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Online events accessibility guide

Last updated: May 27, 2020

This is a work-in-progress draft guide to running more accessible virtual events, both small meetings and large conferences. I hope it helps you. If you have any feedback, please get in touch.

TODO

Best practices for organisers

1. Clear audio is key

Time is often spent making sure that we can see the slides, yet for some reason we overlook poor quality audio only to come to regret it later. Poor audio can make or break an online event. Lots of background noise or frequent drops in the audio makes it harder for attendees to concentrate and get the most out of the presentations, whether that’s because they cannot hear the speaker very well or because the person live captioning your event cannot hear the speaker (more on captioning later). And if you’re recording your event, you will want the best possible audio for your videos.

Some presenters lack confidence, but practicing with online video conferencing software in order to get clear audio and video can really help build confidence, and reduces the risk of technical issues. Any presentation is so much better for practicing.

Using a headset is recommended for presenters, or headphones and a decent microphone. Even a pair of basic headphones can have a pretty good microphone. Prefer using wired devices to wireless Bluetooth devices, as this is more reliable, reducing the risk of technical problems and cuts in audio.

Encourage speakers to practice by recording a snippet of themselves speaking using different microphone options and placements to find one that sounds the best. You can use Skyipe's test call feature to test how you sound on the other end. There's nothing worse than hearing more computer fan or squeaking floorboards than the presenter's voice.

Muting all attendees but those speaking keeps background noise in your feed to a minimum so that attendees can easily hear. Most webinar and video conferencing services allow hosts to mute all attendees. You can then unmute when necessary.

Hosts and presenters should use a quiet room where they won't be disturbed. This is particularly an issue at this time, when whole families are staying home.

There are also apps that can help reduce background noise on calls, such as Krisp.

2. Prepare your presenters well ahead of your event

Let presenters know in your call for presentations that accessibility is important to your event and that presenters will be given guidance on this.

Once a presentation has been accepted, give guidance to presenters as soon as possible on making their content more accessible in order to give the best presentation possible. Preparing ahead of time will make it easier to make any content shared after your event accessible.

Some of the ideas and approaches may be new to your presenters, so allow plenty of time for them to prepare. However, if possible, request at least a draft of slides a few weeks before your event. This gives you a chance to check over presentations for potential difficulties and gives your event's supporting services (such as captioning) adequate time to prepare.

Using large enough text and good colour contrast should be a given, but are still overlooked by many presenters. Using larger text is important for online events because your audience may be viewing on a small screen. It also goes hand in hand with not trying to make too many points on each slide, reducing cognitive load for the audience. Remember that people cannot retain too much information at a time.

Related to this, a picture can provide more value than too many words on a slide. However, be sure to encourage presenters to describe visuals when appropriate, and perhaps prompt them using a direct message if you spot issues during sessions.

Encourage presenters not to rush during their presentation. Rushing makes it harder for attendees to understand the content, and makes many presenters more likely to make mistakes or start waffling. Steady, calm breathing helps presenters and attendees.

3. Have a co-pilot during your event

Have someone responsible for monitoring and looking after attendees. If you are hosting or compering the event, it’s good to have someone who’s got your back, looking out for any issues that attendees are having with your event audio or video, as well as handling questions for the presenter.

Having a co-pilot is especially helpful in panel or interview sessions, as you can have one person talking and another monitoring the chat for problems, questions, relaying questions appropriately, muting/unmuting attendees as necessary, fixing technical issues, etc.

If you use a system for audience participation, such as open chat or Twitter or services like Slido, ensure that it is also accessible.

4. Optimise bandwidth for better quality presentations

This means ensuring that no unnecessary video or audio should be transmitted, saving bandwidth and making audio and video quality better for everyone (while also being kinder to our planet). If all attendees have their audio and video on for an event, there are loads more bits flying around the Internet to every attendee’s screen, which just don’t need to be there, requiring more bandwidth that should be used for making your event great. Your co-pilot can be responsible for muting all attendees, not only reducing the background noise, but saving bandwidth.

5. Present content for different needs

You ideally want any purely visual content to be adequately described to blind people, and to add live captioning and sign language interpretation appropriate to the region. Some of these things can be expensive, but there are things that even small events can do. Event organisers should be sure to factor the costs into the budget and sponsorship packages.

Ensuring adequately described visual content can be difficult for live events because really that is the responsibility of the presenter, as mentioned earlier. Preparation is the key here.

Live captioning can help so many attendees. If your event runs on a tight budget, there are automatic solutions available, but these are not ideal as they can be inaccurate. Using a professional captioning service is better, but more expensive. If you cannot do either of these, upload a video of the session with captions as soon as possible after the event.

Sign language interpretation is also typically expensive for event organisers, since your only option is to hire a translator.

For more on captioning in general, visit The Complete Guide to Captioned Videos by Meryl Evans.

Making live events more accessible

When your event is going out live, it's trickier to make things accessible because content needs to be reformatted or translated in real time. For example, live captioning is harder. While it is possible to use automated software for this, for accuracy and the best results for your audience, there is no option but to use a professional captioning service, and then add those captions to the video stream. It is harder to achieve this on some platforms than others.

YouTube supports automatic captioning for live streams, but only in English at present. This requires clear audio and can still be inaccurate.

Facebook supports captioning for live streams using an API.

LinkedIn are piloting support for captioning live videos and is available to registered LinkedIn Live Broadcasters only.

To learn more about live captioning using video conferencing services and a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of each service, visit Best Automatic Captioning Tool for Video Calls by Meryl Evans.

After your event

Content shared after an event, such as slide decks, tend to be lacking on the accessibility front. If you have made efforts to make your virtual event accessible and prepared adequately, presentation content and any recordings are very likely to be accessible as well. However, many slide sharing sites are not very accessible, and sharing slides as PDF is not a reliable format in accessibility terms. Semantic HTML-based slides are the best option here.

Contributors

This guide has been assembled by Jon Gibbins with valuable help from the following lovely people — thank you: