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Prioritizing Accessibility for Online Events

EDGI uses a spreadsheet of potential accommodations and associated to-dos for improving the accessibility of virtual events.

By Leslie Alanis

Using funding from Code for Science & Society (CS&S), EDGI has developed and implemented standards for  event accessibility. Specifically, our Environmental Enforcement Watch (EEW) team has developed tools aimed at making our event—including the tools, language, and data we use at events—as accessible to the public as possible. At EEW events held this spring, this included everything from using open source data tools like Jupyter Notebooks, live captioning, having live Spanish translation, and hosting a break room during our Zoom events. There is no one way to make an event accessible; attendees of different events, as well as the events themselves, have unique accessibility needs. 

To develop a set of accessibility standards for planning our Spring EEW events—events that included discussion of accessibility of EPA resources for Latinx communities and public open hours to discuss challenges with environmental data—we identified six areas of accessibility to review prior to each event: visual, auditory, speech and communication, cognitive and developmental, language, and situational. We chose these six categories by reviewing  research, personal experience, needs of EDGI members, and needs of event participants.

Event accessibility can always be improved, but we would like to share our work as a resource for others looking to make virtual events more accessible.

Below, we’ll break down accommodations by type, organized according to an event organizer timeline described in Table 1:

Planning for Accommodations by Type

Visual

Audiences that might benefit from visual accommodations include people with loss of central and peripheral vision, full or partial blindness, blurred vision, light sensitivity, color blindness, generalized haze, glaucoma, cataracts, nearsightedness, farsightedness,  visual complications from albinism, astigmatism, atrophy, and degenerative disorders.

Before event (simple)

  • Use high color contrast slides 
  • Use sans serif typefaces
  • Use colorblindness-friendly colors 
  • Use large font size and line spacing (20pt or greater)
  • Provide alt descriptions of all images and figures 
  • Don’t use any flashing images
  • Create a shared event document, like HackMD or Etherpad, which are compatible with screen readers
  • Don’t rush, plan for extra time to process information

Before event (needs lead time)

  • Share event materials 2- 3 days before the event

After event

  • Provide a video recording of the event with captions
Figure 1: Large and well-spaced lines of text on a slide used for an EEW event.

Auditory

Audiences that might benefit from auditory accommodations include people with hearing loss, deafness,  auditory processing disorder, hyperacusis, tinnitus, and noise sensitivity.

Before event (simple)

  • Don’t rush, plan for extra time to process information

Before event (needs lead time)

  • Provide sign language interpretation
  • Provide additional written or visual material (especially for tasks with multiple steps)
  • Provide assistive listening devices
  • Use applications or programs that reduce background noise
  • Have a designated notetaker 
  • Use clear, simple, everyday use language (preferably a script)
  • Share event materials 2- 3 days before the event

During event

  • Speak calmly, clearly, and loudly
  • Check frequently for understanding
  • Providing live captioning

After event

  • Release a copy of the Zoom chat
  • Provide an event transcript
  • Provide a video recording of the event with captions
Figure 2: A copy of the Zoom chat provided to participants after the event.
Figure 3: The service Otter.ai used to live caption events and create a transcript that can be shared afterwards.

Speech and Communication

Audiences that might benefit from speech and communication accommodations include people with apraxia, orofacial myofunctional and articulation disorders, stuttering and receptive disorders, language processing disorders, speech delay, mutism, and selective mutism, brain injury-related speech disorders like dysarthria, resonance disorders, and disorders that affect one’s voice.

Before event (simple)

  • Don’t rush, plan for extra time to process information
  • Create a shared event document in a technology like HackMD or Etherpad, which are compatible with screen readers

Before event (needs lead time)

  • Provide sign language interpretation
  • Share event materials 2- 3 days before the event
  • Have a designated notetaker
  • Have a designated area for written down questions and answers (chat room, Etherpad, or HackMD)
  • Use clear, simple, everyday use language (preferably a script)

During event

  • Speak calmly, clearly, and loudly

After event

  • Provide a copy of the Zoom chat 
  • Provide a video recording of the event with captions
  • Provide an event transcript
Figure 4: an example of shared note-taking in Etherpad, which is screen reader-compatible.

Cognitive and Developmental

Audiences that might benefit from cognitive and developmental accommodations include people with autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder; learning disorders like ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia; schizophrenia; Down syndrome, Rett syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and phenylketonuria (PKU); intellectual disabilities, aphasia, and memory loss.

Before event (simple)

  • Don’t use any flashing images
  • Create a shared event document using a technology like HackMD or Etherpad, which are compatible with screen readers

Before event (needs lead time)

  • Providing presentation materials (slides, videos, etc) in advance
  • Use clear, simple, everyday use language (preferably a script)
  • Share event materials 2- 3 days before the event
  • Plan regular breaks and/or break rooms

During event

  • Speak calmly and with regular pauses
  • Encourage asking questions in the chat

After event

  • Provide a video recording of the event with captions
Figure 5: An EEW event recording uploaded to YouTube to share after the event.

Language

Audiences that might benefit from language accommodations include people who are more comfortable participating in a language other than English, community members, non-specialists, non-academics, hard to reach communities, and fenceline communities .

Before event (simple)

  • Create a shared event document using technology like HackMD or Etherpad, which are compatible with screen readers

Before event (needs lead time)

  • Translate event materials
  • Provide live interpretation or live captioning
  • Use clear, simple, everyday use language 
  • Share event materials 2- 3 days before the event

After event

  • Provide a translated event transcript
  • Provide a video recording of the event with captions
Figure 6: A bilingual slide for an event with English- and Spanish-speaking participants.

Situational

Audiences that might benefit from situational accommodations include communities with limited or faulty internet access, caretakers, and people with multiple jobs or commitments.

Before event (simple)

  • Use low-bandwidth friendly tools
  • Use easy to use, accessible technology 
  • Create a shared event document, like HackMD or Etherpad, which are compatible with screen readers

Before event (needs lead time)

  • Share event materials 2- 3 days before the event

After event

  • Provide a translated event transcript
  • Provide a video recording of the event with captions 

Internally, we have created an accessibility options spreadsheet, which outlines potential resources for creating the accommodations asked for above. We try to implement most accommodations as we plan the event and make event materials, regardless of audience. For example, color, text font and size, alt-descriptions of images are easy to make accessible.

Other accommodations take more time or dedicated funding. In order to provide reasonable accommodation without overextending our time and financial resources, we made a short pre-event survey to determine participants’ accessibility needs at each spring EEW event, which was used to help determine resource allocation.

Overall, we hope these resources can be useful tools to those looking to make their virtual events more accessible.