August 25, 2021 | 6 min read

The growing popularity of working from home together with the surge in the globalization of businesses have boosted the popularity of virtual events.

Most significantly, it has seen a massive spike during the pandemic. This is because businesses across the globe had to start using digital channels to communicate. These include meetings, sponsorships, events, product reveals, and trade shows.

Yet, along with this trend is the growing need for virtual events to be accessible to people with language difficulties and disabilities.

Why it’s important to make virtual events more accessible

According to World Bank data, 15% of the world’s population experiences some form of disability.

According to W3 about 20% of the population in the USA are have hearing problems.

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have vision problems, according to the World Health Organization. Color blindness affects approximately 8% of men.

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts the number of people living with disabilities will grow considerably over the coming decades due to the aging world population and health conditions.

Awareness, legislation for disability inclusion is increasing. Many countries now see disability as a human rights issue. As a result, more and more digital products, websites, education programs are accessible and user-friendly for everyone.

6 ways to improve virtual events accessibility

Considering how many people in the United States alone have some form of disability, it is clear that virtual events should be more accessible no matter the region.

So, here are six tips for making your virtual events more accessible.

1. Ask your attendees about any special arrangements they may need

Accommodations for those with special needs are often neglected at the planning stage. To remedy this, make sure that you ask about any arrangements or things they require on the registration form. Or, ask them to email you should they need anything.

Special accommodations could include things like sign language interpretation or the ability to ask voice questions rather than typing them out.

Accounting for these in the planning stage will help you to plan your virtual event in a way that accommodates everyone and covers all your attendees’ specific requirements.

As far as etiquette goes, attendees should not have to disclose the nature of their disability.

2. Make sure virtual event functions are accessible by keyboard only

All content and functions must be accessible by keyboard only.

3. Avoid flashing content and lights

Flashing lights or content can cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. This includes things such as videos, GIFs, or effects with strobing, high-intensity lights. Not to mention, flashing content can also be annoying or distracting for viewers in general.

If using flashing content is unavoidable, take a look at the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. Here you’ll find the technical requirements for determining whether content flickers or flashes at an unsafe level.

Generally, you want to ensure that your content doesn’t flash more than three times per second.

4. Make sure text is readable and clear

You also want to make sure that your text is easy to see and read. If you’re giving a presentation or holding a conference, this will make it easier for people to follow.

The World Wide Web Consortium recommends that visual presentations use clean, readable fonts with consistent thickness. Your text should be high-contrast and in a large, easy-to-read font. Consider using Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial.

Avoid images containing text, except in cases such as logos – text in pictures is not readable by screen readers.

Also, use a color contrast checker to ensure the contrast ratio between text and background is at least 4.5:1 for standard text and 3:1 for large text so people with moderately low vision can read it. For example, use dark text with a light background, or vice versa.

5. Provide closed captions

Recent studies found that only 14% of people say their organizations use closed captioning to ensure deaf or hard of hearing people can access the content.

There are many free captioning services online that are quick and easy to use. Yet, despite this, up to 86% of virtual event planners do not use them.

Not only do closed captions help people with hearing disabilities. They’re also helpful for international attendees whose first language isn’t English (or whichever language you’re using for your virtual event).

Some closed captioning services enable you to simultaneously translate your presentation content into other languages during the live event.

Closed captions also help up to 80% of those without impairment to better understand and remember content. This is because they can read along with what’s happening on screen.

When names of people, companies, or brands are mentioned in a presentation or a lot of technical jargon is used, a live transcription will help minimize confusion about what’s being discussed.

After the event, you can use the live captioning output to create a text transcript of the event for people to go back and read.

6. Make presentations accessible

To ensure all attendees have a similar experience, pay attention to your presentation. Let your speakers know if there are people with disabilities in the audience, and share best practices with them.
Many virtual event platforms allow sign language interpretation alongside the presentations. So, make sure that you use an effective virtual event platform to accommodate better those who are hard of hearing.

Your speakers should make sure that they describe the content of each of their slides. Whether it’s a chart, graph, image, or text, they need to explain each slide in detail. If there are visually impaired attendees, make sure the content is clear and easy to read.

It’s also essential to limit background noise by muting those who are not speaking.

If you use interactive content such as chats, polls, and questions, read the questions and responses aloud.

Finally, it is a good idea to share your slides with foreign-language or disabled attendees ahead of time. This will give them a chance to get familiar with the content beforehand and follow along more easily.

4. Be clear about how to join a virtual event

The platform you host your virtual event on will determine how attendees will join. Provide clear, step-by-step instructions, including images where necessary.

Attendees should know precisely where to go, what to interact with and when, and what software or other documentation they need to download.

You should also offer alternative ways to access the virtual event. For example, provide a link to a recording of it after or a transcript with corresponding images and content that they can read.

In addition, make your content accessible after the event with clear directions on how to access it. This way, your attendees can go through everything again if they missed something during the live event

Key takeaways

The adoption of virtual events as a communication platform has been nothing short of phenomenal. It has opened up myriad opportunities to interact, engage, and communicate with people.

By following the tips above, you can ensure your events are inclusive and accessible to those with cognitive, hearing, or visual disabilities.

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