. How to Create Accessible Digital Events | Northstar Meetings Group

How to Create Accessible Digital Events

Holding meetings virtually can open up opportunities for those with disabilities.

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One of the few silver linings of 2020 and the necessity to meet online vs. in person has been the way in which digital and hybrid events allow more attendees to take part, on their terms.
 
rosemarie-rosetti-hybridIn advance of the United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3, we spoke with Rosemarie Rossetti, an accessibility expert and consultant, author and speaker who travels globally to discuss Universal Design and inclusive meetings and events. She told us how the changing landscape of meetings impacts those with disabilities, and how planners can ensure their events — whether digital, in-person or hybrid — are truly accessible. (You can find the transcript below.)

This overview offers some points to consider; for more detailed information, go to please review this checklist: "Are Your Virtual Meetings Accessible for People with Disabilities?"


Listen to the in-depth conversation in our latest episode of Eventful: The Podcast for Meeting Professionals, and remember to subscribe on iTunesSpotifyStitcher, Google Podcastsand anywhere else you listen to podcasts.

Transcript

Loren Edelstein

Hello and welcome to Eventful, the Podcast for Meeting Professionals. I'm your host Loren Edelstein with Northstar Meetings Group. Eventful the Podcast is our way of inviting you to join some of the interesting conversations we have with people in our business about topics that really should be on your radar. I look forward to hearing what you think and please be sure to subscribe.

Alex Palmer

Hello, I’m Alex Palmer, deputy editor of Northstar Meetings Group. One of the few silver linings of 2020, in moving in-person gatherings to online meetings, has been the way digital and hybrid events have allowed for more attendees to take part on their own terms. Ahead of the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons on December 3, we spoke with Rosemarie Rosetti, PhD, an accessibility expert and consultant, author and speaker, who travels globally to discuss inclusive meetings and events, as well as universal design. We discussed how the changing landscape of meetings is impacting those with disabilities, and how planners can ensure their events -- whether digital, in-person or hybrid -- are truly accessible. Thank you for joining us, Rosemarie. How has the meetings landscape changed for the disabled attendee?

Rosemarie Rosetti

I would think that at a virtual event, your population will increase. People without disabilities as well as those with disabilities, it's so much more convenient, not having to leave your home. And you could just imagine if you were in a wheelchair, or scooter, a cane or crutches, or were blind or deaf, or had any disability that does preclude you from going out in the community, and is a huge effort, huge expense. And now you just go into the bedroom, turn on the computer and you're at the same event. So I would expect that the attendance of people with disabilities is going to rise significantly. That would mean more members, that would mean more revenue also.

But then it also impacts, are you doing what's necessary to accommodate them in terms of communication? Yes, they're able to see a screen. So are they able to read lips better? I think they are. So those who needed to read lips are thrilled if they are able to see the speaker's lips while the program is going on. And then depending on their hearing aids, they may have a Bluetooth technology that livestreams, right into their hearing aids. And so they're thrilled to be able to hear much better read lips better. And then, my goodness, if you put closed captioning in also, wow, they've got the transcript there, they can look at it later. And they can follow along. 

And we're seeing that there are a large population that will learn better by seeing things. So they're visual learners, about 60 percent of the population are visual learners. So the virtual platform gives us that ability to have a lot of visuals, not only the speaker, but the speaker's graphics and the speaker's visuals and the words that the speaker is using. So who doesn't like seeing the closed captioning, when they capture everything that is said. And it's just so much more effective and such a better learning tool.

Alex Palmer

So for other planners out there, this should be standard, I would imagine, to have closed captioning on your virtual sessions.

Rosemarie Rosetti

Why not? Who's going to complain, and then the cost is so insignificant, and who wouldn't want the closed caption transcript later. Who wouldn't like to take less notes and learn more? And the speaker appreciates having a copy, too. So the speaker knows exactly what words were spoken and can improve upon the next time that speaker's asked to present, be it a professional or a nonprofessional.

Alex Palmer 

We talked about accessibility being important and virtual events really do make that barrier to entry so much lower. People can really engage on their own terms with their own technology or whatever tools they may need. If they have a disability, it lends itself more easily to their being able to engage in a way that maybe even at an in-person event there might be obstacle that you wouldn't find with virtual with something like closed caption is a great example. When you make this extra effort to enhance the accessibility of an event, it's not just somebody with a disability that's going to have an advantage there. It's going to really benefit any attendee, it's going to make the content a little more engaging, or at least speaking to a more broad range of learning styles and abilities.

Rosemarie Rosetti 

Absolutely. So let's make it a win win for everyone by saying virtual events can really have some wonderful advantages in that the environment is totally controlled, the hearing impaired are fulfilled. And as we look at people with vision impairment or who are blind, we need to know that they're coming and know what they're going to be needing. So the accessibility of documents has to be a first and foremost in terms of what do they need in advance of the program. And so we have to communicate with those people with vision impairments or blindness so that we know what they're going to need and communicate that to the speaker. I mean, it'd be so much easier if the speaker knew that we've got someone that's going to be on the webinar who's blind. And if you're using visuals, you need to totally include that person by describing what that visual is. And that's so simple for another sentence or two, to say, I'm showing a slide right now of a person looking at a rearview mirror of a car. It's like nothing, it's like alt text is, when you're doing something in terms of a visual for a website, you're just describing what is on the screen. And we need to do that on documentation, we need to send them the originals of documents, not the PDFs. But if we're using Word send them the Word document, if they say I'd like to have it in large print, ask them what size font they want it in, it's not that difficult.

Alex Palmer

An obstacle that might come up is asking in the first place. Should it just be a standard question on the registration? What would be the way to phrase it to make sure you're fully understanding how you could help better connect with your audience? What are some questions that should be included in that part of the registration?

Rosemarie Rosetti 

Please contact us two weeks in advance to know how we can fully accommodate your needs during this presentation. And leave it open with a communication by written or by oral so a phone call or an email so that they'll know two weeks in advance what their needs are. On the registration form, it'd be nice to have some checkboxes to say, Do you have a disability that we can accommodate you? And what is that? And then the notice of please let us know two weeks in advance. But if you want to really serve the people, why don't you call them as soon as the registration form comes in, or send an email depending on what their disability is, to say, we understood on your registration, that you have a disability a vision impairment. We want to make sure we've accommodated you. What can we do to assist you?

Alex Palmer

And there's so many tools now that do allow as a planner hosting a virtual event that make most of these changes, very simple, as you said, whether it's making the text larger, or getting the audio file transcribed, or any number of tools are out there.

Rosemarie Rosetti  

And artificial intelligence has come a long way to be able to tell the international audience that we are going to provide artificial intelligence on this international meeting. And it will be in 18 languages simultaneously. All you have to do is push a button and your closed captioning will be in the language you choose. Or if you prefer, it will be transcribed in audio in the preferred language. I mean, that's out there now.

Alex Palmer

That's such a great option. Are there tools or platforms you've seen that are especially handy or just that you might refer planners to to consider if they're saying Well, that sounds great, but how do I even find this?

Rosemarie Rosetti

One of the most recent artificial intelligence platforms is Wordly. And it's WORD LY and it's wordly.ai is their website. And that's the one that does the 18 different languages simultaneously. It is far out. I've been using it now on my hybrids with the live audience and the zoom audience. And the meeting professionals are just in awe seeing this live on their smartphones, and on their iPads and on their laptops and playing around with looking at it in another language to say, How could this be so fast? And the accuracy is amazing. And then for everyone to get a transcript later. I remember speaking at an event. They had 12 live language translators in the back of the room in soundproof booths. And it's like, could you imagine what that cost them? And they had headsets on the audience to connect to the language translator. I had a teleprompter; they had a copy of my script. And then the people in the audience that didn't speak one of those 12 languages were not served at all. They only selected 12 languages, and So the others were just sitting there not knowing what I was saying. 

Alex Palmer 

It really does open the door and in so many ways. The timing of our conversation is partly because December 3 is International Disability Awareness Day. Is that right?

Rosemarie Rosetti 

Well, the United Nations has designated it as an International Day for people with disabilities. So we are timely in terms of bringing this subject of inclusion to the meeting professionals in celebration of this special day. It's recognized throughout the world. So I can't be an expert on what everyone is doing. I'm just in charge of my own little world, trying to get my message out to the meeting professionals, as well as others. My expertise is in Universal Design, and accessible design for housing and the hospitality industry. So I'm also promoting the design of homes and hotels, and the vacation rental industry. So I'm doing some things there to share my resources on how to make things more accessible. As a person who uses a wheelchair, I am very experienced with the accessibility of a residence. I have a national demonstration home, that my husband and I designed and built and live in. The universal design living laboratory. So my whole umbrella of my business is about inclusion, be it the built environment, or be it about meetings and events.

Alex Palmer

One of the conversations that we've been hearing a lot is about how virtual is here to stay, you're gonna see an insert of hybrid form as people are able to travel again. That it does seem like this way of meeting is something that will be part of events more long term and kind of opens up the accessibility in so many other ways, just allowing more people to take part in an event. It seems like hybrid really does facilitate that.

Rosemarie Rosetti  

It absolutely does. It gives people choices and levels the playing field for everyone, for people who would have been more home-bound anyway, but would love to learn, would love to be involved. And their home is their own environment. They don't have that ability to get out as often as others. So bringing them more educational programs, more motivational programs, more support for their career. They're intelligent people. And they want to be involved like everyone.

Alex Palmer 

If you're putting on a hybrid event, are there particular considerations that should be kept in mind?

Rosemarie Rosetti

Making sure that the people on the virtual have full screen, and not too much of the gallery view, but can also see the visuals as well as the speaker.

So imagine, if you only had the slides up in the speaker's face was not visible, and someone needed to read lips, they're stuck, they can't see the lips. So being aware of what is on that screen. The moderator can help in terms of also the size of the font for the closed captioning. I didn't know if you knew that it comes in small, medium and large. All you do is go to the closed captioning window and there's usually a little arrow there and you click on that. And then the participant can determine how large the font will be on their closed captioning. And a lot of people don't know that's there. So there's little things of that nature. And if you're using a sign language interpreter, which I have done it both of my hybrid events, I put a person on stage with me that was a sign language interpreter that was wearing a clear view mask so that her lips were seen, as well as doing American Sign Language. Well, we want to make sure the audience that is virtual can pin the sign language interpreter. They need to know how to pin them so that that person's image is large on the screen. So there's a lot of things to consider on these hybrid events to make sure we're communicating with everyone.

Alex Palmer

That's great. Well, I think that kind of hits the main points I was hoping to cover. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Rosemarie Rosetti

I'd like to refer them to my website at Rosemarie speaks dot com. Rosemary speaks is my main website. And there is a section for the meeting professionals about inclusive meetings. And I've just posted my new demo video which shows me at these hybrid events, so they'll actually get to see me speaking at the virtual and in-person hybrid events. And we've also let it roll so that you can get some of my advice for the accessible documents. I'm available as a speaker and a consultant. If they have a meeting, or they'd like me to speak, this is what I do for a living. Or if they've got an event, they need somebody advice and consult with me be happy to help them through some problems, or their concerns. Or they don't know what to do. 

The email is [email protected]rie speaks dot com. That's R O S E M A R I E at RoseMariespeaks.com 

Alex Palmer  
Terrific. Thanks so much, Rosemarie. We appreciate it.

Loren Edelstein  
Thanks for listening. Be sure to rate and review us and check back for new episodes soon.


Transcribed by otter.ai