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10 Tips to Make Your Next Event More Accessible

Sep 08, 2022
Four figures using the same square object in different ways: one sitting on top, one cutting it into a different shape, one holding it up, and one folding the corner.

Kathy Ma shares insights, tips, and resources for creating more accessible events.


Imagine that you are on the bus going to work. A close friend sends you a cooking video they have been raving about. You’re excited to watch it on your commute so you can plan to make it for dinner tonight, but you forgot your headphones at home, so you try to turn on Closed Captions. But this video doesn’t have Closed Captions. You’re disappointed, and now you’ll have to wait until the end of the day to see the video and plan to make the dish tomorrow night instead. Closed captioning is just one option that is perceived as an accessibility accommodation only for people who have hearing impairments. However, you didn’t have a hearing impairment–you just forgot your headphones and closed captioning would’ve been helpful to you. 

Over the past few years, it has been increasingly common to see invitations to request “accommodations” in registration forms for conferences and other events. Many people perceive that you must have a disability in order to request or use accessibility options. However, accessibility is for everyone. When we do our work with accessibility in mind, it makes everyone’s lives easier because it gives people more options to engage and participate in the ways that work best for them. In this post, I’ll provide some straightforward tips to level up your accessibility game and create better experiences for everyone who participates in your next workshop or program.

I experience the world with a socially acceptable and socially recognized disability that is understood: poor vision (roughly -6.00 in each eye), which glasses fix. Because my disability is understood, accepted, and recognized, I experience the world as if I do not have a disability. However, if I broke my glasses one day, I would have substantial challenges going about my day. I would need help from others to walk to places, and I wouldn’t be able to see anything clearly beyond five centimeters from my face. 

Am I an “expert” in accessibility? No. What I hope to share is a brief review of some of my accessibility knowledge that has been cultivated over time from reading, learning from others like Heather McCain from Creating Accessible Neighborhoods and Accessibility colleagues in my organization, and listening to others. 

So, how do you start to think about accessibility in practical ways? I’ve provided some tips below in the context of virtual events. This is not an exhaustive list, but it provides a starting point.

1. Create an accessibility checklist. When you understand the accessibility considerations for events, having a checklist means less thinking for you to incorporate accessibility into your work. Checklists allow for consistency in how you approach events and can be improved with additional considerations as you learn more. Some of the practical tips below can be part of your accessibility checklist!

2. Consider accessibility options for physical spaces. For in-person events, there are many things to consider for how attendees can experience your event. Consider important locations such as: exits, width of doors, movable tables, ramps, or elevators for attendees who experience the world on wheels. On another note, accessibility is also for the overall attendee experience, including parking options, bathroom locations, and rooms that attendees need to go to. 

Are these key landmarks clearly labeled and communicated in an itinerary in advance? Informing all attendees of what to expect in the physical space will allow others to feel more comfortable and plan for how they hope to experience the event. It also allows the event organizers to hear from any attendees whether there are any additional accessibility options that need to be considered for an attendee to participate. 

3. Enable Closed Captions. A number of accessibility options such as enabling Closed Captions are easy to enable in video conference software. These options provide an opportunity for any attendee to use auto-transcription as they see fit. 

4. Normalize talking about access needs. Event organizers and presenters can set an example of normalizing access needs, because everyone has them. My favourite phrase that I learned when I do not have additional accessibility requests is stating, “My access needs are met today” instead of “I don’t have access needs.” This normalizes access needs for everyone and acknowledges that these needs can change.

5. Provide multiple options to participate. Think about multiple ways that someone can participate, and be flexible in different types of engagements. On top of an attendee unmuting themselves, can chat also be used? What about directly messaging you privately? Can attendees have their cameras off?

6. Consider sharing resources in advance. While sharing materials like presentation slides in advance is not always possible, this step can help attendees participate fully. Even an adapted version that can be publicly shared may help some participants follow along or be more engaged. 

7. Formatting presentation slides and other materials. Here are some quick reference points for the nitty gritties: Font size 18-24 for body text, use bullet points, ensure you have high color contrast (e.g. don’t have light yellow text on top of a gray background), add alternative text to your images, and use the styled headings provided in the presentation template to organize your content. All of these options make it easier for screen readers, and for everyone else, to understand how you’re communicating your message. 

8. Run your materials through an accessibility checker. Five years ago, my manager suggested that I process my document draft through Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker to catch elements like low colour contrast and missing alt text for images. This was where I learned to start incorporating an accessibility lens into my work. There are great tools available that provide automated reviews of images and text to recommend quick accessibility improvements.

9. Prime your presenters. Presenters are also people who experience your event. Don’t forget to consider accessibility when interacting with them! Communicating early about your plans and expectations will help ensure that your event runs smoothly on all fronts.

  • Request slides or materials early. Do you intend to send presenters’ slides or materials in advance or after the event? If so, communicate your plans early and give presenters the option to provide an adapted version that is publicly viewable for guests.

10. Loop stakeholders into your accessibility plans. Let presenters and partners know how you’re planning with accessibility in mind for this event. Encourage them  to integrate your team’s accessibility practices, such as stating their access needs when they present. 

The suggestions above are small adjustments to how you would usually plan for a virtual event, and they can provide substantial benefits for all your attendees. The act of working with intention can allow you to incorporate this lens into every event. Unsure of where to start or concerned you may be going about it the wrong way? One of my favourite quotes that directs my EDI work comes from disability advocates: “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” If you’re not sure, ask your community and work with them.


Recommended Resources

BC Campus Resources:

Creating Accessible Neighborhoods ​​

Google: Make Your Document or Presentation More Accessible

Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker


Kathy Ma is an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and Career Educator. Her lived experience, undergraduate studies in Food, Nutrition and Health and continuous education in EDI enables her to work towards uprooting systems of oppression and developing solutions that uplift underrepresented and marginalized identities. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company, including but not limited to Hikma.

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