This special guest post from Erica Varlese, Policy and Compliance Officer at .blog, offers some great tips on making your virtual conferences and meetings inclusive.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing a lot of conferences and meetups switch to a virtual or remote format. It’s an amazing use of the technology we already have available. However, in spite of many of us already working online or partially remote, it’s a big shift for our communities in terms of how we interact, connect, and collaborate.
With that in mind, here are a few of our top tips for ensuring that your events are inclusive, even when switching to a remote format.
Choose Software with Accessibility Features
Many of the leading software services for online meetings have already included many accessibility features including WebEx (check out University of Connecticut’s accessibility guide), Google Hangouts (University of Minnesota’s guide), and Zoom (Indiana University’s guide).
These features include things like closed captioning for those hard of hearing, keyboard shortcuts for those most comfortable with a keyboard interface, allowing meeting controls to remain on-screen (rather than auto-hiding), and playing a sound when someone joins or leaves a meeting for those who are unable to see a listing of participants.
Furthermore, it’s advisable to provide a list of keyboard shortcuts for the particular meeting software you choose.
Here’s a checklist for your accessible online meeting invitation:
- A meeting link (and/or dial-in number)
- Start time in various time zones and meeting length
- Specify internet/mobile access (can people use an app on their phones?)
- Agenda and expected outcomes
- Ask if any accessibility accommodations are needed
Send an invitation early enough to schedule American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and/or captioners if needed. Introduce ahead of time any terminology or jargon that might be used to (ASL) interpreters or live captioners. If not in real-time, try to add later for sessions that are recorded.
Consider having translators for non-native speakers either in real-time or after the sessions are recorded.
Consider the format of talks. Do you allow for text and voice-based participation? Also, “Roundtables” and queueing of hands can help ensure all voices are heard.
For those with blindness or low vision, ensure there are non-visual ways to understand visual content such as images, diagrams, and graphs. This might come in the form of a verbal description or explanation.
Some Usual Guidelines Still Apply for Having Great Meetings
The suggestions above will not only help those with “special” requirements but also make online gatherings better for everyone. We’d also like to recommend the following practices that should apply to all meetings to make them better:
Provide Options for Scheduling
Provide attendees with a variety of days and times with an understanding of different time zones and that some people have obligations such as caretaking that make certain times difficult or impossible. Services like Doodle allow groups to send a poll to find a possible consensus time for meetings.
Also, have options for those that cannot make the consensus time such as allowing them to provide content or questions asynchronously either before or after the scheduled event and providing a recording of the event.
Codes of Conduct
Ensure that participants understand the expected behavior by creating a code of conduct. You can look to organizations such as the organization AGU, which codifies acceptable behavior with principles such as “Communicate openly with respect for others, critiquing ideas rather than individuals.”
Diverse Speakers and Panels
There are countless reasons for encouraging diversity in meetings and online events. For instance, people with similar backgrounds can often miss different perspectives and experiences that could be helpful to any discussion. A diversity of perspectives fosters innovation and offers more food for thought for participants. Basically, how can we innovate if everyone talks and thinks similarly?
Also, it’s important to provide opportunities for everyone to be part of discussions and to take leadership positions. It’s important to remember that diversity includes different abilities as well as gender, ethnicity, and religion. It’s important to promote the participation of all individuals because it’s the right thing to do and it also makes for better gatherings.
Inclusivity goes beyond in-person interactions. In fact, it may be even more important in a remote setting where it may be harder to see clear cut cases of exclusion or microaggressions. Through conscientious planning, we can put in place a variety of safeguards to make sure all participants feel safe and included online.
WordPress.org conference training: https://make.wordpress.org/community/2020/03/13/online-conference-organizer-training/