When you’re planning a conference, it's important to ensure everyone that attends is able to get the most out of the experience. You’re likely working hard to provide great speakers and event content, ample networking opportunities, and an enjoyable atmosphere.
People with disabilities should be able to enjoy all of the offerings of the event as well. This means that you should have appropriate communication strategies in place to ensure that no one is excluded from networking activities or unable to view any speaker or event content.
Editor's Note: Register for the first event of AccessibilityPlus 2022.
Effective communication tips
There are a number of communication tools available to make your event accessible.
Captioning provides text transcriptions of spoken words or sounds displayed on-screen. You likely have seen closed captions before, as most streaming platforms and televisions offer closed captioning. This can be done in real-time, or used for video content shown at the event or used on the event’s social media page.
Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)
CART is a speech-to-text interpreting service that is often used for live event captioning. CART supports real-time captioning, so the words are displayed on-screen as they are being spoken. CART can also be combined with PowerPoint or other presentations to display everything on one screen if desired. A CART writer will be present at the event to transcribe everything that the speaker is saying. It’s important to set them up in an area of the venue where they can hear clearly and coach speakers on speaking clearly into the microphone at a reasonable pace.
Video Relay Service (VRS)
VRS allows deaf individuals to make and receive telephone calls through a communications assistant (who is a qualified ASL interpreter).VRS works on videophones, smartphones, or computers with webcams. The deaf or hard-of-hearing individual calls the communication assistant who then calls the hearing person on a standard phone and relays the conversation between the two. VRS is designed for phone communication, so it may be helpful for registration and answering pre-event questions, but VRI will be more suitable for communication at in-person events.
Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)
VRI is designed to be used by individuals in the same room, so it is ideal for handling communication needs at an event. VRI also works through video calling a Qualified ASL Interpreter. The interpreter still interprets between ASL and spoken work, but instead of the interpreter making a separate call to the hearing participant, everyone is in the same room except the interpreter. This is great for real-time communication in work, medical, and event settings.
A qualified American Sign Language Interpreter can interpret what event speakers are saying into ASL for deaf and hard of hearing attendees. You often see ASL interpreters on the side of the stage at large events including political speeches, keynotes, and even concerts. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines qualified interpreters as:
[...] someone who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively (i.e., understanding what the person with the disability is saying) and expressively (i.e., having the skill needed to convey information back to that person) using any necessary specialized vocabulary.
Braille is a tactile writing system used to make print materials and signage readable for people who are blind or who have low vision. It features a series of raised dots that can be read through touch with the reader’s fingers. Including Braille on important signage and having menus and event programs with braille can be helpful for attendees that utilize it.
Large print, in fonts sized at least 18-20, are helpful for low vision readers. If handing out documents such as information packets, conference schedules, or dining menus, be sure to print some in large font. Also, be considerate of the font sizing in presentations.
Other Communication Aids
These are the primary communications tools for events. There are also other tools such as TRS (a text-based relay system) that may be helpful in some instances or depending on the user’s preferences. As always, it is best to listen to people with disabilities when it comes to preferred communication methods. Remember that not all deaf people or all blind people will have the same communication styles or preferences, and it’s important to be adaptable.