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Top Strategies to Make Remote Meetings and Conferences Inclusive and Accessible
Information is out of date

3/1/2021
When hosting a remote meeting, it is essential to ensure that all attendees, especially those with disabilities, can participate in a meaningful way.

Virtual events have been increasing exponentially since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Remote conferences eliminate the risks associated with attending large physical gatherings in these challenging times. In 2020, the number of organizations planning a virtual event increased 50 percent, according to a Wild Apricot research report. With innovative, user-friendly technology and availability of top-quality professional transcription services, hosting and attending meetings and conferences has become easier and more efficient than ever before.When holding a virtual event, organizers need to make sure that all attendees, including those with disabilities, participate in a meaningful way. However, while virtual conferences have advantages for people with disabilities, there are plenty of problems as well, according to a recent Scientific American article.

Meetings are a key platform for scientists to present and share their ideas and also build academic collaborations. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic many in-person meetings to be cancelled and this led scientists to move their meetings online.

 

Benefits and Challenges of Virtual Conferences for People with Disabilities

 

Generally, virtual conferences can solve many challenges for disabled attendees and their carers:

  Helps avoid unfamiliar locations and the physical demands and inaccessibility of travel

  •   When content is loaded online, people with partial hearing can turn up the volume, use live transcription software, rewatch the recordings, and better understand the discussion
  • Combining pre-recorded and live events would also allow those who are disabled, chronically ill, neurodiverse and those with caregiving needs to access the material in their own time.
  • Remote participation allows disabled people to access conference material from home setups customized to meet their needs
  •  If text and audio options are made available, people can choose to engage with the conference choose the one that suits their needs and preferences.
  • Recorded meetings and repeat sessions over the course of the conference can also overcome challenges related to time zones.
  • However, while online meetings offer these benefits and have become the new normal, they come with their share of problems. These include: absence of audio captioning, text that is incompatible with screen readers, video-based sessions without sign-language interpreters, and networking events conducted on inaccessible platforms. Evening events can pose a problem to attendees with caring or other responsibilities.

    Auto-generated captions like those supplied by YouTube’s algorithm can lead to absurd results and prevent those who are deaf or hard of hearing from fully understanding the presentation. Also, those who use assistive technology such as screen readers, will not be able to see PowerPoint slides presented in videos or on web conferencing software on these devices. This will limit their access to the conference material.

     

    Best Practices for Hosting Inclusive Remote Meetings

     

    The following best practices for hosting inclusive remote meetings were recommended by a panel of experts from Harvard's Digital Accessibility Services (DAS) on October 30, 2020.

     

     

    •          Let attendees know in advance that they can request accommodations such as ASL or captioning for the meeting. This statement can be included with the invite: “Persons with disabilities who wish to request accommodations or who have questions about access, please contact (person’s email) in advance of the session.”
    •          Ensure that the event’s RSVP submission form is accessible to people who might not be using a mouse, or who may access the form on a mobile device. 
    •          When sharing slides, videos, or audio content, see that attendees can access the online materials ahead of the conference. This will allow them to make the information more accessible. For e.g., they can magnify or invert colors in slides based on their needs.
    •        If live captions are provided, make sure that they are useful. For instance, today’s video conferencing platforms offer automatically generated live captions for every meeting, and meeting hosts may turn them on as an inclusive practice. While auto-generated live captions may not meet the required accuracy standards, they can help with note-taking and ensure a searchable transcript.
    •          Turning on the video and facing the camera will allow attendees to see the speaker and maintain attention. This is also useful for those who read lips.  
    •          Ask all participants to identify themselves by name before speaking.
    •          To help people with a vision or cognitive disability, clearly describe visual content being displayed.
    •          Repeating the questions can improve accuracy and be useful for anyone who can’t access the chat visually during the session.
    •          When using chat, read aloud any links that are posted as those using assistive technology may not be able to copy or activate the links. 
    •          Make sure that the feedback form is accessible to users who are not using a mouse, or who may be accessing the form on a mobile device.

    If a video recording of a live event is posted, it must have accurate captions provided that comply with the Digital Accessibility Policy. The best way to meet the accuracy level required for post-production captioning is to hire an experienced audio transcription vendor. This will ensure that the auto-generated captions are updated and that punctuation and speaker names, etc., are correct. Established digital transcription agencies provide captioning, audio description, transcription, and subtitling solutions and follow rigorous guidelines to ensure consistency and clarity and make videos accessible, SEO-friendly, and more engaging.

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