Promoting accessibility for all in online events

Emma Castle examines the non-negotiables of inclusive virtual events.

“The events industry is well on its way to creating access and inclusion for people living with a disability but there is still a way to go,” says Liz Clark from Liz Clark Events.

“It would also be progressively impactful if tech developers made accessibility a high priority when they’re building products for virtual events. Developing easy to use virtual platforms, accessible websites with comprehensive reviews and audits is just the beginning of putting accessibility first.”

Subsequently, many disabilities are not only invisible; they’re undisclosed. This means that by running an event that doesn’t take anyone who is deaf, vision impaired, with learning disabilities or sensory, physical, hidden or mental health conditions, you will inevitably exclude some people.

Disabilities that are disclosed during the registration process of an event can be catered for with the right planning and tools.

So why not take your events to the next level by taking these needs into account?

One example of an inclusive event using the zoom platform was The National Justice Project’s Law Hack 2021. The National Justice Project is a law firm that secures justice and accountability for people and communities that have experienced discrimination, and the theme of this year’s event was Disability Justice.

Held over one and a half days on 14 and 22 October 2021, 51 people, including five judges, seven mentors and ten teams, came together to come up with ground-breaking legal solutions to the injustices facing Australians living with disabilities.

Each team was given a challenge statement to address and were tasked with coming up with a solution – and a pitch for that idea – to solve the problem with litigation and advocacy taken into account . The challenge statements to ‘hack’ were Policing and Incarceration, Healthcare, Disability Support and Aged Care, Rights and Law, Education and Children, and Housing.

These ideas were brainstormed in the team rooms and refined with the assistance of mentors. The ideas were then pitched to a panel of judges who then selected the winning team.

The teams’ combined intellect produced innovative ideas on how to use the law to achieve equity, inclusion and justice. The brains-trust of senior legal minds, advocates and academics brought their wisdom and experience to the table to recognise the most effective solutions.

In addition to the hackathon team competition, the event also included online litigation and advocacy workshops, plenary sessions and keynote speeches to solve challenges, share ideas and inspire peers and communities to act.

All participants were sent a ‘Hack Pack’ prior to the event with information including bios of the judges and mentors, the hackathon topics, the judging criteria, the event timetable and a resource library.

These resources were made available for participants in easy read versions, plain English and screen reader friendly.

Clark, who worked alongside The National Justice Project team to curate the event, says, working with the National Justice Project supporting disability justice “was an incredible learning experience as an event manager”.

“I learned that by asking the right questions to online platform developers early in the planning stage can save your event,” she says.

“Don’t be afraid to walk away from a virtual platform that is not aligned with your scope of work and mission. Choose virtual platforms that make connecting an inclusive engagement for all. Put accessibility first.”

Clark says that in the same way that the industry has adapted to catering for dietary requirements – a process that is now mandatory at all events – it’s time that accessibility requirements were made similarly mandatory.

“So many of us take our abilities for granted. Running accessible events requires specialist knowledge,” she says.

“While things are moving in the right direction, the modern world hasn’t completely caught up to what is needed to make events fully inclusive. It’s about time we make the non-negotiable standard.”

Additionally, a code of conduct and best practices should be considered when speaking and facilitating the online event:

  • Use inclusive language and avoid bias e.g. avoid words like “let me walk you through this…” and “can you see…”.
  • Instead of saying “can you please unmute/you’re on mute” say “can you please turn your mic on/off”.
  • To be more inclusive of people who are vision impaired, it’s good practice for each person who speaks to first say “This is Liz Clark, Event Manager speaking…”
  • Speak slowly so the live captioning and Auslan interpreters are in sync.
  • Use descriptive language when you show an image e.g. “I am now sharing a photo of Liz Clark a woman with short hair and a big smile”
  • Use active listening, be patient and embrace diverse communication styles