on. As a best practice, you should also include sign interpreters alongside all event sessions.
- Make Slides Available for Download: Give attendees the ability to download optimized and accessible slides ahead of each event session. Provide slides in a reduced-file size, so they take minimal time and space to download. Melissa says that “having slides available helps anyone who might be running into technical issues due to low bandwidth, internet connectivity problems, etc.” Giving attendees advanced slide access will also allow them to review the materials ahead of time in case they have difficulty processing everything during the live session.
- Plain Text Versions of Invites: Many event organizers share flashy, heavily designed invites through email. Be sure to include a plain text version of your invite (and all event communications) so the message is accessible to everyone.
- Pre-Field Questions: A submission form for questions ahead of each session enables anyone to submit questions at their convenience without speaking up during the session or accessing chat features.
- Share Replays or Recordings: Virtual event session replays or recordings are a core element of event accessibility. Rachel explains that “sometimes people sign up for things and then at the time have limited energy. Others need to listen to things more than once to get it. Having a replay or recording is a simple way to include your largest audience share.”
- User Test the Experience: Once your event materials are staged, test the experience using a screen reader. Can someone effectively engage with the entire event platform and agenda with a screen reader?
- Write Out and Repeat All Questions: “If you do a live Q&A, have the moderator write out the question in the chat, and phrase it out loud so that everyone can hear,” Rachel recommends. “So if I were taking a question from the audience, I’d listen and then read it back. For example, ‘Marcee just asked a question around captions. She said [what Marcee said]. Here is my answer.’ This ensures that everyone hears, reads, and understands what’s being asked.”
Accessibility Is An Ongoing Event Essential
Event accessibility—for virtual and live events alike—ensures that everyone in your ideal event community can fully engage with your event and gain the most value from that experience. Put simply, accessibility cannot be an afterthought for event planners.
“I promise you that there are people who would love to be part of your audience, and accessibility measures don’t just help those with disabilities. They help everyone,” Rachel adds. “Even if your audience appears to be one without limits, who’s to say that that will still be true tomorrow? People go through phases of need, and assuming that you’ve got it all covered and ‘don’t need accessibility’ does a disservice to your future (or current) customer.”
Address the ten event accessibility considerations we explored above to keep accessibility top-of-mind throughout your event planning. To help you further, check out our full Q&A with Melissa and Rachel.
We built Frameable Events with key event accessibility concerns in mind, including in-app messaging, concurrent video streams for interpreters, and a web-based experience so anyone can join from a desktop, tablet, or mobile web browser. Learn more about the platform’s accessibility features and book a demo to see them in action.