2020 forced many of us to pivot to a virtual event. When searching for the silver lining, we recognized the new opportunities for inclusivity and accessibility. Of course, virtual events are lower in cost and don’t require travel for attendees. This means a much lower total time and financial investment for both individuals – and organizations.
However, we now know that virtual events’ accessibility goes beyond just that. Your event can now be more accessible to the 61 million people in the United States alone who are living with a disability. That’s 26% of the US potentially being excluded from engaging with your organization’s content in any meaningful way.
A virtual event platform can leverage the power of web accessibility to make your event content accessible in revolutionary ways for many people with disabilities.
What does ‘web accessibility’ actually mean?
There is a lot that goes into the technical requirements for accessibility.
Put simply, online accessibility generally refers to features that make sure that websites and other technology can be accessed by all users – including those with disabilities.
When we say all users, we mean including people on any point of the spectrum of auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, verbal, and visual disabilities.
What are examples of features that make a site accessible?
- A simple, intuitive user experience and navigation tools
- Sufficient color contrast and size to make text easily readable
- Code that is compatible with accessibility tools like increased font size, screen readers, and keyboard-only navigation
- Responsive design so content is properly adjusting for various devices and screen sizes
- Alternative text labels for images (Screen readers can dictate descriptions of images for blind users)
To truly make a site accessible, you also have to think outside of just these structures. Remember that any experience’s utility is in how truly versatile and usable it is. Think of how someone can truly comprehend the content on the site using Assistive Technologies or other tools most suitable for their specific disability or preference.
Why You Should Make Your Event Accessible?
It’s crucial to have empathy and understanding for all people and their right to equal access to all publicly available properties – including your event. And also, the business implications are significant, and the ROI cannot be understated.
As you are planning the event, you need to not just consider the audience but the speakers as well. Think hard about how the inclusion of those diverse perspectives with disabilities could expand the depth of your event content while providing valuable insight into their unique perspectives. After all, if your event’s goal is to bring people together in your industry from across the globe for the purpose of knowledge sharing and growth, you can only achieve that by including all perspectives and audiences into your universe of knowledge.
The Legal Side of Accessibility
Is it a legal requirement? The quick answer is yes, but there are a few caveats. Depending on your organization, it might be a contractual obligation to adhere to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Legal liability is determined by a site’s conformance to the WCAG guidelines.
If you are evaluating various event platforms, you may see them advertised as being compliant with WCAG 2.0 A or WCAG 2.1 AA. If you’re not familiar with web development, you may be wondering what these codes mean.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of web and digital-focused accessibility standards for a website to be fully accessible to users with disabilities. These guidelines are written with an international focus by design and authored by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – an international panel of experts that continue to push and evolve the standards for the world. The most recent guideline is WCAG version 2.1. This comes with 3 levels of conformance – A, AA, or AAA. A is the lowest standard that focuses on the baseline requirements; AA has more requirements; and AAA is the highest standard. The current industry standard level of compliance is WCAG 2.1 AA, which will address the most common accessibility concerns.
Unfortunately, the world is only slowly becoming more accessible – this means that now you’ve read this article, you probably know more about accessibility than many people in your organization. So be an accessibility hero and get your team talking about how you can make sure anyone who wants to engage with your event is able to be a part of the experience you work so hard to create! We are here to help you make your virtual event really accessible and engaging, so let us know how we can help.