A live event brings people together, either in-person or online, to share ideas. Unfortunately, not everybody is able to gather and communicate in the same way at an event, bringing the need for accessibility to the forefront. Accessibility is a blanket term that covers the implementation of certain standards in how a product or service is built or offered, and allows for users to access it in a non-standard way through various concessions and assistive methodologies built into it. There are several regulations that cover the delivery of accessibility, such as the Access for Ontarians Disability Act, the Americans with Disability Act, broadcast standards such as CEA 608 and 708 that govern the use of open and closed captioning, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that guide the setup of a website (such as a virtual event hub) that promotes accessibility, and several more. Accessibility also covers those whose requirements for assistance are not readily presented, such as sound, light or scent sensitivity, colour blindness, and other situations.
At a live event, accessibility impacts the ability of a user to access the space, see/hear/interact with the programming, and communicate effectively with their peers. While there are a number of standards that govern the requirements for accessibility for a given space or for an event type, there often isn’t a preset solution that is readily available to service several or all of the requirements. Event planners and AV vendors must partner and offer solutions that cover accessibility through the use of several technological, logistical or programming solutions.
Setting up a live event to be accessible requires evaluating the needs of the presenters, the audience, and the event format. Once these are identified, the event planner can work with a dedicated and experienced AV vendor to deliver these solutions alongside the standard AV requirements. Such an evaluation would follow a questioning process similar to:
- Who is the target audience? Do they have identifiable or previously-reported accessibility requests (such as mobility, auditory, visual or other sensitivity accommodations)?
- Do any of the event presenters require any mobility, auditory or visual accommodations?
- Does the venue offer any solutions for accessibility, such as wheelchair ramps, high-visibility signage, braille or embossed signage,sensitivity-zoned areas, or staffed guidance for public areas?
- Does the event need to accommodate presenters and audience members in multiple languages?
- Will the event have a hybrid or online component, and will these participants and/or presenters require accessibility options?
Once these questions are answered, the event planning team and AV vendor can put together solutions that address these challenges. A few guidelines that are worth keeping in mind before starting the event design are:
1) Event personnel and technical crew should have training on how to communicate with those requiring accessible solutions, and provide support accordingly throughout the event.
2) The presentation environment (a conference space, a virtual event etc.) should be set up with the accessibility parameters in mind. This includes providing those who require these solutions the means to activate them easily, while also allowing other providers of various solutions to set themselves up appropriately. For example, the sign language interpreter could be stationed in a clearly visible frame with a neutral backdrop when designing the stage set.
3) Separating the space to accommodate those who have different accessibility requirements can further help ensure that those who require them are catered to, as opposed to providing a one-size-fits-all experience. This could include zoning a conference space to control auditory and visual stimulation at various levels, reducing dynamic lighting to remove distractions, and providing user-selectable interpretation services through a variety of methods such as own-device QR code scanning, headsets, or a dedicated conference space.
Accessibility is a key component of inclusivity. By providing an accessible means of interacting and engaging with the event and the content being delivered, a set of individuals who may not have been able to participate, or those who may have been subjected to a sub-par experience, can now engage openly. Read more in our next post which addresses some methods of planning, designing and delivering accessible solutions for an event.