Ways to Make Online Shows Inclusive, Accessible, and Sensory-Friendly

Did you know that when one million home pages were evaluated, there were on average 50 accessibility errors per page, according to a 2022 report by WebAim? Furthermore, virtual accessibility is easily overlooked. Oftentimes, online, virtual events are not accessible because of a lack of knowledge and understanding. As events, learning, education, meetings and business continue to be conducted virtually and online, accessibility, readability and being sensory-friendly helps all users be included and participate. Learn more about ways to create sensory-friendly online shows and events that are accessible and inclusive.

Infographic highlighting 10 ways to make an online show inclusive, accessible and sensory-friendly.

Plan ahead

Plan ahead! Give yourself time to learn about accessibility and inclusion. Consider learning about the following positive changes you can make. Ensure you include time, resources and budget to include the following:

  • Sign language interpretation
  • Audio description of video
  • Determine the accessibility features of the platform you are using. For example:
    • Is it easy for screen readers to “read?”
    • Does it offer live captions?
  • High-quality microphone and headphones
  • Hold a test event or test time. Let hosts and participants practice the technology.
  • An avenue for participants to ask about accessibility features and accommodations.

Communicate the sensory-friendly features

It is important to let people know what to expect during a sensory-friendly online show. This will help more people want to attend the event, if the accessibility and sensory-friendly features are a match. It will also let all attendees know what changes will occur and how the experience will be different. It is helpful to provide step-by-step instruction on how to access the event platform and the agenda of the event.

Include information in different ways:

  • an audio recording describing the changes as well as how to access the event.
  • a short video video showing the changes or showing how to access the event
  • images or screen shots showing the changes and demonstrating how to access the event.

It is also crucial to add contact information if interested participants have questions.

Limit the number of attendees

Oftentimes, people with sensory sensitivities feel overwhelmed in groups. That occurs both in-person and virtually. Therefore, consider limiting the number of attendees to help create a sensory-friendly online show. It can also be helpful to let people know how many other attendees might be online at the same time.

Record the event

As an alternative to limiting the number of attendees, consider recording the event (with permission). You can then share it with people who like to watch or listen to events on their own time in their own way. .

Be sure to include information about how to access the recording to people who attend live.

Open the platform well before the start time

Open the platform early and let people get comfortable.

Things to show/tell before the event starts

  • Provide an agenda about what to expect during the event;
  • Remind attendees about the accessibility features;
  • Have a welcome message on the screen, include things like:
    • A welcome message,
    • Expected start time,
    • Expected end time,
    • An additional message, like, “waiting to begin” as people join online;
  • No sound or low/calming music;
  • Someone to troubleshoot technical difficulties;
  • Instruction about accessibility features.

Sensory-friendly slides and visuals

Have you learned about what makes a presentation sensory-friendly? If your event has slides or visuals, make them sensory-friendly, too! A few tips:

  • Show and tell. Some people like to see information and other people like to hear information. Make sure you provide a way for people to both see and hear information.
  • Simple is better than complex.
  • Limit the amount of information you show and tell at any moment.
  • Double check for spelling and grammar errors.

Live captions and descriptions

Even with good microphones and excellent sound quality, people who are deaf or who have hearing loss, need alternatives. Therefore, determine if your online platform has live captions, for example. If not, is there an ability for someone to write in captions for a scripted event?

In addition, descriptions of what is happening on screen helps people who are blind or who have vision loss. You can include someone trained in audio description as part of the event. If not possible, include as much description as you can. For example, if the presenter is dancing to a song, you can say “I am now dancing to the song with a big smile on my face”.

Watch and listen to a replay with audio description by singer-songwriter Christina Martin, in this launch of the music video for her single, Stay With Me.

Two women sitting together on a couch, both wearing glasses, looking at a tablet and watching a sensory-friendly online show.

Bio-breaks

Bio-breaks are very important because it gives the attendees as well the presenters scheduled time to take a break. Any online event over an hour should include a bio break and consider them, even if you event is under an hour. Furthermore, let people know in advance when they are scheduled. During this time, invite attendees to take a break. Get something to eat or drink. You can lead participants in a stand and stretch. Looking at a screen for a long period can be tiring Having bio-breaks also helps people rest their eyes.

Chill-zone

Chill zones are meant for people to go to when they are feeling overwhelmed at an event. They can also be created for online events, too. In a virtual setting, for example, a chill zone can be created via a breakout room. Some ideas for your chill zone are:

  • Trained staff
    • Someone that attendees can talk freely with
    • Someone with an ability to guide chill zone visitors with yoga or meditation
  • Calm music
  • Guided meditation
  • Guided chair yoga

Questions and feedback

While it is common to include a questions and answer session at the end, consider adding a short one part way through your online event, in addition to the end.

It is also important to gather feedback. Insights from participants about what they enjoyed and what to improve is always illuminating. Give people different opportunities to provide feedback, e.g., at the end of the event, in a follow on survey or in a small focus group.

Being sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive is a journey not a destination.

Check out other blog posts to learn more about ways create sensory-friendly online shows and events, and in-person ones, too:

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