Accessible practices in organizing and facilitating virtual events present both challenges and opportunities. In this series we offer some of our lessons learned from recent projects in which accessibility took center stage. Part 1 covered Lessons 1-3 on preparing for an important meeting with accessibility requirements Part 2 speaks about our lessons learned right before and during sessions. While we are experts in virtual facilitation, we recommend collaborating with an expert in accessibility if you have access to them.
Written by Marika Escaravage and Patrick Valois
Lesson 4: Break it up
One of a facilitator’s many jobs is to make sure there are enough breaks so that those involved – from the participants, to the interpreters, and themselves, can remain comfortable, focused and ready to contribute. When facilitating accessible meetings virtually, the additional layer of complexity can make it even more difficult to stay zeroed in for extended periods for everyone involved including participants with various needs.
Whether it is a person suffering from long term effects of COVID or another chronic health condition, a person who is neurodiverse or has any other accessibility consideration, sitting in front of a device (or in a room) for an extended period can be extra taxing. Even if there are no specific needs to accommodate, everyone benefits from a break. This is why it’s not only important to schedule additional breaks but also check in with everyone frequently to see how they’re doing and if a quick break to regroup and adjust would helpful. Remember that the participants aren’t the only ones crucial to your meeting’s success. Check in with language interpreters as well!
Lesson 5: Speak Slowly
When facilitating an accessible virtual meeting, speaking slowly is key for several reasons. It’s helpful for non-native speakers, it’s helpful for interpreters who are translating in real time while trying to keep up with the conversation, it’s helpful for lip readers and those with vision impairments who are taking info in auditorily. As a facilitator, it’s not only important to speak slowly and clearly yourself, but to make sure that tip is passed on to anyone with a speaking role in your meeting. Don’t hesitate to step in to politely ask someone to slow down. Many participants in your meeting, as well as the interpreters will thank you!
Lesson 6: Teamwork makes the dream work
Accessible virtual meetings are always better off when everyone is involved. This includes:
Consulting the experts is critical to the success of any accessible meeting and the best resource is usually those with lived experience. We’ve been told that when in doubt, the best thing to do is ask. Check in to confirm what terminology they prefer when referring to a disability (It’s a good idea to do this ahead of time, if possible). If your meeting has ASL or LSQ interpreters, check in to see if those making use of the service have any requests to make the experience more accessible. Individuals have different preferences in terms of clothing and background contrast.
Manage expectations for those who are not accustomed to participating in accessible virtual meetings. Let them know why you may be reading things aloud or moving though topics slowly.
It’s extremely important that the delivery team, including the facilitator, virtual meeting producer, interpreters, and hosting organization be on the same page throughout the duration of a meeting. At Intersol, it’s common practice to set up a “backchannel” or chat on another collaboration platform where the team can align and make decisions in real time. This is a good space for Interpreters to request that the speaker slow down, for example. Working together to create one cohesive delivery unit rather than operating as individual service providers can make a big difference in the quality of the meeting.
For many of us, after over two years of meeting online, returning to face-to-face is a breath of fresh air. With that said, I think most of us can agree that virtual meetings are still relevant, valuable, and here to stay. In fact, for many individuals, virtual sessions are more accessible and enjoyable than their in-person counterparts.
Inclusion is the future and perfection is an illusion, so if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
If you haven’t already, check Part 1 of our blog on accessibility in virtual facilitation to read up on how to prepare for an important meeting with accessibility requirements.