Inclusive events: captioning

Captioning is an important part of making events inclusive, and more people than we realise rely them. People who are hard of hearing can capture words and names that they miss or are unfamiliar. For people who are deaf they are essential, especially if there is no-one to sign. People with English as a second language find captions helpful too.

Although most Australian venues say they have hearing loops for those who can use them, they are often not working or switched on. Or they are set to pick up all ambient sound, which makes them next to useless. So, captioning is essential if you want an inclusive event.

A speaker stands at a lectern and captioning screen is behind his right shoulder.

The pandemic has encouraged more online remote captioning rather than having the captioner in the room. Microphone placement then becomes even more essential.

Zoom and Teams offer automatic captioning, which often fails to pick up the very words that people miss. For example people’s names and place names. If the listener misses the word or words, it is likely the AI captioning will too. For example, in Australia, AI captioning has no idea of how to translate Aboriginal place names.

8 Steps to a more inclusive event

Sheri Byrne-Haber’s article, Eight steps to a more inclusive event goes through the different things you can do to make captioning really work.

  • Choose the correct type of captioning: Automatic is free but low quality. Live captioning uses court reporting systems to keep up with speech rates.
  • Send presentation material to captioners and interpreters before the event. This is so they can prepare product names and technical information in advance.
  • Send participant’s names in advance. This speeds up the captioning time.
  • Ask speakers to practice speaking more slowly.
  • Ask speakers to incorporate pauses to give time for captioners and interpreters to catch up. It gives time for listeners to absorb the information too.
  • Formalize the approach to land acknowledgement and visual descriptions. For example Mi’kmaq is pronounced ‘meeg-maw’ which is nothing like the English spelling.
  • Captioners are always behind the scenes but sign language interpreters need to be spotlighted simultaneously with the person they are signing for.

The video below shows how captioning is done.

Video by the Australian Government

See Byrne-Haber’s article on how to make PowerPoint Presentations more accessible. Captioning and signing are the kerb-ramps for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Inclusive online conference poster sessions

Screen view of Padlet app for inclusive online conference poster presentations.Looks like hybrid conferences are here to stay. That means conference organisers are finding new ways of working, and maximising digital capabilities. Conferences with a high academic content usually have poster sessions. Posters are a good way for emerging academics to present and discuss their work. But how to make online conference poster sessions inclusive?

Getting the best from digital presentations is based on both process and technology. Using the most suitable digital platform is part of the story. In their article on inclusive and virtual poster sessions, the authors discuss real time and on-demand presentations. Having both options allows for time zone differences especially for international conferences. 

The title of the paper is, A Guide to implementing Inclusive and Accessible Virtual Poster Sessions. There is a separate section in this paper on virtual poster sessions in the undergraduate classroom.

Suggestions for virtual poster sessions

      • Use combined real-time and on-demand options for sessions
      • Use short video or audio introductions
      • Utilise Zoom for breakout rooms for real-time sessions
      • Provide demonstrations on how to use the poster platform and how to view posters and access Zoom rooms
      • Give more time between notification and the presentation date to give more time to prepare and submit before the conference

The advantage of online posters is the amount and depth of feedback received by presenters. The disadvantage is the lack of opportunity to network.

People who feel uncomfortable in crowds or noisy environments will appreciate this mode of delivery. The cost of paper and print are avoided and the poster can be stored digitally.  Virtual sessions allow for captioning, and Auslan interpreters. The authors list several benefits of virtual poster sessions and provide guidance for conference organisers. 

From the abstract

Poster sessions are an integral part of conferences. They facilitate networking opportunities and provide a platform for researchers at every career stage to present and get feedback on their work.

In Spring 2020, we designed and implemented a no-cost and accessible, asynchronous, and synchronous virtual poster session. Here, we outline our goals for hosting an inclusive virtual poster session (VPS). We also demonstrate a “backward design” approach and our rationale for using the Padlet and Zoom platforms. At the 2021 Conference we shared lessons learned to help future poster session organisers to be accessible and inclusive. 

Virtual poster sessions have great potential to improve collaborations and science communication experiences at scientific conferences and in undergraduate classrooms.

Audio Describing for TV and Movies

Cinema packs of popcorn. Audio describing is good for everyone.The art of audio describing has improved considerably since it was first trialled some sixteen or so years ago. Australian produced television programs signal when a program is audio described with a distinct sound. And more movies and stage shows are offering this option. Audio describing (AD) is designed for people with vision impairment, but could sighted people benefit too? 

A group of researchers looked at two questions – the quality of the AD, and the additional benefit to people who are sighted. Currently, the AD process sits outside the creative process. It’s added later in a similar way to captions and subtitles. However, lack of integration can cause misunderstandings about the plot and the characters. 

The research group carried out an experiment with people with vision impairment and sighted people. A short film was shown with enhanced sound effects. For example, bed spring sounds for someone sitting on a bed. Their article explains in more detail and applies the seven principles of universal design to their method. 

In conclusion, the study showed that sound design – that is, non-verbal cues – can replace verbal cues in some films. The enhanced audio description was accepted by both vision impaired and sighted audiences. One sighted participant said that because the AD was integrated into the film it didn’t feel like they were listening to AD. 

It’s universal design!

The article shows the potential for everyone to have an enhanced experience at the cinema and in their lounge rooms. It indicates a strong case for considering AD in the creative process and not leaving it as an afterthought. Integration of AD into the design process is another example of universal design. 

The tile of the article is, Enhancing Audio Description: Inclusive Cinematic Experiences Through Sound Design. The introductory page has both and abstract and a lay summary. Be prepared for a long but easy read. 

Lay summary

Audio Description (AD) is a third person commentary added to film and television productions to make them accessible for visually impaired audiences. Traditionally, AD is added to productions after they have been completed, meaning that the creative and accessibility teams do not work together to produce the accessible version of the production.

This paper explores an alternative to traditional AD, called Enhanced Audio Description (EAD), whose methods are integrated to filmmaking workflows. EAD moves away from a focus on verbal descriptions and instead focuses on sound design strategies. In EAD the traditional third person commentary is replaced by the combination of three techniques.

The first is the addition of sound effects to provide information on actions, convey abstract scenes as well as indicate time, place, and the presence of characters. The second is the use of binaural audio (3D audio over headphones) to convey the position of characters and objects portrayed on the screen. Finally, first-person narration is used to portray feelings, gestures, colours as well as certain actions.

The application of EAD methods results in a form of accessibility that can cater for both visually impaired and sighted audiences, championing inclusive cinematic experiences. Focus groups with audiences of visually impaired and sighted people demonstrated the potential of the format to be widely enjoyed, and to be offered alongside traditional Audio Description (AD) in order to provide accessible experiences which cater for different aesthetic preferences.

 

Guides for inclusive and accessible events

People standing watching a band on stage. There are fireworks in the background. Inclusive and accessible events.We’ve emerged from the COVID lockdowns and the event and conference industry is off and running. This is a good time for venue owners and event managers to find ways to be more inclusive. And that doesn’t mean asking speakers or attendees to nominate their individual requirements. So here are some guides for inclusive and accessible events. 

Front cover of Zero Conference Accessibility Guidelines.The Zero Project guidelines are based on real experience of running conferences. The guide is comprehensive and detailed, and explains the development of the guidelines. 

The New South Wales Government has an Event Starter Guide webpage which includes a section on accessibility. The guide covers transportation, parking, signage, and communicating access features, and more. There is also a Toolkit for accessible and inclusive events that has a checklist and accessibility symbols. 

Front cover of City of Sydney guidelines.The City of Sydney Inclusive and accessible event guidelines include information on why events should be inclusive. It has information on the different types of disability people experience. It has four sections covering indoor and outdoor events and a set of checklists:

    1. Accessible venues and spaces
    2. Opportunities for inclusive participation
    3. Accessible materials and information
    4. Staff awareness and attitudes

The Victorian Government has an accessible event guideline and checklist which is downloadable in Word. However this is looking a little dated. The Brisbane City Council has a webpage with basic information which is a good place to start. 

There are more posts on meetings, events and festivals in the Inclusive Events and Conferences section of this website. 

Can everybody hear me? Protocol for meetings and events

Front cover of the protocol for meetings and events.
Protocol for meetings and events

People who can’t hear well at meetings tend to avoid them. They also avoid events at restaurants and even family gatherings because it’s frustrating and tiring trying to concentrate on listening all the time. People with hearing loss tend not to disclose at meetings, which makes matters worse. When speakers announce, “Can everybody hear me?” few, if any will respond. Besides, without a microphone, nothing improves. The Ideas for Ears Protocol for meetings and events has some great tips.

Unless people with hearing loss are catered for, their voices will be left out of focus groups and community consultations. Their exclusion then becomes self-perpetuating. People with hearing loss should be able to participate in civic events and activities on the same basis as others. 

Ideas for Ears in the UK actively advocates for people with hearing loss and has developed the Hearing Access Protocol for meetings and events. It provides guidance on how to run meetings so people with any hearing ability can hear and follow them. The Protocol was developed by people with hearing loss and it comes in PDF version and a short online Hearing Access booklet. 

Also see the related post, “I don’t need a microphone”. But yes, you do.  

Festivals and markets for everyone

Events, festivals and markets need to plan for inclusion.Organisers of festivals, markets and events need to think about accessibility and inclusion in their planning. Ordering an accessible Portaloo doesn’t suddenly make the event accessible. The layout of stalls and entertainment areas also need to be considered. 

Lee Wilson makes a plea to organisers of festivals and markets for more inclusive thinking in his post on Linked In. He gives an overview of things to think about and that includes emergency procedures. Information should also be accessible, particularly to people who do not read English well, or have low vision. Auslan interpreters and audio describers make festivals and events enjoyable for people who are deaf or blind. There are several good resources on making events inclusive:

Accessible Events Checklist from the WA Government

Accessible Events Guide from Meetings and Events Australia

Event Accessibility Checklist from Australian Network on Disability (AND)

The City of Sydney’s Vivid Festivals have a high level of accessibility which is planned from the outset. 

 

Talking about it afterwards: accessible communication

Firefighter Andrea Hall in full dress uniform and white gloves signs during the inauguration of Biden and Harris.
Firefighter Andrea Hall signs during the Presidential inauguration.

When there is a big televised international, national or local event, people like to talk about it afterwards. Joining in a conversation is part of belonging. But if you couldn’t see or hear the event then that sense of belonging is lost. You can’t talk about it afterwards if communication isn’t accessible.  

A nicely written article on the Danish Universal Design Hub website (use Google translate) explains how the Biden administration is being inclusive. The Biden and Harris inauguration ceremony was very different to the previous one. Everyone was invited to the Biden-Harris party:

“All parts of the day were on separate channels sign language interpreter, live text and sight interpreter. People with disabilities had the opportunity to participate in the entire event. Clothes, people, speeches and scenes were described, down to the gold strings on the orchestra’s uniforms.”

The article discusses what it means to be included in such cultural and social events. Accessible communication means more than just understanding what is being communicated. It includes. 

 

Captioning live theatre brings culture change

A graphic of the theatre masks of comedy and tragedy.If designs are not “born” accessible then it becomes a process of finding “work-arounds”. It can be seen in tacked-on ramps or clumsy platform lifts in buildings. Revolving doors mean another separate door for wheelchair and pram users. Special captioning apps or screenings in cinemas, and “special accommodations” at work and at school. It takes a change of culture to think inclusively and to understand its value. 

While practitioners in many fields agree with the concept of inclusion for all, the organisations they work for are slow to get on board. This is because it takes a culture change to think and act inclusively. This is a key point in an article about how introducing captioning helped change the organisation’s culture. 

Although the article is in the context of higher education, it provides some insights into how to drive culture change. Basically, it stems from the need to innovate. The article provides background to the project and a step by step explanation of the process to create live captioning for a live theatre performance.

Theatre performances require more than actors. Many people work behind the scenes from the scriptwriter to the curtain operator. So, many different people worked on the project. More importantly, they saw the results. At first they thought captioning would be a distraction, but in the end it became “traction”. Staff came around and saw the positive impact. The value of hands-on experience with the development and seeing the outcomes was the key to culture change.

The authors conclude that, “creating accessible environments doesn’t need to be expensive”. But it does take time, thoughtfulness and the involvement of users.

The title of the article is, From “Distraction” to “Traction”: Dancing around barriers to caption live theatre and promote culture change.

Abstract

Laws and policies worldwide increasingly demand that all users have
equivalent ability to interact with their environment, independent of disabilities. This includes educational and work environments as well as entertainment. Technologies have greatly facilitated the development of accessible resources and processes; however, a culture of accessible design is still not fully developed, and not all solutions are affordable, so there is still resistance. This paper outlines the steps of a team effort at a small private college to provide captioning for a live theatre production, Stepping Out, which resulted not only in rendering the performance accessible but also helped grow the culture of accessibility at the institution.

Universally Designed Conferences

People sitting either side of an aisle listening to a speaker. Often forgotten both here and in the USA is the idea that conferences should be universally designed. Most  conference organisers target a workforce audience and they assume people with disability don’t have jobs. This is chicken and egg. If you don’t see someone at a conference with a disability it’s easy to assume they aren’t around. If the conference is not inclusive, they won’t come. 

A new article on universal design and accessible conferences joins the dots between all the aspects of a conference. It needs a holistic approach because it is much more than ensuring there is an accessible toilet. The article applies the principles of universal design as a way of thinking about access and inclusion. It covers:

      • online booking
      • transport and parking
      • registration
      • seating
      • catering
      • wayfinding
      • accommodation
      • communication aids
      • access to the podium. 

The research questions for the literature review were:

    • What strategies can be used to encourage and facilitate access and inclusion for conference participants with a disability?

    • How can the principles of Universal Design be used to support the inclusion of participants with disabilities to conferences?

The title of the article is, Increasing participation: Using the principles of universal design to create accessible conferences. It is an open access article. 

Abstract:  The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) mandates the inclusion of individuals with disabilities to a broad range of facilities and public buildings. One overlooked area is access to conferences. Conferences are held in a range of buildings, including purpose-built venues, hotels, and stadia. Often, the focus is on access for people with mobility limitations, but access for people with other disabilities, such as vision or hearing loss, or mental ill-health, can be overlooked. This is a significant oversight since around 19% of the population experience a disability (Brault, 2012): it makes sound business sense, as well as a sense of social justice, to ensure more people can access conferences. This article uses a literature review methodology to highlight key considerations to make conferences more accessible to a broad range of people with disabilities. A theoretical framework of Universal Design is proposed to support the ideas. A holistic approach is taken to inclusion, including online booking, transport, and parking, since, without these being accessible, the event becomes inaccessible. Other aspects considered include registration, seating, restrooms, catering, and communication aids. Creating accessible conferences can help promote equity and inclusion and bring people with diverse perspectives together to enrich a conference.

Editor’s Note: Of course, when the topic of the conference involves disability, event organisers are often on a steep learning curve to make sure it is accessible and inclusive. However, they don’t apply these principles to their other conferences.

Is your professional association inclusive?

logo of American Sociological Society - blue on white backgroundThe American Sociological Association has developed a comprehensive policy to ensure the highest level of inclusion for all members. They have 15 recommendations that could be a model for others to follow.

While the focus is on conferences, seminars and other events they hold, the list also includes: how to file a disability complaint regarding the association, processes for membership renewal to the association, orientation to conference venue or meeting site, and web content accessibility rules. The article is in the Association’s publication, Footnotes, and is titledImplementing Professional Curb Cuts: Recommendations of the Status Committee on Persons with Disabilities.

ASA has on ongoing commitment to using universal design principles to make ASA events truly welcoming to all members. 

The Status Committee’s 15 recommendations are: 

    1. Continue to support the Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
    2. Continue to collect disability related data during membership renewal process.
    3. Fully institute a system for recording disability concerns and their resolution.
    4. Provide accessible electronic copies of the Annual Meeting program upon request as a standard accessibility feature.
    5. Establish as standard ASA policy and practice the distribution of a letter regarding disability services to members who check the box requesting information during their membership renewal.
    6. As part of standard meeting policy, the hotel should complete an accessibility checklist, preferably before contracting or at least a year before the meeting, to enable the identification of accessibility problems. Based on this checklist, ASA staff can identify potential problems and negotiate their resolution. Completed checklists should be recorded and saved, and made available to the committee to the extent appropriate, along with reports on changes made to properties in response to them.
    7. As part of standard meeting policy, the ASA should conduct an on-site inspection following receipt of the checklist.
    8. Provide an orientation/walk-through of the Annual Meeting site upon request as a standard accessibility service (to be conducted by members of the Committee or members of the Section on Disabilities).
    9. Provide a gender-neutral restroom as a standard accessibility service.
    10. Provide captioning for all plenary sessions as standard practice (not simply upon request).
    11. Insert accessibility features/concerns onto the Annual Meeting program maps.
    12. Materials related to the Annual Meeting site more broadly should offer relevant accessibility information (e.g., the restaurant guide, tour descriptions, and location transportation information).
    13. A brief mention of disability services and how to file a concern/complaint should be in the Annual Meeting program, on the website, and emailed to any member who has requested information on these services when they renewed their membership.
    14. As a matter of policy, include a link to the 2008 Footnotes articles on universal design and accessible presentations in acceptance notices for Annual Meeting presentations.
    15. Provide continued support needed to gain a “Double-A Conformance to Web Content Accessibility” sticker for the ASA web site, awarded by the Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI). 

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