Responding to the Pandemic With Accessible Virtual Meetings

As COVID-19 restrictions caused organizations to suddenly move their day-to-day operations virtual, many realized they didn’t know how to properly include participants with disabilities.

Learn how M.A.W. Consulting, LLC created customized virtual meeting guides that increased disability awareness and provided actionable, achievable, and meaningful steps to making meetings more accessible.

A Sudden Change in Plans

In 2020, the COVID-induced sudden (and necessary) shift to online-only interactions impacted everyday business as well as larger gatherings put on by professional organizations.

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) both host several large meetings and conferences throughout the year for their 100,000+ members. While very familiar with accessibility for in-person meetings — such as evaluating for wheelchair access — digital access was much less familiar to organizers — such as how to evaluate meeting software for use with assistive technology. 

Tweet expressing disappointment in the lack of accessibility within virtual conference platforms.

Accessibility became top of mind for conference organizers like Dr. Quincy Brown, who organizes for and blackComputeHER.

ACM and AIA contracted Michele of M.A.W. Consulting, LLC to produce “Accessible Virtual Conference Guides” that would serve a dual purpose:

  • Educate readers about digital accessibility, and;
  • Provide actionable guidance for all types of meetings and meeting planning.

For AIA in particular, this guide would also kick off their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives with a focus on digital accessibility. Architecture’s curriculum includes physical space accessibility (e.g. ramps and Braille on signs,) but not what makes technology more accessible. The pandemic accelerated their plans — and certainly placed an urgency — to get this training in motion.

The Result: Real, Meaningful Change

Michele compiled comprehensive guides by leveraging her extensive accessibility knowledge and experience creating accessible meetings and documents. She also gathered real, human insights from organizers of the ACM ASSETS Conference: an accessibility-focused conference that successfully ran virtually in 2020.

Ultimately, the virtual conference guides highlighted inclusive decisions across all artifacts and planning phases. For instance:

  • Choosing video platforms that meet digital accessibility standards (e.g., the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG)
  • Providing communication alternatives such as closed captions and chat features
  • Ensuring presenters consider best practices such as accessible colors on slides and describing images aloud for blind participants
Screenshot of ACM SIG Access Accessible Virtual Conferences Guide

The ACM Virtual Conference Guide is publicly available and has become a go-to resource for other organizers.

Virtual Meetings Aren’t Going Anywhere

There’s never been a better time to focus on virtual meeting accessibility, especially now that many companies have chosen to go remote-first in their hiring practices. Along with that, virtual events were not a one-time anomaly — all signs point to them being a part of our ongoing reality for meetings, conferences, and more. This new reality will continually bring attention to digital access for participants with disabilities, much like meeting in physical spaces brings attention to building access.

The ACM and AIA are now better equipped to handle the demands of digital inclusion for their disabled membership and beyond. If your organization could use the same attention, reach out today.

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