by Melissa O'Donovan, Stakeholder Engagement Manager
Published: 26 Jan 2022
Like most organisations across the UK, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit we changed our ways of working overnight. Events usually held in person moved online and meetings between organisations changed to a digital format. We all quickly learnt how to use video conferencing platforms (and the importance of mute buttons!).
In adapting to an ever-expanding number of online platforms, the requirements of disabled people must be considered to make sure that everyone can participate
Despite this upheaval, the move to online engagement has in many ways been a positive one. It means that hosting events has been made simpler and more cost-effective to organise. It has allowed us to engage with a wider range of people from different parts of the UK and overseas without the need for travel. And, particularly important during a health crisis, colleagues have arranged or attended events without having to congregate in the same venue or event space as others.
However, in adapting to an ever-expanding number of online platforms, the requirements of disabled people must be considered to make sure that everyone can participate. Ensuring your event is accessible requires planning and, crucially, the involvement of disabled people in the planning process.
How we organised an accessible inquiry online
We worked with an organisation that promotes disabled people’s rights to bring together Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in some of our focus groups for our inquiry into challenging decisions about adult social care (an inquiry that we have run entirely online since it launched in July 2021). DPOs provide disabled people with advice and advocacy to help them secure their rights and the services they need.
Getting this right means that our inquiry can benefit from the important contributions of disabled people
This organisation communicated with the participants and let us know the reasonable adjustments we needed to make so that everyone who attended the focus group could share their experiences with us. This ensured that we could tap into the unique insights of disabled people, who are experts by experience, for our inquiry.
As well as providing British Sign Language and speech-to-text interpreters, we made sure that the discussions were held at a suitable pace for the specialist language support to be effective. Alongside our focus group discussions, we published an easy read version of our inquiry survey and provided a telephone inbox as an alternative to the inquiry email inbox. Getting this right means that our inquiry can benefit from the important contributions of disabled people.
How to make sure your online event is accessible
Making an event accessible requires sound planning, which is why we published an event planning guide for organisations who engage with disabled people in 2018. Although this was developed before the pandemic and includes some advice for in-person events, it is still a helpful guide for anyone arranging a virtual event to make sure disabled people can participate fully.
For example, to facilitate your event in an accessible way, you should:
- plan ahead and ask attendees what reasonable adjustments they need ahead of your event, because people are always the best judge of what they need (make sure you have enough time to arrange these adjustments before your event)
- make sure you have enough time in your programme for all your support needs, including translation and language support services, interpretation of materials, and longer breaks to allow for physical access needs
- book communications support, such as qualified British Sign Language (BSL) or speech-to-text interpreters
- explain any key terms at the start of the event, or when they are first mentioned, because your audience may not be familiar with some policy or technical language
- describe verbally any photographs or images that form a key part of the presentation
- provide alternative formats (such as easy read) for any slides used because you may be asked to email slides to a participant
- keep a steady pace, allowing extra time for any explanations, questions and interpretation
Accessibility benefits us all
We are working in an increasingly virtual world. We must all ensure that new developments in online engagement are accessible for disabled people, so that their lived experiences can be heard and embedded into these new ways of working. An accessible event can have benefits for all, making it more inclusive and easier for everyone to share their knowledge.