How do I put on accessible events?

September 21, 2022

Hi Pecan! I want to put on events, and I want to make sure they are as accessible as possible. What is the best way to make sure everyone in the audience gets the most from my presentations?

What a great question! I remember going to many talks and finding it hard to follow from the floor because a lot of the presentation was based on the slides. Make sure to always limit the information on your slides and try and talk through what the slides are showing. If there are pictures, tell everyone what the picture is and why you added it. Even if the picture is just for entertainment, let everyone know it's there and describe it.

Providing visual description is most important when the slide has charts or diagrams. Don’t just say you can see what the trend is, but describe it. For example, if you saw a sharp increase in the first few weeks but then the trend seemed to flatten out, and if the numbers on the chart or diagram are important in regards to this trend, read them out. As another example, explain that we had 1500 new users in the first week but only 100 in the third week.

So many of our conferences are online now. Is there anything I should know about giving an online presentation? 

Online can be a great experience, and doing a few simple things can make it even better.

When you're hosting more than a few people, ask people to use the chat feature only when necessary. Remind them that someone using a screen reader might not hear the chats, as they may have turned them off to better hear the speakers. If they have not turned them off, having to hear the chat messages makes it much harder to hear the speaker at the same time. Sending congratulations messages or plus one (+1) messages interferes with the ability to hear the speaker. Messages in agreement should be done directly to the speaker, not to the full room, if the speaker wants to receive them (which is always good to ask). Saying “hi” to people in the chat can get very frustrating when someone is trying to pay attention and the chat keeps interrupting. This can also make it so someone with attention problems is unable to keep their focus on the speaker.

This all sounds excellent, but what about using captions? Are the built-in captions okay or do I need to do anything more than that?

The built-in (automatic) captions are okay if no one in the event has a problem hearing; however, auto-captioning is often inaccurate and should never be used for real information gathering. You should always ask for requests for accommodations ahead of time and give people a time frame (e.g., a week) if they want live captions by a real person. They may also ask for a sign language interpreter.

If I am providing captions do I really need sign language as well?

Captions can be helpful for many reasons. Even people who do not identify as having a disability may benefit from using captions. For example, some people use them because the room they are in is too loud or because their internet connection is bad. Captions should be offered for every event since it’s an easy option. If someone requests sign language, this service should be provided.

If I am using a sign language interpreter, how do I make sure the person who needs that service can take advantage of it?

It's best to talk to the interpreter beforehand and discuss their needs. Sometimes interpreters have a separate video feed that users can visit to see them or they know how to make sure they are spotlighted in the online conference tool you're using. Each tool has a different way of doing this, so check in with them ahead of time and make sure you know how to use all the tools features you will need. If the tool you're thinking of using does not let you provide captions or spotlight the interpreter, switch to a tool that provides those features.

Is there anything special I should do after the event for follow up?

You should always make sure to post the slides you used after the event so people can make sure they received all the information you provided to them in the meeting. There is an excellent new tool you can use in some meetings that will let you share the slides from the start of the meeting in an accessible way.

There is a tool called Scribe for Meetings which can give users a webpage to access your slides during the meeting in an accessible format, and they can then download the slides as well. However, it's best for you to always share the slides regardless, and if there are any things that come up during the event that you need to add or change on the slides, they will then have access to those changes.

It's critical to review the captions used during the event and make sure to fix any errors so that the captions show the right information, then post a copy of the transcript as well as a captioned version of the video.

The most important thing to do is always ask the people attending your event what will help them and do your best to accommodate your guests. I hope your next events are well-attended and you are ready to give an excellent and accessible talk!