Virtual Events & Accessibility: Accelerating Through The Turn

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Strategy, Tech
Why every organization needs an accessibility hero and how you can be that person.

The world is shifting under our feet – our corporate events, concerts, weddings, and more have been canceled due to an inability to convene in person. This ‘turn’ in the events/meetings industry is unprecedented but leaves us with a golden opportunity.

Virtual meetings and event platforms have been a dime a dozen for roughly the past ten years. They’ve served as company staples where stand-ups and client meetings call home. Since typical modern organizations follow a hybrid of mostly in-house staff with a part of it being remote, the virtual options typically represent a slight, if not significant, reduction in experience vs. those who are actually in the room having a discussion.

Luckily, the world’s current climate has forced the hands of meeting and event organizers worldwide to level the playing field by shifting collaboration online. The quick win is for those with physical disabilities. Forcing everybody to convene in an online virtual platform eliminates significant physical barriers to entry for those with a variety of permanent and temporary limitations. By permanent limitations, we mean the elderly who have general difficulty traveling, the terminally ill, the blind and deaf, or even the mentally ill where travel induces psychological stress.

Then there’s temporary – those with temporary sickness (the flu, a bad cold, etc.), broken limbs inhibiting mobility, and although unconventional, we’d be remiss not to mention the potential of financial inability to travel. Heck, sometimes it’s not even directly related to you. COVID has us all reconsidering the places we go to – near and far – and the very real consequences of you compromising a loved one back at home with something you may have picked up during travel.

Keeping the car analogy alive, think of it this way – in 1959, the seatbelt was invented in the U.S. and considered a ‘nice to have,’ or even a `luxury.’ Soon after that, officials realized this was an obvious necessity for all vehicles coming off the assembly line, turning the seatbelt from a nice to have, to a requirement. Digitally speaking, I foresee a very similar future for virtual convening. This would be a world when WCAG 58.0 AA gets published years from now and diversifies into all facets of digital content and requires an organization to have an equivalent for nonphysical attendees of conferences, not just a semi-viable additional option for attendees who couldn’t make it.

Our advice is simple: Don’t just call a few platforms and decide on what will get your organization through this time with a band-aid approach. Be your organization’s accessibility hero – accelerate through the turn. Have the hard talk with your team on how these solutions can be used for years to come. Develop a scalable strategy and invest in your solution as if it were a long-term investment, rather than a stop-gap solution.

After all, the power of the web is in its universality. Building web experiences that aren’t inclusive diminishes the power of this tool for everybody, regardless of whether the end-user or the organization attempting to capture the widest audience possible.

As part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) 2020, we’ll be analyzing a wide variety of accessibility hurdles that we, as curators of digital experiences, have a responsibility to account for in our products and services.