Imagine being blind and trying to attend a virtual event. Try that next time you stage one. – TechCrunch

How can you make a virtual event accessible to those who are blind or blind?

When i started work Vision Tech Global In June this year, I was confident that we would find the answer to that question very quickly. With plenty of virtual event platforms and online ticketing options for virtual event organizers, we were sure to meet the appropriate standard for at least one people who use screen readers or other devices to navigate the web. will do.

Sadly I was wrong about that. As I did my due diligence and talked to the CEO on various platforms, I heard a lot of “We are reading Wcag [Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] Requirements “or” Our developers are going to rewrite our front-end code when we have time. “In other words, like many others on the web, these operations did not initially take the trouble to code their sites for access, which is the least expensive and best approach, a complaint with the ADA not to mention.

This realization was a major red flag. We have announced our event dates – December 2-3, 2020 – and there was no turning back. Dimitri Paparni, Our designer, and I did not have much time to find a solution. Nothing less important than dates was that the virtual experience of the event is good for the blind, given that our event was really focused on that community.

We decided to take Octam’s Razor to conferences around virtual event experiences and answer an important question: What was required? Virtual event platforms have feature heavy, which reduces accessibility problems. What we really meant, and the list came down to three things:

  • Live-stream video for “Main Stage” events
  • A highly navigable, interactive agenda
  • Interactive video for the breakout session.

We also debated adding a social or networking element, and decided that was optional unless there was an easy, compelling solution.

The next question was, what third party devices could we use? The great news was that YouTube and Zoom get great points for accessibility. People who are blind are familiar with both and know keyboard commands to navigate many players. We discovered this largely by word of mouth and then discovered substantial supporting documentation on YouTube and Zoom. So we chose YouTube for our main stage programming and zoomed in for our breakout. It is certainly useful, that it is very easy to include both YouTube and Zoom into one website, which became our plan.

Where was the next question to host the overall experience. We wanted to be able to direct attendees to the same URL to join the event. Luckily, we had already built one Accessible website To market the event. Dimitri had learned a lot while designing and coding the site, including the importance of thinking about both blind and low-vision users. So we decided to decide the event experience on our site ourselves – by adding two elements of site navigation – the event platform – adding events (no longer live on the site) – and work schedule.

Previously there was a “page” (in WordPress parlance) that embedded the YouTube live player, and with that text description of the current session and upcoming session, with key links to the full agenda. Some people may ask why should the agenda be put on a separate page? Isn’t it more complicated? Good question, and the answer was one of many revelations that came from our partner Fable, Which specializes in conducting usability testing for people with disabilities. The answer, as we found time and again, was to imagine navigating with a screen reader, not your eyes. If the YouTube player had an agenda at the bottom, it would create a cacophonous experience – trying to listen to the imagination as well as “read” the agenda below (as “listen”). A separate page was the right idea for the agenda.

Agenda page Our biggest challenge was because it had a lot of information, the necessary filters, as well as, during the show, different “states” – such as the agenda items “were now playing” vs. the upcoming vs. already concluded . Dimitri learned a lot about the best approach to drop down for filters and other details to make the agenda page navigable, and we reviewed it several times with experts from Fub. Nevertheless we decided to take a fairly unprecedented step to invite our registered, blind event attendants to attend a “practice event” a few days before the show to get more feedback. About 200 people showed up for two seasons. We also invited blind screen reader experts, including Fable’s Sam Proulx and Facebook’s Matt King, who joined us to answer questions and resolve feedback.

It is worth noting that there are three major screen readers: JAWS, mostly used by Windows users; VoiceOver, which is on all Apple products; And NVDA, which is open source and works on Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 and later on PCs. They don’t all work the same way, and the people who use them range from experts who know hundreds of keyboard commands to occasional users who have basic basic skills. For that reason, it is really important to have expert negotiators who can help differentiate good suggestions from simple frustrations.

Format for our open house (Session one And Season two) Was a zoom meeting, where we provided information about the event and how the experience worked. Then we provided a working event page (with a YouTube player activated) and links to the agenda page and asked people to give it a try and return to the zoom session with feedback. Like much else in this effort, the result was very modest. We had a basically well down, but we missed some nuances, such as the best way for someone to order information in an agenda item that can only “hear” it. Luckily, we had time to tune the agenda page a bit more before the show.

The practice session also reinforced that we had made a good move during the show to offer live customer support as a buffer for attendees who were less sophisticated in their use of screen readers. We partnered with Be my eyes, A mobile app that connects blind users with vision impaired assistants who use the blind person’s phone camera to help troubleshoot problems. It looks like a friend on your shoulder. We recruited 10 volunteers and trained them to be ready to answer questions about the incident, and Be My Eyes topped the list for any calls related to Sight Tech Global, called Be My Eyes was listed under the “event ‘section. Our event host, the incomparable Will Butler, who happens to be a vice president at Be My Eyes, regularly reminded attendees that if they had a virtual experience Use Be My Eyes if you need help.

A month after the incident, we were feeling confident enough that we decided to add a social interaction feature to the show. Word on the street was Slido ‘Basic Q&A features worked well with screen readers, and Fab actually used the service for their projects. So we added Slido to the program. We did not embed a Slido widget below the YouTube player, which might have been a good solution for viewing participants, but instead added a link to a standalone Slido page for each agenda session, where attendees added comments. And ask complicated questions. Agenda or Livestream. The solution ended up working well, and we had over 750 comments and questions on Slido during the show.

When 2 December finally arrived, we were ready. But the best laid plans often go bad, we were just minutes into the event when suddenly our live, closed-captioning broke. We decided to stop the show until we could bring that live back for the benefit of deaf and hard of hearing appearances. After a lot of scuffle, captioning returned. (See more on caption below).

Otherwise, the production worked well from a programming standpoint as well as accessibility. how did we do? Of the 2400+ registered attendees at the event, 45% stated that they planned to use screen readers. When we did a survey of attendees immediately after the show, 95 responded and they gave the experience a score of 4.6 / 5. As far as programming is concerned, our attendees (this time everyone asked – 157 replies) gave us a score of 4.7 / 5. Needless to say, we were happy with those results.

Another note related registration. Initially, we also heard that one of the event registration platforms was as good as “good for access”. We took it at face value, which was a mistake. We should have done the test because after a few weeks it turned out that the registration for blind people as well as the comments for people trying to register with blind people showed that the registration site could have been better than the rest but then Was also really disappointing. It was painful, for example, to learn from one of our speakers Total tags Images were missing (and there was no way to add them) and screen reader users had to tab through mountains of information to link to action, such as “register”.

As we did with our approach to the website, we decided that the best course was to simplify. We added a Google form As an optional registration option. They are highly accessible. We immediately noticed that our registration increased strongly, especially among the blind. We were made to feel that our first choice for registration was to exclude the very people who had to attend our event.

We were able to use the Google Farm option because the event was free. If we were trying to pay the registration fee, Google Forms would not be an option. Why did we make the event free to all the attendees? There are many reasons for this. At first, it was difficult to reach a universally accepted point, given our ambitions to globalize the event and make it readily available to anyone interested in blindness. Second, the event itself would create another accessibility headache to add payment as well as use a “log-in” feature. With our approach, anyone with a link to the agenda or event page can participate without any log-in demand or registration. We knew this would cause some leaks in the context of knowing who was involved in the incident – actually quite because we were 30% more present than the registrant – but given the nature of the incident we thought that the names and emails Losing was an acceptable payment of value considering the easiness benefit.

If there is any exaggerated lesson from this exercise, it is simply this: Event organizers have to roll up their sleeves and really go down to see if the experience is accessible. Trusting platforms or technology vendors is not enough, unless they have a standout reputation in the community, as do YouTube and Zoom. It is equally important to ensure that the site or platform is properly coded (according to WCAG standards, and using a tool such as Google) Lighthouse) As is to conduct real-world testing to ensure that the real, observational experience of blind and low-vision users is good. At the end of the day, this is what matters most.

One last leg. Although our event focuses on access issues for those who are blind or have low vision, we were committed to including captions from the start for those who would benefit. We opted for the best quality result, which is still the humane (vs. AI) caption, and we worked together VITAC To provide captions for live zoom and YouTube sessions and 3 Play Media For on-demand versions and tapes, which are now part of permanent records. There is no “plain text” (no mark-up) in the easily downloaded version for those using braille-readers. We have supplied them as well. You can see how they all came together on the resource pages This way, Which holds all information on a given session and is associated with the respective section of the agenda.