Gabby Austen-Browne, co-founder of Diversity Ally, talks inclusivity and accessibility at live events.
The pandemic saw the industry pivot to virtual events and then to hybrid events, with many perceiving these platforms as being the most inclusive way of delivering an event. The benefit of virtual events is that they help remove some of the barriers (particularly physical and economical) presented by in-person events, which in turn helped to increase the diversity of the attendees and forced us to consider how we can create more diverse content.
However, more diverse attendees meant more consideration was needed when it came to accessibility. This was very much a case of learning on the job. An attendee not having to travel to a venue to attend an event does not make an event accessible, it’s time to properly consider, deaf and blind participants, those with learning disabilities, the neuro divergent and those who might struggle with social anxiety when planning online and virtual events as standard, not as an afterthought.
Researching and using accessible technology properly is the key to making sure technology can be utilised by people with a wide range of practical abilities and facilitating users to interact with it in whichever way works best for them. We can use the technology that is out there to make sure our event websites and registration pages are accessible, by making sure they work with screenreader software that is compatible with Mac, iOS devices and Windows.
Any virtual event platform we use must be compatible with assistive technology, such as real-time speech interpretation and/or live captioning.
Any mobile versions of our virtual event platform should be able to be accessed by people from anywhere, particularly if they are taking part in a location with a smaller internet bandwidth.
Even during live events, technology can and should be used to support those with accessibility needs. For example, we can use apps and software that can upload event floorplans, a useful tool for those who might struggle to read signs. We can also upload useful information such as the location of accessible toilets, where the fire exits are, where wide doors and step-free routes are located, where your app is a tool for inclusivity as well as supporting information.
When it comes to including those with reduced hearing at your event, there’s no shortage of technology that can provide help when it’s needed. Live captioning and assistive listening systems, such as induction loops, are among some of the more popular solutions.
As an industry, the more educated we get as to what some of the barriers are, the more knowledgeable and the more invested we become in finding solutions for them. Let’s bring virtual event elements into the live experience. When it comes to accessibility, it’s vital to incorporate the lessons learned from running more inclusive, hybrid events. The solutions are out there and they don’t have to cost the earth.