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  • Writer's pictureHannah Walker

No Access: The Inaccessibility of both Physical and Online Events

During our first podcast episode on sustainability within digital conferencing, Dr Bodo Winter stated that the popularity of his virtual conference could be credited to the ability of reaching more people than before. This revelation has been continuously uncovered over the last year, as the requirement to move online has shown us just how inaccessible in-person events can sometimes be.

Physical events don’t often make sure that they are fully accessible and that can be a very stressful and tiring time for disabled attendees. Their first thoughts are requiring wheelchair access, availability of direct transport and nearby bathrooms. For signing deaf attendees, interpreter provisions are a priority and their cost or availability is often a factor on how much they can get involved. These potential issues can cause delegates to miss out on important talks and informal meetings for crucial networking.

Moving online has eradicated a lot of limitations for disabled people. With the event being hosted in the comfort of their own homes, attendees don’t have to worry about the difficulties of accessing venues. Organisers have started to realise that there are a wealth of people across the globe with various circumstances that hinder them from either fully experiencing an event or missing it entirely. People with work or family commitments that can’t make the time. People with geopolitical barriers such as visa restrictions that are too great a hurdle to overcome. People with financial restrictions that can’t justify the expense. Hosting your event online can allow people who were not initially able to participate have that opportunity to do so.

However, this does not mean that hosting a digital event automatically becomes fully accessible. There needs to be effort made from the organisers to ensure that they are more inclusive. Accessibility is not often considered past physical elements and it is something that needs to be rectified. Fatigue is still a problem within the online environment. Too many calls and discussions can be overstimulating for an autistic attendee. An absence of captioning or technical issues with a remote interpreter can leave deaf people feeling frustrated and isolated. Not only that, but events with no deaf awareness also don’t understand the need for pacing and the immense difficulty of signing through small screens.

Organisers need to utilise technology effectively. Start offering their audience the chance to disclose any supporting requirements in advance. Record and share the event to allow people to watch at their own pace. Use a system that supports captioning and offer transcriptions to refer to. Allow more breaks to avoid fatigue and for interpreters to take a pause. These are just a few small adjustments you can make to start improving accessibility and engage with as many participants as possible. Digital events have different barriers to physical events, and they still need to be resolved in order to improve accessibility.

Digital events can do a lot for the disabled community, but we must be mindful to consider further barriers. In the age of online events, we have to continue to strive for human connection and offer accessibility for all. Event planners can’t assume that digital automatically equals inclusive. Keep an eye out for our next podcast episode where we will be discussing this topic further.

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