By Carrie Johnston, Jonathan Milam, Amy Mohan, and Eudora Struble (members of the Accessible Content Working Group)

For months now, we have been meeting, learning, and socializing in virtual spaces. Some experiences are positive, some neutral, and sometimes we may regret having clicked the “register” button. When it’s time to host our own virtual engagements, it can be helpful to reflect on our experiences in virtual spaces, and realize how successful (or not) we may have felt during those interactions.

Have you ever…

  • …been in a virtual space where the PowerPoint slides whizzed by so quickly you were unable to read the content or take notes? Or felt the need to transcribe the presentation verbatim, rather than simply jotting down your thoughts and ideas about the content?
  • …missed key points because your internet went out, or your audio or video glitched?
  • …suffered from “Zoom fatigue” and wished you could turn your sound off and still access what was being said? Or that you could simply take a break and view the presentation later?
  • …been so distracted by comments in the chat that you were unable to follow the presentation? Or missed points in the chat that were important because they were never shared in the spoken commentary of the session?
  • …spent energy absorbed in spinning icons, busy backgrounds, and audio problems on the presenter side of an event so you were unable to stay focused or concentrate?

Planning a virtual engagement can take as much (or more) time and energy as hosting attendees in person. No one wants to find out their audience wasn’t engaged after so much painstaking work!

Fortunately, you have the opportunity to take strides towards accessibility that can improve the virtual experience for attendees and hosts alike. The Accessible Content Working Group has compiled an extensive resource for Improving Accessibility and Inclusion in Virtual Spaces, including the categories and tips below. Please consult this guide as you plan your next virtual engagement.

Strive to meet the needs of everyone in your virtual space.

  • Clearly convey to attendees and any presenters how to communicate requests for accommodation, and by which date they should make such requests.

Create a welcoming environment for all visitors.

  • Assume that attendees and presenters will have a range of technical skills, different backgrounds and circumstances, and variable experience with virtual spaces. Plan activities, materials, and support accordingly.

Offer alternative methods to access the material you present.

  • Provide documentation and presentation materials in accessible formats including slides, notes, and lists of links.

Provide support to prevent and fix technology challenges.

  • Assess the accessibility of any meeting tools or apps you decide to use, and include a co-host to assist attendees with technical issues, if possible.

Avoid elements that could negatively impact an attendee’s participation and experience.

  • Allowing the key dialogue to be heard by all and keeping the audio experience clean can reduce processing fatigue for attendees. At the start of the session, let attendees know that they will be expected to remain on mute as others speak.

Pace presentations to allow attendees time to process and reflect.

  • Let attendees know before you launch polls or breakout rooms and allow adequate time for successful reactions, transitions, and participation.