Last week, Difference North East held its official launch event on Zoom. We put a lot of thought into making the event as accessible as we could. In this post I just want to offer some reflections on the issues we had to think about, how we tried to anticipate potential barriers to inclusion, and what we’ve learned from the experience.
First, we had to consider our programme – how could we make sure it appealed to a broad range of disabled people? We looked for a range of speakers and activities that we felt would suit the aims of our event and our audience.
Then we spent quite a bit of time exploring the features of Zoom that would help people engage – their accessibility features, captioning, break out rooms and so on.
To help us reach the widest possible audience, we engaged a BSL interpreter through a local agency, Becoming Visible. We sent them lots of material in advance to help them prepare, and met with them in advance to discuss how to make sure we managed the signing well.
We booked a captioner to provide a live stream of text for anyone who might find it difficult to hear or to follow the dialogue, including those with any type of language barrier. Again, a pre-meet and lots of preparation was needed.
And don’t forget to check the needs of the speakers – it’s not just the audience who might need your assistance.
Once we had worked all of this out, we prepared a pretty detailed set of joining instructions. I have to admit, I would not normally have gone into so much detail, but received some good advice from one of our autistic members. She explained that it’s worth spelling out what a neurotypical person might find obvious, like it’s ok to leave if you need a break. We can’t assume everyone will know the ‘unwritten rules’.
The event, I’m pleased to say, went well, with a couple of hitches. Our captioner did not show up (an admin error on their part) and some of the videos we planned to show would not play on the day, having worked perfectly in the dress rehearsal the previous day.
The top learning points I would take away from the experience are
Plan, plan and plan some more. Involve disabled people in that planning – they will be able to help you avoid mistakes and think of things you would never have thought about.
Build in additional time. Some things will go wrong, but if you have a bit of time, you stand a chance of being able to sort them out.
Communication is key. Wherever possible, share as much as you can, and invite responses. You can get so far by generalising what most people’s needs are, but there will always be those who need something different.
Don’t assume that just because you’ve always done it one way that it’s the only way or the best way. Be open to doing things differently. Challenge your own assumptions – a useful question to keep asking yourself is ‘what if I’m someone who can’t…’.
Use the technology – it has a lot to offer. I know it sometimes feels like a poor substitute for a real live gathering, but, if well organised, it can offer great accessibility. We recorded our meeting so that many more people can watch afterwards, and we’re getting a transcription to share.
Richard Boggie Difference North East