Improving access to virtual events for Deaf attendees

The Coronavirus pandemic has transformed the events industry, forcing many organisers to make their events, which are usually live and in-person, virtual instead.

Although we now have a ‘roadmap’ for when life will return to normal, it will be some time before live events can be run at full capacity, and many will continue to take place in virtual spaces.

When it comes to organising events, both live and virtual, accessibility for Deaf attendees is too often an afterthought. Even event organisers that do work to ensure their in-person events are accessible often forget that virtual events need to be accessible for Deaf attendees, too.

Below are some ways to create an inclusive experience for virtual events, taking the Deaf community and their accessibility needs into consideration.

Find out delegates’ accessibility requirements

When thinking about the accessibility of your virtual event, you need to look at every stage, including the advertising and registration process. Any adverts should include an option for potential delegates to contact someone about their accessibility requirements.

You should never make assumptions about which adjustments Deaf attendees may require, as not all Deaf people want to communicate in the same way. Some will prefer to use BSL and some will want to lip read or follow live captioning. You should ensure that any adjustments are arranged in advance, and that your Deaf attendee is satisfied that they will be able to engage and participate equally throughout the event, including the ability to raise questions and comments.

Event organisers may assume that providing automated/live captioning will be enough to allow Deaf attendees to access their event, but this is not always the case. Whilst captioning can be beneficial in some circumstances, for many profoundly Deaf British Sign Language users, BSL is their first language, meaning they will prefer to access the event via BSL Interpreters. These Interpreters will provide live and real-time interpretation for Deaf attendees during virtual and in-person events enabling them to access the event fully, interact and ask questions. If the event is recorded it is useful to share this post-event.

Furthermore, captions often appear on screen at such speed that they can be difficult for attendees to follow, and many video platforms also rely on ‘auto caption’ tools which can be inaccurate.  

Choose a reliable video BSL interpreting platform and specialist BSL provider

Video BSL interpretation can be implemented to remove the communication barriers for Deaf attendees, giving them freedom to access the same event experience as hearing attendees and, in today’s digital world, accessing a BSL interpreter on demand is easier than ever.

Technologies and services are readily available to help Deaf attendees communicate with speakers and other delegates, and interpreters can be booked at the click of a button. Where an interpreter is required, you must ensure they are of a high standard and that any video interactions are conducted using an appropriate and secure platform.

The InterpretersLive! service can be delivered into any platform, including Microsoft Teams, Attend Anywhere, GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar, and delivers real-time access to qualified and registered BSL interpreters using a secure encrypted and ISO27001 accredited,

Maximise visibility

If your event is taking place via Zoom, when using video BSL interpreters, it is important to never ‘spotlight’ a video. This leads to all attendees only seeing the video of the active speakers and means that Deaf attendees are unable to view the BSL interpreter’s video. Instead, ensure the event is set to gallery view and, if speakers are screen sharing, you must ensure the BSL interpreter can always be seen by the attendees.  

You must also consider the clothing of the event speakers and hosts, as well as lighting and video quality. Clothing should be plain and there needs to be sufficient lighting in all speakers’ rooms to reduce shadows on their faces. Cameras should be kept at an angle so that Deaf attendees have a clear view of speakers’ faces and all backgrounds should be plain and well-lit for the speakers but more importantly for the interpreter, so Deaf attendees can clearly see their sign language and facial expressions. BSL is a moving visual language, so choosing a HD quality platform and using a secure and stable internet connection is vital to ensure your virtual event is fully accessible.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 pandemic and rise of digitalisation mean virtual events are here to stay, and we will be moving forward in a hybrid world where people will continue to demand the option of attending an event digitally.

It is easy to make virtual events accessible once you know how. By following these steps, preparing well in advance, and adopting accessible remote communication practices, you can provide an experience that is inclusive and welcoming for all and reach the widest audience possible.

Clare Vale is managing director of Sign Solutions