ADA Requirements for Virtual Events to Make Them Accessible
Many attendees have cognitive, hearing, or visual disabilities that could keep them from getting the full virtual event experience. Virtual event platforms may seem to be the ultimate in accessibility: Open your laptop, click on a meeting invite, and you’re there. But the digital divide means that people with disabilities are less likely than other adults to have high confidence in their ability to fluently navigate technology.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Event organizers who normally work to make sure their in-person events are accessible seem to forget that virtual events need to be accessible for the disability community as well. Accessibility for virtual events should be a priority and central to the planning process from the beginning.
When you plan your next virtual event, keep these tactics in mind to ensure that everyone in your audience can fully participate in the experience.
Ask about accommodation needs in registration materials
You won’t be able to provide necessary resources for all participants without understanding their needs. Include a disability accommodation statement in preregistration materials that invites participants with disabilities to request accommodations.
ASAE’s Meetings Accessibility Policy offers sample messaging so your organization can get started on making its own. Another useful resource, Arkansas Tech University’s Event Access Statement Guide, points out that event hosts should not require participants to provide documentation about their requested accommodations, nor should they be asked about the nature of their disability. Give attendees a deadline for requests, and provides the name, email address, and phone number of the individual to contact.
Give clear, step-by-step instructions for joining
How attendees join a virtual event varies by platform, so it’s essential to provide detailed, easy-to-understand instructions. Include a detailed instruction manual with images showing participants where to go, what to click and when, and how the event homepage should look.
The virtual environment (rooms and spaces)
Make sure that the virtual conference platform offers a Section 508 compliant option. Virtual events are graphic intensive by nature. A Section 508 option renders the experience into a text version to support visually impaired attendees by enabling the use of screen readers such as JAWS.
The World Wide Web Consortium, the main international standards organization for the web, recommends that visual presentations have:
- Clean, readable fonts; the Bureau of Internet Accessibility suggests using Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Tahoma, or Verdana.
- Sufficient color contrast of text and images of text—dark text with a light background, or vice versa.
- text that is not fully justified, with line spacing at least a space-and-a-half within paragraphs, and paragraph spacing at least 1.5 times greater than the line spacing.
Closed Captioning: Closed captions are key for people with hearing loss. The webcast technology should provide an option to include closed captions (subtitles) for attendees that are hearing impaired.
It is important for the organizers/event planners to check and make sure all programs and events are accessible when creating and preparing for virtual events. It is very important to acknowledge access is not just with one person, there may be others who have access needs that are different. Offer your attendees easy and clear ways to request their accommodations for a disability, including feedback after your event, which you can use as a learning experience for the next one.