Do you know how to design an accessible virtual event experience? Despite the return of in-person gatherings in some areas, virtual experiences are still important for enabling as many members of your community to join and engage in your event. And after more than two years of hosting predominantly online events, companies have a solid roadmap to follow regarding virtual event accessibility.
To help you design an accessible virtual event, we connected with Melissa Eggleston and Rachel Wendte, two user experience and accessibility experts, to learn about virtual event accessibility considerations for event planners.
Check out their advice in this post on how to design an accessible virtual event, and see their direct answers to our questions about designing accessible virtual experiences below.
What is web accessibility, and how does it come into play when you are hosting an event online?
Rachel: “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. 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.”
How did the shift of so many previously in-person-only events to online affect virtual event accessibility trends?
Rachel: “On the one hand, a lot of businesses were forced to see the things they’d been missing for standard event prep. They learned new tools and adopted broader event protocols to welcome more folks. That’s a good thing! But as more events go back to in-person focus, some of these ‘just for the pandemic’ trends are falling away. People are more aware, but some companies were only offering virtual events because we were forced to be home. Now the thinking may be, ‘well my audience is back in the office, so I can be done with this.’ But SO many trends that adapted to people being homebound also applied to the millions of individuals who are already homebound for other reasons. Recognizing that this audience still exists, pandemic or not, is a great step for the companies who want to continue to embrace virtual events as part of their strategy.”
What are some of the easiest accessibility features to implement for online event platforms and their registration websites?
Melissa: “Live captioning is the obvious one for those without hearing or who can’t have sound on, but I would also encourage events with a single speaker and slides to make the slides available for download during the talk. The slides themselves need to be accessible, with alt-text for images for example. If the slides are in a PDF form, they should be saved as a reduced-file size PDF when possible so they aren’t a huge download in terms of file size. Having slides available also helps anyone who might be running into technical issues due to low bandwidth, internet connectivity problems, etc.”
Rachel: “Two simple things that are great for everyone. 1. Make sure that you add alt-text to your primary event image with the name of the event in the photo. This helps people using screen readers verify that they are on the right page. ‘People are gathered in a mixed group for the 1st Annual Discussion on Accessibility Trends, hosted by ABC Company.’ 2. For any CAPTCHA verification, make sure that the registration website offers an audio and visual version.”
Are there any web accessibility challenges event producers should keep in mind when promoting events through social media?
Melissa: “Please 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.”
Rachel: “If you have painstakingly put in the time to create a graphic that has a text overlay and you don’t populate the alt-text with what the image actually says, screen readers will skip right over it. Images with no alt-text are skipped because there’s nothing to read, so it won’t even register as being on the screen. For online ads, make sure the ad text says everything you need to and the image reinforces that. In addition, keep hashtags to the end of your posts (easier to read) and use #CamelCase when creating hashtags (capitalize the first letter of each word) so that there is a natural separation.”
If you have a limited budget, what is the most critical accessibility functionality an online event should put in place and why?
Rachel: “Every organization will have their priorities when it comes to events. For me, the easiest thing businesses can do when they create an online event is to have a replay or recording available. 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. You can offer ‘live only’ perks to encourage live attendance, but offering this as an option is a good way to be inclusive.”
How can events do a better job of making live-streamed Q&A sessions more accessible to their entire audience?
Rachel: “Have a submission form for questions ahead of time. That’s a place to start! 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. So if I were taking a question from the audience I’d listen and then repeat it back. For example, ‘Marcee just asked a question around captions. She said, [what the person said]. Here’s my answer.’ This ensures that everyone hears, reads, and understands what was being asked.”
Do you have any examples of virtual or hybrid events with exemplary accessibility in the design?
Melissa: “The free conference put on by Deque called Axe-Con does it great. And they should because they are accessibility consultants. This is a free virtual conference each year that you could attend to see best practices. For each speaker (this year they had Seth Godin, for example) Axe-Con had live captioning, an ASL translator, and accessible speaker slides available for download during the talk.”
Is there a common web accessibility misconception you see come up frequently? If so, how do we myth bust it?
Melissa: “The myth I see is that you can ignore accessibility without consequence. Putting aside the moral argument that it’s the right thing to do, 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. The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state and local governments (Title II) and businesses that are open to the public (Title III). The bad PR that may come from being inaccessible is significant. Avoid promoting your organization as inclusive until you’ve made efforts in the accessibility realm or you risk looking uncaring and inauthentic.”
Rachel: “The biggest myth I see come up with accessibility is the idea that you’ll get to it when it matters to your audience. 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. 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.”
Host Accessible Virtual Events with Frameable
Don’t let accessibility be an afterthought when planning your next virtual or hybrid event. As Melissa and Rachel pointed out, accessibility should be a top-of-mind concern that will help your event reach and engage the greatest number of people.
As you explore virtual event platforms, be sure to ask about the key accessibility features included and ways that the platform was designed for accessibility. We built Frameable Events to support many accessibility best practices, such as in-app messaging, live captioning with multi-language translation, and concurrent video streams for sign language interpreters. Check out all of Frameable Events’ accessibility features and book a demo to see how we can help you build an accessible virtual event.