By Michelle Morgan, PhD
Over the past two years we have all become much more aware of how the online classroom environment affects accessibility. Yale’s web accessibility policies and course accessibility resources have provided guidance for all of us during this difficult time.
Now, as we transition to in-person events, many of you are wondering about improving accessibility for those students, staff, and faculty who need accommodations. What do you think the university means when it says events need to be accessible? What are you already doing to make sure events are accessible? What could you do to provide more accommodations?
The number one thing you can do when planning a live event is to make sure ahead of time what accommodations are needed. Field any accessibility requests, share materials beforehand, and communicate in advance with attendees. If you are the organizer and not the presenter, always make sure to check with the presenter(s) to determine if they require accommodations. Provide an appropriate space for attendees to request accommodations on any registration or application materials. If food is being offered, make sure to ask attendees if they have allergies or other sensitivities that should be addressed.
When you arrive at the event space, the first thing you can do is familiarize yourself with spatial accessibility. Check to make sure the doors can be opened by someone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues. If not, prop them open. Modular desks and spaces are great for collaboration but make sure you have ample room for movement, service dogs, and wheelchairs. It’s important to try to keep areas tidy and always give more room than you think you’ll need.
Check the acoustics, and when the event starts you should be sure to stand and project your voice. It’s natural to want to walk around but try to make sure that you’re not predominantly standing on one side of the room or another. Attendees should have equal access to your face and body language, as well as your voice. If there are time constraints, attendees may need added time to move between sessions. You may also want to work in breaks for all attendees.
Guidance for interacting with masks will no doubt change in the future, but as long as we are using them, we can be aware of accessibility issues. Think about the following considerations:
· Invest in clear masks for all participants, not just instructors or presenters.
· Focus on enunciation rather than simply speaking louder.
· Ensure you have regular breaks to avoid voice strain.
· Face students when speaking with them.
· Repeat student questions to ensure the whole class has heard them.
· Identify alternative ways for students to “see” each other and you, such as sharing pictures of yourselves without masks, hosting virtual components of programming, or posting introductory videos in a group space.
If you are using PowerPoint, WordDocs, PDFs, Google Slides, or other visual aids during the event, consider the following guidelines when creating them:
· Use Color Contrast with at least 4.5:1 ratio. If your font is larger than 18pt or 14pt with bold, 3:1 is acceptable.
· Use sans serif fonts because they are easier to read than serif.
· When using text and images together, increase the contrast between them.
· Use texture in addition to color to convey information.
You can find more information about the use of contrast for accessibility here. These materials can also have audio components, images, graphs, tables, and other elements that might be impossible for people with disabilities to see or use if not formatted properly.
Always try to share these aids beforehand, and if possible, in HTML format rather than pdfs. Furthermore, when using the visual aid at the event, be sure to describe the object, action, and context as they appear on screen. If you plan to use audience response systems like Poll Everywhere or Kahoot! before, during, or after the event, you should check out Yale’s guidelines for their use.
“Computer-aided transcription services,” also known as “real-time captioning” or Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services, is a professional accommodation service that can be delivered on location or remotely. As always, ask attendees if this will be needed ahead of time, so you can schedule a transcriber, notetaker, or interpreter, or technological aids like telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunication devices for deaf persons, videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.
Accommodations can cost money, and Student Accessibility Services does not usually provide funding for non-coursework activities. In the event they are needed, the organizer of the event is responsible for providing these services. So, make sure to budget accordingly.
An event, location, activity, or resource is accessible if all potential members of an audience can take full advantage of it without the need for accommodations. But remember that though it may be seem intimidating to plan for every contingency, by communicating to attendees beforehand, you will be able to improve accessibility for those who need it.
After all, creating accessible events benefits not only people with visible or known disabilities, but also those of different ages and body types, including those with non-obvious disabilities and/or chronic health conditions. With a little care and attention, we can all fully engage with the events and programs that enrich our lives.