The digital tools and platforms used for online events and activities have helped to break down barriers for visitors and audiences to engage with heritage organisations. Barriers such as geographic location, how easy it is to get into a space, or timing restrictions can be overcome through digital participation. Many historical spaces struggle with issues of accessibility, and there is also the added pressure of cultural and intellectual expectations – in terms of language or behaviour – that may ostracise particular groups. The online experiences have allowed for greater inclusive access to heritage organisations.
There are many elements to online events and activities that, like real-world events, may be hard for some groups, communities and people to access. Some of these relate to the format of being online and some of these are barriers that people face at all events, regardless of whether they are online or not.
For example, when thinking about making sure audiences can access and take part in your online event and activity we need to think about digital inclusion.
Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative
Screen reading tools, auto-transcription during events and posters designed with lighter text on a darker background will support you in making your activities more accessible. You should also consider your audiences’ ability to access digital resources: do they know how to use this technology? Do they have access to the internet? Do they need support in accessing Zoom or other webinar services?
Taking a broader view of accessibility, there are other factors that also affect whether people can access your activities, including but not limited to:
- Language barriers
- Conditions such as Autism or ADHD
- Childcare or work commitments
- Sight loss
Being accessible and inclusive online is about being proactive and not waiting for audiences to tell you they need something to access your event. You’re not expected to know the needs of all potential participants, but you do need to be aware of the simple tools you do have to make your events as accessible as possible. Be upfront and clear about what you can offer, so audiences can decide if they can engage with your events and activities.
Being accessible and inclusive online is about being proactive and not waiting for audiences to tell you they need something to access your event.
- It’s the right thing to do!
- If you don’t make accessibility a priority you will lose out on audiences and your work will reach fewer people – one in five people in the UK have a disability
- 71% of people with disabilities leave a website that is not immediately accessible
- It opens up new opportunities with different communities
- Accessible online content is better for everyone – see the “curb cut” effect
- Funders will rely on you to provide evidence that you have taken accessibility into consideration
Best practice principles
Consider these three best practice principles for inclusivity and accessibility when planning and delivering your online events and activities, which benefit everyone.
1. Be honest about what you can and cannot offer.
It is okay if you don’t have the budget to cover a BSL interpreter in your session. But it is best practice to note in your communications at the booking stage that ‘this event will not offer a BSL interpreter’. This way your audience is clear about the offer and can choose whether they would like to attend or not.
2. It’s okay that you aren’t going to know everyone’s needs before an event.
It is best practice though to try and endeavour beforehand to meet any additional needs you can. You may choose to have a contact email if anyone has any questions, or you might include some questions in the booking process that allow for individuals to specify any needs.
3. Make sure the audience know what they are expected to do, and how to behave at the beginning of the call.
You can write this down and re-iterate this in the chat during the call. For example, if you are recording and want to put the recorded material online afterwards, you should state this clearly at the beginning. Do also mention where audiences can find the material in the future and repeat this a few times – in a non-invasive way – throughout the event incase of late attendees. This ensures everyone feels happy and safe sharing their thoughts. You could also include a code of conduct during the call, perhaps to explain how you want people to ask questions to the speaker. It is important to be clear about this so people understand how they can interact during the event.
There are many tools, programmes and resources you can use (most of them free!) to help you with your digital events and activities. Don’t worry if these aren’t familiar to you. If they sound appealing, try and give them a go; there are some great Youtube tutorials on how to use many of these tools.
Looking for a way to caption live events to help participants with hearing loss? We would suggest using Zoom to host your online events as they have an built-in auto-transcription facility which automatically translates audio in the event into live captions. This function is free, although to use Zoom you will need to spend £14.39 per month. Zoom will also automatically save these transcripts, so you can send these to participants afterwards.A word of warning – it is worth reading though transcriptions and making necessary edits, as the tool isn’t perfect. If you live-stream your event on your YouTube channel, the platform will automatically record, archive and caption your video in your channel, free of charge.
- Ensuring your online content works for screen readers
Just like this resource page, you need to make sure your booking page and resources you share are able to be read by a screen reader. If you want to see how screen readers work you can check out this demo: Screen reader demo. You must ensure the language you use is clear and concise, as those using a screen reader will be listening, not reading your text. One good way of making sure you are getting your message across is to check the reading age of your text. You can use free online tools like The First Word’s Readability Test you simply copy and paste in some of your text and see how accessible it is.
- Being digitally inclusive
Not everyone who wants to access your events will be savvy or have access to the technology necessary. There are a few tips and tricks that can help though:
Zoom allows people to ‘dial in’ from their phone if they can’t access the call from the internet. It means they can still hear the event, and they can also contribute, but only vocally – they won’t be able to be seen or see anyone on the call. This can still work well though, you just need to share full details of the zoom call invite for this, not just the URL to the online meeting.
In a similar vein, not everyone is sure of what a QR code is and how to use them. Don’t rely on a QR code to lead people to a booking link or more information; make sure you give them a clear URL that starts ‘www.’ so the largest proportion of people will understand, including those using screen readers.
Things to consider when planning the delivery of an event:
- Mental health
- Class barriers
- Travel poverty
- Cultural barriers
- Digital exclusion
- Childcare/work commitments
Your organisation will have to take into account how much staff resource, budget, time and staff and volunteer skills you have to be able to implement some of these suggestions. It might not be feasible for you to employ a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter for your event, or have staff or volunteers who can deliver events late in the evening or at weekends. Work within your limits, but always strive to find new ways of working that affect your long-term goal of inclusivity.
Give people control and think about your audience FIRST:
- Make sure you have an accessibility statement
- Security – is this event being recorded?
- Live BSL interpreter or live auto transcription
- Include break for sessions two hours and over
- What questions can you ask beforehand when people sign-up to the event.
To ensure your audience knows what to expect, it is key that you include the above information at the booking stage, if it is relevant to your event or activity.
Accessibility statements can be a simple one-line sentence that states what you are doing to make this event as accessible as possible. Depending on your event and what you can offer, it might say something like:
“This event is taking place online and on-site. If attending in person, please note that the building is accessible for wheelchair users. We regret that during the live event, there will be no live auto-transcription or a BSL interpreter, but we are recording this event and will release the video on our Youtube channel with full captions. Any questions please contact [insert email address].”
This shows that although you are limited in what you can offer, you are still being proactive about the needs of your audience.
During the event
- Have your speakers use a headset wherever possible if this accessible to them to improve audio
- Hosts and presenters should use a quiet room where they won’t be disturbed wherever possible
- Ask everyone to mute themselves
- Be clear if you can share all materials after the event
- Tell people how to access transcription if you are using it.
All of the above tips will help improve the experience for all participants at your event, but particular care when it comes to visuals and audio will support any additional needs your audience may have. Here is a quick list of things to check before you start the event:
- Is your background neutral so you are clear on the screen?
- Is your room quiet / are you able to mute yourself unless you are speaking to improve sound quality?
- Are you able to use headphones?
Lastly, it is best practice at events to ask all speakers to give a quick visual description of themselves. Here is an example:
“My name is Amy, I’m a white woman with short, blonde hair. I’m sat with a bookshelf behind me and to my right side you can see a window”
Encouraging all speakers to do this makes all your guests feel included in the call, offering the same high-quality experience to any individual.
Safety, security and safeguarding
There are unique safety, security and safeguarding concerns when it comes to hosting online events and activities. As the host, you have a responsibility to make sure that everyone understands the following:
- If the event is being recorded and if so, where it might be used in the future
- Who to speak to if they have an issue during the event
- If people are required to be on camera or not
- If the chat function is open and people can use it
This is important because, for example, someone may share a personal experience and might not realise they are on camera and are easily identifiable. If it is to be shared on your Youtube channel and on social media, the person concerned could feel unsafe or upset that they have not freely chosen to share the information.
Here is a quick checklist you can use regarding safety, security and safeguarding:
- Is your event being recorded and if so, have you told everyone on the call?
- If your event is being recorded, do people know where it will be hosted and what it will be used for?
- Has everyone been told who to contact during and after the event if they have any problems or questions?
- Have you told everyone if cameras are required at the event? Has everyone had a chance to turn their camera off and/or change their name before the event is recorded?
Do you have a plan in place if someone on the call says something offensive? There are many ways you might want to handle this – but you need to be prepared and be able to act fast if this happens
- Many people that are new to hosting online events and activities are very worried about this last point. In most cases, these incidences are uncommon, but it is best practice to be prepared. One way to handle these situations is to have a code of conduct, or open with a statement that you don’t tolerate certain types of language or behaviour. You may also want to put together a basic policy which explains that any unwanted behaviour results in the individual being removed from the event or activity.
For cultural institutions, schools and young people are really important audiences when it comes to outreach work in the community. There are some really creative ways you can use online and digital activities to engage these audiences, but there are certain things you need to take into consideration when working with this particular audience.
- If you are hosting an online session with these audiences, be mindful that many institutions will only have one approved platform. Many schools only use Microsoft Teams, for example. There are many YouTube tutorials to support you using different platforms and many of them offer similar functionality. Unless you are open to using different platforms, you might not be able to work with these groups.
- Some school policies state that their students cannot appear on camera. They typically would like you or your speaker to appear on camera so the students can see you, but you will not have the face-to-face interactions you might be used to. You will essentially be talking to yourself, or sometimes a faculty member, which is worth considering when planning your activity with these audiences.
- However, many schools are happy for students to be on-screen. If this is the case, and you are broadcasted to a large group of students, you will need individual learners to come to the screen and talk to you so you can hear them. Another way of doing this is to ask teachers to repeat what learners in the class have said to you.
- Just like the advice throughout this document, try and discuss with the teacher beforehand if there are particular things you need to know about the learners. Some students might be sensitive to particular topics and you may want to adapt your activity in this case. It’s also worth finding out how the teacher thinks the learners work best – for example working in pairs or small groups – and adapting your activity to accommodate this.
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Please attribute as: "How to make your online events and activities as safe, accessible and inclusive as possible (2022) by Amy Todd and Liam Cunningham supported by The Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0