Virtual and hybrid conferences have become more popular since the advent of the recent pandemic. But are they accessible and inclusive? A paper from Canada addresses the issues of inclusive online conferences. Using the recent Parks Accessibility Conference as a case study, the authors describe their experiences. As a Canadian event, they also had to consider two languages in their planning.
Some people with disability or impairment find online events less stressful than attending in person. They can avoid travel stresses and the regular access barriers. Others who find crowds and noise difficult, tuning in from home is a more comfortable. Consequently, conference planners need to take care to plan for easy access and inclusion.
And it should be for every conference, not just conferences with a disability component. However, this is a good place to begin and to learn from first hand experiences. The Parks Accessibility Conference is one such example.
The authors provide a list of their key strategies:
- Make visual elements accessible to attendees with vision impairment
- Make audio elements accessible to attendees who are Deaf or hard of hearing
- Avoid overstimulation for individual who are neurodiverse or with a cognitive condition
- Create ways to incorporate multi-sensory experiences remotely
- Finding the right virtual conference platform.
The planners worked with presenters to help format and organise their presentations and materials. They hosted a pre-conference session with attendees to explain how to use the various features of the online platform so they knew what to expect.
The paper reads like a story, explaining every step along the way so that others might learn from their experience. There are eight recommendations for future conferences based on what they learned. Top of the list is to include people with disability from the beginning.
The title of the paper is, Virtual Accessible Bilingual Conference Planning: The Parks Accessibility Conference.
From the Abstract
The objective of this paper is to share how our team planned and delivered a virtual conference that was fully bilingual and accessible to individuals with disabilities.
We incorporated closed captions, sign language interpretation, language interpretation (audio), regularly scheduled breaks, and a multi-sensory experience.
We describe our approaches to planning the conference, such as including individuals with disabilities in decision-making, selecting virtual conference platforms, captioners, and interpreters, and how we incorporated a multi-sensory experience.
The paper also summarizes feedback we received from our attendees using a post-conference evaluation survey and our team’s reflections on positive aspects of the conference and opportunities for improvement. We conclude by providing a set of practical recommendations that we feel may be helpful to others planning virtual accessible bilingual conferences in the future.
People with complex communication needs
See a separate paper, Supporting Communication Accessibility and Inclusion in Online Meetings for Persons with Complex Communication Access Needs. This is a Masters thesis on running online sessions for people with complex communication needs.
From the abstract
This community-based, participatory research study explores how online sessions can be designed to support complex communication access needs. The use of a community-led co-design approach resulted in a deeper understanding of the individual communication accessibility requirements, barriers, and lived experiences of persons who use AAC, within the online meeting context.
Participants (‘co-designers’) designed and took part in collaborative design sessions aimed at developing ideas for supporting communication access and inclusion throughout the process of meeting online. Through cross-community collaboration, we co-designed an open-source communication access toolkit for online meetings.
The toolkit includes accessibility guidelines with a protocol for holding accessible and inclusive online sessions; suggested accessibility features and plugins for meeting platforms; and a template for a collaborative participant notebook.
The design outcomes provide guidance to the general population on how we might ensure that online meetings of all forms are inclusive and accessible for diverse and complex communicators, as we all have a right to communicate with dignity in ways where we understand and are understood.