Online inclusion - make the virtual accessible to all
15 May 2020
So, we've swapped meeting spaces, conference rooms and lecture theatres for the online world of Teams, Skype and Zoom – as a result we no longer have to worry about providing for people's various dietary needs in break-out refreshments, think about disabled toilets, or step free entrances to our meetings. We still may not know of all the seen and unseen disabilities of our participants, but now it's all moved online, and as we prepare to continue and expand online provision, what accessibility considerations should we think about to ensure our meetings are fully inclusive?
The good news
Some things about running meetings online bypass difficulties for certain participants such as access to a building, parking difficulty, mobility issues during networking. Online participation usually means there is equal opportunity to speak and ask questions using a chat function; captions can be enabled more easily and close up video of those speaking can both help people with hearing impairments; recording for review and sharing post event is easily built in. The key thing is to offer as many ways for people to engage as possible so that everyone can use the medium that they find most comfortable.
The bad news
Technology inequality might mean some whose internet connection and equipment isn't as fast and up to date as others might not be able to participate as fully and easily as others; audio might be poor quality not helping those with hearing impairments; screen visuals too busy for those with visual impairments; or inaccessible content might be shared which can be particularly difficult for people with print disabilities.
Easy steps you can take
So what can we do to improve the accessibility of online meetings and avoid some common pitfalls?
As with live events, remember to plan carefully and if you are hosting, share the agenda or objectives and share the expected forms of engagement in advance if at all possible – this will help people come prepared and mean they are better equipped to fully engage. Are several presenters speaking in turn? When will there be an opportunity for questions and how can they be asked (voice, 'raise hand', chat)? If in a small meeting you used to go 'round the room' for introductions or updates, how will this be done online? Considering these things will minimise anxiety and people speaking over each other. For larger meetings, is it worth having a practice session to check the tech for speakers/ presenters in particular? Can you offer attendees who would benefit from a trial run prior to the meeting if they are nervous about their set-up or equipment? Make a plan B – if you have one host and their tech cuts out – how will the meeting continue to run?
Ready, set, go!
Establish the basic rules for contributing at the start and ask people to mute their microphones when not speaking to avoid unwanted feedback and disruption. Try to hide background clutter or blur your background, and have your face well lit – not just because you want colleagues and stakeholders to see you at your best but because it will help lip readers!
Try to participate from a quiet location, and remember to have your phone and any messaging apps muted to reduce distractions. Say your name each time you speak so that everyone knows who is speaking, and speak clearly and not too fast, trying not to speak over others.
Keep your slides simple and make sure that documents you share are accessible, and shared in advance if possible. Ask participants for their input and feedback – before you deliver a long monologue check that people can see and hear you and follow what you're saying. Build in a bit of time to make adjustments as you go.
Record the session so you can share it afterwards, if you can circulate with a transcript this could support users with a range of impairments.
Circulate meeting outcomes and what happens next with everyone who participated and people who were invited but didn't manage to attend. Can you invite participants to give feedback on the accessibility of the meeting, so that if their technology or the set up made it difficult for them to voice their input, they have another chance to do so, and to work together for improvements in future?
Upskilling one another in a brave new world
Like it or not, we need the digital age to help us continue to provide services and education in the current climate, and if we embrace it and do it well, we will also enhance the experience for many users with varied access needs who may have previously felt excluded. We can share our experiences and expertise to navigate this journey together across the University of Kent. If you have queries or comments, please do email email@example.com.
Kent Digital Accessibility Conference
If you're interested in knowing more about accessibility and how we are working to meet our legal obligations to improve web accessibility and inclusion, join us for the online Kent Digital Accessibility Conference in June. There will be 2 morning sessions and 2 afternoon sessions each day for three days – Tuesday 9th, Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th June. (10:00 – 11:00; 11.30 – 12.30; 14:00 – 15:00; 15:30 – 16:30) with expert speakers (including a paralympian) and workshops including the UK government, big name suppliers, NHS experts and a European perspective showing how other countries are handling new regulations. We will also have a brand new reveal on the work we are doing towards Kent's accessible student experience, and a host of engaging practical workshops to help you grow the specialist skills required to deliver accessible services.
Please register your interest in attending virtually via Eventbrite – full details of speakers and a meeting link will be confirmed to booked attendees nearer the time.
Events, Systems and Communications Officer
Student Support and Wellbeing
University of Kent