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Are Your Virtual Events ADA Compliant?

Updated

Ensure your events are accessible for attendees of all abilities with our checklist.

With more events, courses and activities moving online, digital literacy isn’t just a “nice-to-have” but a requirement for daily life. However, the virtual format is more likely to exclude people with disabilities. Attendees with disabilities may have difficulty accessing parts or all of your virtual event, or viewing sessions in their entirety. 

Not only does this reduce attendee satisfaction, but it affects more people than we think. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, 30% of the workforce meets the federal definition of having a disability. Of those, 62% have an invisible disability, meaning that they don’t disclose it unless absolutely necessary. 

Summed up, that means many of your guests have disabilities that could diminish their experience at your event. And more likely than not, they won’t disclose that condition to your staff. 

So as you host virtual events, you need to proactively ensure that your content is accessible to everyone in our audience—and present accommodations in a convenient and compassionate manner. 

We also advise consulting the ADA’s Telecommunications Amendement to remain in compliance with federal law. Although the current law does not explicitly mention virtual conferences, it does require,” … providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, if readily achievable.” 

With some technical savvy and foresight, though, you can host events that welcome people of all abilities. Here’s where to start: 

What is accessibility?

The concept of accessibility, in a digital context, can be hard to grasp at first.

In person, accessibility refers to the physical adjustments made to help attendees navigate your venue, like ramps for wheelchairs, braille on doors, interpreters to communicate via sign language, etc. 

In the virtual setting, accessibility refers to the adjustments that help people of all abilities navigate your event website and view presentations more easily. Common adjustments include: 

  • Color contrasting that demarcates the contents of the screen more clearly 
  • Closed captioning and the presence of sign language interpreters to ease comprehension 
  • Screen readers that provide audio descriptions of the screen’s contents 
  • Font adjustments to improve readability for people with dyslexia 
  • Larger fonts and font alternatives to enhance legibility 

This isn’t about convenience, but about inclusion. Because the presence and quality of these adjustments determine whether or not a person with a disability attends the event at all: 71% of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it’s not accessible. 

So as an event organizer, your job is to provide an equivalent experience to everyone, including those with a disability. Here’s where to start: 

How to Make Your Virtual Events More Accessible

1. Integrate with a web accessibility service provider 

From content and design to audio and UX, you need to provide attendees the most convenient and user-friendly experience possible to prevent “othering” their audience members. But that takes a lot of technical know-how, especially when you’re all-in on planning the other aspects of your event. 

For that reason, we recommend partnering with a service that is fully dedicated to web accessibility, providing necessary accommodations, and adapting them as technology and regulations evolve. 

For instance, BigMarker integrates with multiple web accessibility services built to ensure that your site has the color contrast, text size, closed caption, audio description, etc. necessary to stay compliant with the ADA, WCAG 2.1 AA and AAA requirements. 

Typically, your web accessibility service will provide a code of Javascript that can be pasted into your event website, which streamlines the transition. Guests can then open a drawer on the event site’s interface, choose their preferred accommodations and see them take effect in real-time. 

Your virtual event platform may provide these integrations for no additional cost, or you may need to purchase a separate monthly license for your web accessibility service. 

What web accessibility providers integrate with BigMarker? 

Below are some of the services we use to ensure our events are accessible and compliant with regulations: 

AccessiBe is a web accessibility service that embeds directly into your BigMarker event site to bring it into ADA compliance. 

AccessiBe's interface is a session-based design and UI adjustment tool that makes accessibility modifications based on a user's individual needs. These include content, color and display and navigation adjustments, all of which are compliant with WCAG 2.1 AA & AAA requirements. 

In addition to adjusting users’ interfaces, AccessiBe’s AI machine learning technology also uses AI technology to handle more complex accessibility adjustments such as screen-reader optimization and keyboard navigation.

UserWay is another service that embeds right into your event site to make on-the-spot adjustments for ADA compliance. UserWay’s services include web accessibility, content accessibility, contrast scanners and more. A full list of their solutions can be found here

Customers need to purchase a Userway license to implement it in their BigMarker event site. Licenses range from $49 to $3300+ per month, depending on the range of service and the size of your event. Once it is purchased, your Event Producer can implement Userway into your event site. For more information, consult Userway’s pricing options

2. Use best practice design principles 

If you choose not to use a web accessibility service integration, follow the Web Accessibility Initiative’s best practices for site design. This ensures that attendees with vision impairments and/or color-blindness are able to navigate your site and access key event locations. WAI recommends the following: 

  • Provide sufficient contrast between foreground and background
  • Don’t use color alone to convey information or distinguish between elements 
  • Ensure that interactive elements are easy to identify
  • Provide clear and consistent navigation options
  • Ensure that form elements include clearly associated labels
  • Provide easily identifiable feedback
  • Use headings and spacing to group related content
  • Create designs for different viewport sizes
  • Include image and media alternatives in your design
  • Provide controls for content that starts automatically

For more information on implementing these features, consult the WAI resource linked above.

Optimize your website design to ensure everyone has the same seamless experience.

3. Use closed captioning

Closed captioning services can help people with hearing difficulties see the text being spoken and thus make the most of your session. In addition to standard closed captioning, you can complement your audio presentation with other accommodations, including:  

  • Use a PiP [picture in picture] display, which displays one or two slide-out windows in addition to the main screen. In one of those smaller windows, have an interpreter deliver the presentation in ASL. (Picture-in-picture displays are available to virtual event customers on BigMarker.) 
  • Distribute outlines or session summaries, including any research or takeaways, to accompany the virtual presentation. 
  • Provide different language alternatives to your closed captioning stream and tell guests how they can switch between options. On BigMarker, guests can choose from English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and Chinese.(Although this doesn’t pertain to people with disabilities, this does enhance comprehension among people speaking other languages, thus making your event as a whole more accessible.) 

4. Encourage guests to request accommodations as soon as possible 

During the registration process, ask guests if they need accommodations. This will allow your team to plan for and execute any specific accommodations as thoroughly as possible. 

You can ask attendees to disclose any necessary accommodations in a custom registration field or free text box on your BigMarker event’s registration form. For those who may want to discuss their request in a more conversational, personalized setting, we also recommend providing contact information for a member of your team. This one-on-one interaction signals that your team takes accessibility seriously, which is reassuring for guests new to the virtual event setting. 

List all provided accommodations in the event’s FAQ section. Tell attendees how they can access and use each of these adjustments on the platform itself: Will they need to press an icon or open a drawer on the main interface? Will they need to press a link or access a subpage of your event site? We recommend screen recording this process with Loom or a similar tool, then including in this guide. 

Also provide attendees the contact information for someone on your team, in case attendees need more detail about an accommodation. Note that you can create and customize your FAQ on BigMarker to communicate this information in the most impactful way. 

5. Prepare your presenters to host  

Your presenters can also promote accessibility through small tweaks to their speaking style. 

  1. Start by telling audiences where and when to access the recording: If you’re providing a transcript or on-demand recording of the session, inform guests as you’re beginning the session. On BigMarker, you can “pin” this info to the top of your session’s chat, or display it on a pop-up offer. (Or send slides to your guests ahead of time so they can follow along.) This way, attendees won’t worry as much about missing minute details if they fall behind for any reason. That alone can relieve anxiety, especially if the attendee is going to complete a test or certification course on the information provided.
  2. Maximize sound and video quality: Ensure your sound and video quality are both sufficient for hosting, so that audience members are better able to see and hear you in real time.
  3. Budget time for periodic questions: Nothing’s worse than arriving at the halfway point of your presentation and realizing that several people can’t see your slides or hear your voice. Build in time to answer questions that arise as you’re moving through slides, especially if guests have difficulty reading or keeping up with the presentation.
    To facilitate this, encourage attendees to submit questions and feedback via your session’s public chat and Q&A on BigMarker.
  4. Complement slides with descriptions: Describe each of your slides, as well as any associated graphics or data (particularly the smaller font on axes and other points).
    If you’re using any external videos or images, describe them as they are playing as well. A few sentences toward the beginning and end will suffice, but pay attention to the public chat to ensure your whole audience understands what is on screen.
  5. Read polls aloud and describe each option before continuing. 
  6. Provide a link to the transcript of the presentation in your post-event email.
  7. Administer a post-event survey (you can do this through the BigMarker platform) to solicit feedback on your event’s accessibility and accommodations. 

6. Provide a contact to answer accommodation-related questions throughout the event 

Without body language or facial cues to go off of, it’s impossible to judge how each individual participant is following the presentation in a virtual setting. This means that participants will need to proactively reach out to staff with any questions or concerns related to accommodations. And that’s not always comfortable or reassuring. So provide your guests with a contact, either from your support or planning team, specifically to respond to their queries. The faster your team’s response time, the more comfortable guests will be with raising concerns and participating in your full event program. 

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are using online events to reach their business goals? BigMarker's team of Account Executives are here to help. Contact us at sales@bigmarker.com to schedule a demo and get started.

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