New CSCCE tip sheet highlights 12 guiding questions to improve the accessibility of your next virtual event

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed virtual events. Connecting online suddenly became the only way to convene groups large and small, for short meetings or multi-day conferences, and community managers often found themselves developing new meeting formats or learning to use new platforms and tools. 

Fast forward to June 2023, and a lot has changed. Platforms have evolved (and sometimes dissolved), event organizers have mastered their own suites of engagement tools, and, as participants, we’re more seasoned (although “you’re on mute!” remains a frequent refrain in Zoom meetings!). 

We’ve also gained a much deeper appreciation for what it means to host a truly accessible online event. While online events opened up spaces to many people who’d previously been excluded (e.g., through reduced registration, travel, or childcare costs), for others, it made it even harder to participate. 

In a new resource we’ve been working on with community members Rebecca Carpenter, Sara Kobillka, Casey Wright, Yanina Bellini Saibene, and Hao Ye, we offer 12 guiding questions to help you think about the ways that you could improve the accessibility of your community events. And in this blog post, we share our three top tips. 

A view from behind of a person using a braille writer to interact with their computer.
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Don’t let accessibility become an afterthought

A theme that comes up again and again in the tip sheet is that accessible events are accessible first, everything else next. Retrofitting an event to be more accessible is rife with challenges – most obviously a lack of time if you’re addressing accessibility at the last minute. Ensuring slide decks are accessible and available ahead of time, knowing that any accessory tools you plan to use are screen readable, or contracting with a sign-language interpreter, for example, all benefit from early forward planning. 

By thinking about accessibility from day one, you’re more likely to develop a timeline that works, create scaffolding you can use over and over again in future events, and effectively support your team, your presenters, and your participants in updating their practices in a way that feels replicable in other events that they may participate in.

If you don’t know, ask

While it’s a great idea to be upfront about the accessibility of your event, it’s also important to ask people directly if there’s anything specific they need in order to be able to participate rather than relying only on your own best assumptions. Engaging in conversations about accessibility is more than just a means to an end (i.e., they make your events more accessible), it also demonstrates that you and your organization value the participation of everyone in the community. And on top of that – it’s a great way to educate yourself about the different ways people assimilate information, participate, and communicate online. 

Progress over perfection

Talking about disability, and the different ways of making events accessible, can feel intimidating, especially when it’s new to you. It’s important to keep in mind that conventions, norms, and language are continuously shifting and changing. We offer some suggestions in the tip sheet to get you started that reflect where we are today, and link out to resources that we anticipate will be updated over time. 

You’ll probably make mistakes – we’re all only human! – but that’s OK. Accept constructive criticism with grace, and commit to moving forward with new understanding. As Sara’s colleague Meryl Evans says: Progress over perfection! 

More CSCCE resources for organizing community events

If you’re organizing online events for your community, be sure to check out the following CSCCE resources: 

And for in-person events, take a look at this guide book co-created by members of the CAALM Events Team from CEFP2019: