Version: 1.0 [December 2020]
Lead author: Michele A. Williams
Additional contributors: Shari Trewin, Jennifer Mankoff, Elaine Short, Matt Huenerfauth, Tiago Guerreiro, Soraia Prietch

This is a guide to organizing and executing accessible virtual conferences inclusive for people with disabilities. Guidance is based on accessibility standards such as the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and user experiences with virtual meetings. This is intended to supplement the ACM Virtual Conferences Guide and SIGACCESS Accessible Conference Guide (for in-person conferences).

1. About Disability

We first provide details about disability and accommodations to help organizers understand the scope of what, and more importantly who, needs to be considered in the planning and execution of a virtual event. Below we detail information about assistive technology, communication diversity, and invisible inclusion needs.

A. Assistive Technology

One means of accounting for the diversity of conference participants is to understand the ways they may be using their personal computing devices. Note that people with a variety of disabilities as well as no disability use any one of these settings and tools, or a combination of them. Though not completely exhaustive, below are some of the most common assistive technologies and example categories of users.

Common Assistive Technology
Assistive Technology Description Beneficiaries
Screen reader Text-to-speech software that translates code from GUI-based interfaces into audio output. People who are blind or low vision and cannot see a GUI clearly or at all, or sighted users who benefit from auditory rather than visual output, such as some people with migraines.
Refreshable braille display Hardware device that translates computer output into braille by electronically raising and lowering pins in braille cells. People who are blind or deaf-blind.
Zooming Application setting that increases text size of individual applications, generally through keyboard shortcuts such as Control +/-. People with low vision for whom a larger view helps overcome visual limitations including many adults over 40, or users with difficulty reading or focusing who find the zoomed view easier to follow.
Magnification An operating system setting or third-party software that creates a magnifying glass effect to enlarge screen content. People with vision impairments for whom a larger view helps overcome visual limitations, such as myopia or cataracts.
Recolor Setting that changes screen colors to an inversion or limited set such as yellow and blue or black and white. People with visual impairments that benefit from increased color contrast, or sighted users with conditions that impact visual processing such as Dyslexia.
Keyboard-only navigation Using keyboard keys and commands to mimic mouse behaviors such as Tab to move and Enter to select. People with mobility impairments that impact manual dexterity such as Cerebral Palsy or repetitive strain injury.
Switch control Large button on a mountable base that, when paired with the operating system, can mimic keyboard and mouse behavior with button presses by any body part. People with mobility impairments that impact fine motor control in their hands, such as Quadriplegia.
Mouth or Head stick Stylus held in one’s mouth or worn around one’s head to type on the keyboard or tap on a touchscreen. People with mobility impairments who have fine mobility control in their head and neck area.
Foot mouse Hardware device that allows using a mouse with one’s feet rather than hands. People with mobility impairments who have better control in their feet or people without hands and arms or repetitive strain injury.
Voice control Operating system setting or software for dictating text and commands that mimic a keyboard and mouse People with mobility impairments that impact dexterity or use of hands but not voice.
Eye tracking Software that controls the mouse cursor with eye movement and dwell on on-screen controls. People with mobility impairments that impact dexterity and their voice.
Text-to-speech Operating system setting or software that reads aloud selected text in a computer voice and sometimes accompanied by highlighting the text being read. Note, while similar to a screen reader, this is primarily focused on text and not announcing GUI elements such as “Button” or “Link”. People with difficulty focusing and/or reading such as those with learning disabilities, Dyslexia, or Tourette’s Syndrome (which can impact eye movement).

While this may feel overwhelming, with proper planning and execution we can harness technology to provide an environment where every participant can flourish – all in the same tool.

B. Communication Diversity

Along with assistive tools and technologies, it is important to understand how people communicate when one or more of their senses is impacted by an impairment. Below we detail the main communication styles and tools organizers should consider in their virtual event planning.

Communication Diversity
Communication Style Description Beneficiaries
Captions Text translation of talking and sounds. People who are hard of hearing or deaf including many older adults, listening in their non-native language, or have auditory processing disorders.
Sign language Visual language expressed by movements of the hands and face. Note, there are different languages and dialects of sign language as in oral languages. People who are deaf, particularly members of the Deaf community.
Tactile sign language Method of receiving sign language by placing one’s hands over a communication partner’s hands to feel their shape and movement. Used by people who are deafblind, though for virtual meetings this will likely be supplemented by a braille display.
Audio description Auditory descriptions of visual information, such as a presenter describing a photo on their slides. People who are low vision and blind.
Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices & Text-to-Speech Software often driven by touch interfaces or eye tracking to form text-to-speech output. People with a speech impairment or who are otherwise non-verbal.
Text-based communication Related to AAC and Text-to-Speech, this includes typing conversations rather than talking as in typing via a chat feature. People who are hard of hearing or deaf, those with a speech impairment, or those who are otherwise non-verbal.

It is key to remember that people take-in and relay information through a variety of means. Throughout this guide we will explain how to best address these communication styles in all facets of a virtual conference.

C. Invisible Inclusion Needs

Many participants will have inclusion needs that are not necessarily physical but still need consideration for an inclusive conference. Below we explain areas of particular importance to the virtual conference environment.

Considerations for non-physical impairments
Consideration Description Beneficiaries
Clear organization of information Conference information clearly defined and easy to find to aid keeping tasks ordered, orderly, and accomplishable. People with conditions impacting processing and organizing information such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Distraction-free engagements Avoiding unexpected sounds or unnecessary moving visual media can prevent impediments to taking in information or completing a task. People with conditions impacting attention, such as ADD.
Flexibility in engagement A person’s mental and physical energy levels can fluctuate. Thus, opportunity to engage when at one’s best (or have clearly defined programs that allow proper planning around key moments) is critical to a successful event. People with conditions that can put a tax/drain on one’s mental capacity and desire to engage in groups, such as Autism or chronic fatigue.
Lack of excessive animation and flashing in presentations Many popular animations such as parallax scrolling can cause motion sickness and other harmful effects for users. While there is not yet formal guidance on animations, it is advised they be avoided or used sparingly. (Note, for instance, the recent operating system setting to “Reduce Motion” which turns off such effects.)

Excessive flashing content can cause seizures. WCAG advises on no more than 3 flashes per second (Guideline 2.3.1).

People with motion sensitivity or photosensitive epilepsy.

Much of what benefits conference participants with conditions as mentioned are preparation, organization, and structure – overall goals for any conference organizing team. Thus, even though these goals are not different from the main goals of the event, we will point out throughout this guide where they should be particularly emphasized.

2. Early Planning

Considering accessibility early in the conference planning is key to a successful outcome. This includes appointing an Accessibility Chair to oversee key accessibility related activities and being mindful to create and choose accessible technology for the conference.

A. Accessibility Chair

Appointing an Accessibility Chair at the start of your conference planning is vital to the implementation of a welcoming and inclusive event. For a large event, or a hybrid event, more than one accessibility chair may be needed. The Accessibility Chair, as explained in the ACM Virtual Conference Guide, is responsible for the following:

  1. Helping with the selection of accessible platforms and tools.
  2. Working with attendees to ensure the necessary access services are included.
  3. Helping to plan and budget for access services.
  4. Establishing best practices for preparing and running accessible sessions.
  5. Providing information on accessibility to authors and prospective attendees.

An Accessibility Chair should be well-versed in working with people with diverse access needs, familiar with evaluating accessible technology, and comfortable guiding teams and vendors on making outcomes accessible. In particular, the accessibility chair should have sufficient standing in their research community to influence the decisions of the local arrangements, publicity, publications, and general chairs, and we therefore would recommend that the accessibility chair be a faculty member (rather than a student or postdoc) or have a co-chair who is a senior faculty member.

The accessibility chair should be someone with a strong understanding of accessibility considerations, for example someone whose research touches on accessibility, who teaches accessibility-related classes, who holds an accessibility-related position in their university, or who comes from a university with large numbers of students with disabilities (such as Galludet University). In addition, we strongly recommend that the accessibility chair develop a relationship with at least one professional who specializes more generally in accessibility across a wide range of needs, such as employees and connections of their university Disability Support Services office, independent accessibility consultants, or people involved in programs with accessibility focus (such as the University of Washington’s Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences).

Your organization may have an accessibility community that can connect conference organizers with potential candidates for this position. Within ACM, the Access SIGCHI group offers support for accessibility chairs. You can also reach out to the leadership of SIGACCESS or the ACM Diversity and Inclusion Council for advice.

B. Conference Software

The video conferencing tool used for the conference must consider accessibility; that is, the system must work when using the assistive technologies listed in the first section. Keep in mind that much of current technology is not accessible. Making a tool accessible requires development teams to consider accessibility at all points of the lifecycle including design, development, and testing, for which many companies do not make the investment. Thus, the Accessibility Chair(s) should be directly involved in deciding the conference’s software.

ACM does have access to an organization license for Zoom; more information may be found in the “Zoom Meeting Guide“. In leveraging this license, you will be accessing a highly accessible video conferencing tool with many built-in capabilities for accommodations and the added benefit of increased familiarity based on its ever-increasing popularity. Note, however, that Zoom does not automatically come with captioning. That is, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) interpreters still need to be hired (along with sign language interpreters where applicable); this is not currently available with the ACM Zoom license nor the overall offerings from Zoom.

If other video conferencing tools are being considered, note they should be able to provide documentation as to the state of overall accessibility. This is usually in the form of a dedicated Webpage detailing their product’s accessibility features and/or an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR), sometimes referred to as a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) document (preferably completed by a third party). For example, Zoom provides a page dedicated to accessibility. They should also be able to provide how-to documentation for users of particularly complex assistive technology; for example, Microsoft Teams has documentation for screen readers.

Tool providers’ attitudes to accessibility also vary widely. Check whether they have accessibility expertise and would be responsive to issues. Additionally, there should be support within the disability community as to the validity of the company’s claims, such as social media posts from disabled users that verify they are able to use the software (and, conversely, no posts saying the claims are false). One good measuring tool is to consider the software used by national disability organizations for their 2020 virtual events. For example, you can explore how the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) handled their 2020 virtual convention.

When selecting tools, consider if/how they incorporate captions and transcripts. It is highly preferred to have tools that offer closed captions and real-time transcription in the same window as the video conferencing itself, as opposed to a separate window. It is also important to offer “closed captions” (meaning captions that are optional to view) as some people may find the captions equally distracting as some find them necessary.

Transcripts in the same window allow a running view of the entire presentation which can be helpful to many participants. However, organizers will also need to work with the CART personnel to provide a separate Website for real-time transcripts that work for deafblind braille users. These streams are also an important alternative if the videoconferencing technology’s caption display introduces too much lag time. A real-time transcript that can be followed visually and one with a refreshable braille display are going to have different technical needs and be derived with different technologies to provide equivalent experiences.

Set-up for sign language interpreters should also be considered in the process. This should include options for showing/hiding interpreters (similar to closed captions), keeping them present for group discussions like panels or breakout groups, how best to identify interpreters in the sea of video feeds (such as customize their name to include “Interpreter”), confirming the ability to “pin” the interpreter’s video on the screen at a reasonable size for those deaf participants watching them, and how to switch views upon interpreter hand-offs. Note that deaf presenters might be signing their presentation and have that spoken aloud to the audience by the interpreter and they need to see that interpreter for any question & answer sessions.

C. Help Desk Channels

Organizers should provide a means for attendees with disabilities to obtain real-time assistance, particularly just before and during the conference. Accessible chat-based interaction tools such as Discord offer a great means of immediate assistance and repository of instructions and answers to frequent questions, particularly when organized into subject-based channels. The Accessibility Chair(s) should work with the team to organize this set-up (including ensuring the tool chosen is accessible) and work with designated team members and volunteers to monitor the system before and during the event. This can also be used for gathering feedback after the conference to make improvements for the next year.

Note this does not replace direct contact with the Accessibility Chair(s) (e.g., email) as participants may need assistance with the Help Desk tool itself. Also, note that users may find this additional channel overwhelming and hard to follow during the conference if notifications are not set properly; tutorials on how to manage communications are highly recommended.

D. Conference Website

Gathering information from the conference Website is vital for people with disabilities who need to evaluate their participation based on how the conference has considered their needs. Thus, the site itself must be accessible (that is, the code of the site must allow assistive technology use) and then the site’s content must answer a lot of questions.

Building an accessible Website takes a detailed understanding of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. At the time of writing, WCAG 2.1 AA is the recommended standard to use. As not everyone is taught accessibility when learning to create a Website, it is best to start with an accessible base such as a WordPress “accessibility-ready” template or template from software tools that are based on native HTML such as Webflow. If developing from scratch, the key is to avoid as much custom code and outside widgets as possible if not familiar with how to create accessible custom elements.

Additionally, Webpage builders should keep in mind the most common techniques such as those listed in this WordPress accessibility article and Webflow accessibility article. Developers are also encouraged to leverage automated testing tools to evaluate their page accessibility, as explained in this article on testing tools from A11y Coffee. Make sure the site can be fully navigated using only a keyboard by testing manually. The WCAG checklist on A11y Project can be helpful to understand if the site is meeting the WCAG criteria and where items may be difficult for users.

The Website’s content should contain the following where appropriate on the site:

  • Identify the video conference software used for the event and, preferably, link to any accessibility documentation for the software
  • Accommodations available (namely captions and sign language interpreting), and whether they are automatically provided (including in what language) or by request
  • The primary conference language(s)
  • The primary conference time zone(s), and when events will occur within those time zones
  • How breaks will be handled (namely when and how long)
  • Presentation formats (e.g., presentations, panels, etc.) and whether presentations will be live or pre-recorded (or both)
  • If recordings of the conference will be made available after the conference, and if those will have captions and transcripts
  • Registration requirements (before starting the registration process) including deadline, any membership requirements, pricing, and accessible alternatives for any inaccessible registration tools

Conferences should provide a standard means for accessing the accessibility information. To support this, SIGACCESS and AccessSIGCHI are working together to develop an Accessibility F.A.Q. generator that will collect information about your virtual conference’s accessibility. To further standardize information access, we recommend putting this page at “[your conference url]/access” under an “Accessibility” navigation option. While the generator is still under development, available examples include the ASSETS 2020 and UbiComp 2020 pages. Information should include:

  • Accessibility Chair(s) contact information
  • Conference Accessibility Statement (or where to find)
  • Conference format and tools details including state of accessibility of the tools, how captions and transcripts are displayed, major assistive technology considerations (such as screen readers, keyboard navigation, and screen magnification), and whether participants can see a technology preview before the conference
  • Workarounds for inaccessible processes such as inaccessible registration tools
  • Where to obtain assistance before and during the conference, such as a chat tool or direct contact person
  • How to request accommodations and which accommodations may be requested, including whether you will accommodate differing languages for captions and interpreters than the official conference language
  • Details regarding the distribution of materials, including when (before, during, or after) and in what formats (as in PDF, PowerPoint, etc.)

E. Registration

The registration and payment tool should meet the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA); the Accessibility Chair(s) can aid with evaluating the best systems if using third-party tools. Key items include proper labels on form fields (as in the <label> element with “for” and “ID” attributes), and keyboard functionality (not simply mouse-driven). Historically, registration and e-commerce tools have not been fully accessible for users of assistive technology. Thus, the Accessibility Chair(s) should be prepared to create any necessary alternatives (such as direct 1:1 registration with the Chair and alternative payment methods) and list any alternatives in prominent places on the conference Website.

The registration form/process should also include the ability to identify accommodations needed, as in captions and sign language interpreting. Even if the ACM standard demographic questions are being used to collect identification characteristics, note that people can identify as having a disability without needing any conference accommodations and, conversely, can benefit from options such as captions without having a disability. Thus, we recommend having a separate open question regarding conference accommodations as in the following:

“Please tell us if there is anything we can do to ensure your participation is barrier-free. Potential requests include things like sign language interpretation, closed captioning, a pre-conference orientation tour of the virtual conference interface, keyboard-only navigation options, or assistance with accessing conference social events. Please note that we strive to be an inclusive, accessible conference, but not all requests can be guaranteed. If you have questions or would like to engage in a more detailed conversation, please contact [Email of Accessibility Chair].”

The Accessibility Chair(s) should follow-up with registrants to discuss their needs in more depth and make sure they will be accommodated.

Note, sign language is not universal; that is, there is “American Sign Language”, “French Sign Language”, etc. The interpreters should be offered in the primary language of the conference (often resulting in American Sign Language (ASL) for ACM Conferences), but requests for other sign languages can also be accommodated. The Accessibility Chair(s) will aid in hiring professionals for captions and interpreting in the requested languages.

F. Budgeting for Accommodations

While costs are decreasing over time, captions and sign language translation will be a significant expense, on the order of $1500/day for both though sign-language interpreting costs in particular vary widely across metro areas, the nature of the content, and the number of interpreters who are needed at one time. Note, some SIGS, including SIGACCESS and SIGCHI have a policy that that any accessibility request from a sponsored conference that cannot be covered by contingency will be covered by the SIG (e.g., see “Supporting Accessibility At SIGCHI Conferences”).

For captions, it may be tempting to utilize automated captioning tools to save on costs (and they may be helpful for less formal committee meetings), but we do not recommend this for the formal conference settings. While an ever-improving area, currently they are not sufficient for coherent captioning and deaf participants often find them hard-to-follow, including a lack of speaker identification for multi-speaker events and difficult-to-follow typos. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) professionals are the recommended approach, and attendees who indicate they need this service in their registration can be polled to guide company selection. Note, it is not uncommon to find a corporate sponsor for the caption services, much like on broadcast television.

G. Advertisements

Any notices advertising the conference need to be accessible and informative for potential participants with disabilities. This primarily applies to circulating image-based notices such as a poster formatted for social media. Colors should meet WCAG 2.1 AA contrast levels as found in Guideline 1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum) and checked using any WCAG-based color contrast checker tool. Any images shared need to include “alternative text”, a written description of the image for blind and deafblind page visitors. Major email systems and social media platforms allow for image descriptions of embedded images through an “alt” option. Note, however, at the time of this publication there is a bug in LinkedIn where the alt text does not read for images included in posts and thus the description should be included in the text of the post as in “Image Description: [text]”. The alternative text description content is up to the sender but should include any major text in the image and a description of any important images, but not go overboard as brevity is easier to understand.

While alternative text is necessary and can be used to translate image information, it is best to include the primary information as text in the actual post. Images of text do not allow readers with low vision to make adjustments such as recoloring to increase the color contrast. Also, those with reading difficulties are not able to use text-to-speech to have words read aloud as this is primarily accomplished by highlighting text to activate a speak aloud feature. Lastly, importing details such as the dates and registration will be easier for everyone to copy and paste into calendars and notes if presented as text.

If possible, advertisements should also include whether captions and sign language interpreters will be available (even if upon request). If there is an official language for captions and interpreters, specify this as well.

3. Conference Set-Up

We supplement the ACM Virtual Conference Guide with information particularly important for an inclusive virtual event. This includes being mindful of the conference schedule and execution including what it will take for participants to navigate the virtual space.

A. Program and Schedule

All attendees will benefit from a clear and organized program overview and conference schedule. The program overview should repeat the overall structure of the daily sessions such as keynotes, breakout sessions, breaks, and how to navigate it all such as which technologies to use to view sessions versus post questions. The conference schedule (which can be housed in a password-protected page) should clearly list dates and times (with time zone or local time converter from UTC), and provide links for viewing any presentation artifacts, the actual live session, and any applicable tool for posting and viewing questions.

B. Presenter and Attendee Accommodations

Each session must provide the requested accommodations which generally include captions, sign language interpreters, and possibly a real-time transcript outside the software for deafblind participants as well as a running transcript within the tool.

Note that the more information provided to captioners and interpreters ahead of the conference the better their outcomes as they can anticipate the topics and words used. This can include providing presentation descriptions and panel discussion topics, etc.

Additional best practices are explained in the remaining sections.

C. Pre-Recorded Clips and Sessions

Pre-recorded video clips are a great addition to the conference experience as attendees can preview the sessions they want to attend and think ahead of the questions they may want to ask. Using a tool such as Discord, you can offer a specific channel to list the paper and video clip as well as allow a record of questions and answers throughout the conference (as shown in Figure 1 from the ACM ASSETS 2020 Conference).

Discord window for "ACM ASSETS 2020" with 4 columns. First column has 5 icon links for managing the channel and app. Second column lists every paper as a channel as in "#easier-system-language...". Third column shows the content of the channel and has a pinned comment at the top containing the paper title, authors, link to the preview video, link to the paper, followed by an embedded YouTube video of the clip and embedded Google Doc link for the paper. In the fourth column are the individuals that you can engage with grouped by custom categories. In this view it has the General and Program Chair first, followed by Organizing Committee, Student Volunteers, and Authors trailing off the screen.
Figure 1: Discord view from the ACM ASSETS 2020 Conference. Discord was used to house the paper and preview video clip as well as capture questions and answers before and throughout the conference.

Notably, some conferences have taken video a step further such as the #A11yTO Conference where entire sessions were recorded and played during the conference with live question and answer sessions. Full pre-recorded sessions offer many significant advantages including reducing technical issues such as unreliable presenter internet, better caption and sign language interpreter quality, and the benefit of allowing presenters multiple takes and recording when at their mental best. When conferences have concurrent sessions, pre-recorded videos would allow people to “attend” multiple sessions. Also, if standing question and answer channels are available then everyone can participate throughout the conference and beyond. We offer this as a consideration for the ever-evolving conference formats.

To make any pre-recorded videos accessible they require captions, audio description, and a transcript. For video clips, presenters can create their own captions. If recording entire sessions, we recommend the conference produce captions, sign language interpreting, and transcripts using professionals in a video post-production process. Audio descriptions (verbalizing important visual information for blind and low vision viewers) will ideally be integrated by the presenter based on guidance from the conference as opposed to creating a separate audio track (more details below).

If the presenter is deaf and signs their presentation, there must be a voiceover to speak aloud the content. If the presenter doesn’t have someone who can voice the video for them, be prepared to provide a volunteer or utilize the contracted sign language interpreters to do this in the post-production.

Best practices and how-to guidance for each video aspect are as follows:

  • Recording and Video Structure
  • Audio Descriptions
  • Captions

D. Microphones, Cameras, and Backgrounds

It is recommended that organizers set the meeting for all participants to join muted then have a policy for how, when, and who can come off mute. Finding and activating the mute button can take several steps for users with disabilities and knowing the state of whether or not you are on mute is not often readily visible, making consequences for being off mute more critical than talking when on mute.

Cameras should be limited to presenters and interpreters during formal presentation sessions to make the presentation easier to follow for deaf and hard of hearing participants. Presenters and interpreters should be well-lit to allow lip reading if applicable. Also, backgrounds should be solid and non-moving to avoid unnecessary distractions, reduced motion for those impacted by motion sensitivity, and allow a clearer view for those with visual impairments.

Note, not all presenters will feel comfortable on camera, especially if in their home environments. A statement of the conference’s general preference/practice of having cameras on but with an option to present without a camera will give power to the presenters to decide how to present their best selves. This further emphasizes the need for quality captions that are easily available if supplemental lip-reading will not be available from video feeds.

The video conferencing system must allow audio from the presenter not only in case of videos or audio played from the presentation, but also in case of pre-recorded audio from non-verbal or speech-impaired presenters using text-to-speech rather than talking.

Technical checks prior to the conference will help with ensuring this runs smoothly.

E. Chat and Question & Answer (Q&A) Features

Allowing live chat can be engaging for some but highly distracting for others and leave out participants who can’t split their attention, easily follow the discourse, and/or type quickly enough to join in the conversations. Additionally, in many tools any public comment announces with a screen reader; that is, there’s no way to passively read the comments as a screen reader user, it will always interrupt the main presentation which can be extremely distracting with long and large streams of comments.

One way of moderating the chatter is to provide a separate repository for questions such as within a chat tool such as Discord or a shared file such as a Google Doc. When sessions are pre-recorded, consider early access to the files (video and paper) allowing participants to have more time to formulate and type in their questions. Additionally, you may leverage any “Q&A” feature of the conferencing tool chosen for the conference so that questions are only seen by a moderator and not the entire audience. Along with chat, consider any “raise hand” feature of the video conferencing tool that would allow attendees to come off mute and speak their question if that is faster for them than typing. Overall, all questions should be monitored and facilitated by one or several session moderators as moderated turn-taking will benefit many attendees (as further explained below).

F. Moderators

We recommend all sessions have at least one moderator whose duties include announcing how to find and view interpreters, captions, and real-time transcripts (if applicable); how any chat or Question and Answer (Q&A) features will work; and coordinating sign language interpreter hand-offs (such as during a longer keynote). They should ensure interpreter and caption information is also displayed on-screen or in an easily identifiable Website since deaf and hard of hearing people won’t hear a verbal announcement. If the conference has the same set of people over multiple sessions each day, these announcements can be reserved for the first few sessions then reserved for chat as the conference progresses.

The moderators will also be responsible for monitoring and facilitating the question and answer (Q&A) sessions at the end of a presentation. This may include reading questions from a dedicated chat room channel outside of the video conferencing tool, calling on participants who have used the “raised hand” feature of the video system, and monitoring the chat within the video tool. We recommend having “Moderator” in their video name to make them easy to identify for any personal chat messages.

G. Multi-Track Sessions

In addition to the ACM virtual conference guidance for executing multi-track sessions, we further reiterate providing one definitive, accessible source for understanding when, where, and how to navigate the sessions such as listing links in the online conference program. Clearly explain the process for moving between sessions and ensure this can be done without excessive logging in. Pre-set and labelled “rooms” in the conferencing tool (that either follow well-known daily session names or stay the same throughout the conference) are recommended to make transitioning easier to follow.

Note, organizers need to make it clear how captions and interpreters will be provided in the individual rooms. For instance, sign language interpreters may follow particular participants to any sessions they wish to attend or be available in every session regardless of the participants. We recommend captions are available at any session since they benefit many attendees beyond those with hearing loss such as attendees with differing native languages.

H. Social Hour

Creating an accessible social hour will be both critical to provide and challenging to accomplish. On the one hand, conferences should have an emphasis on meeting and engaging with participants in informal settings with time to relax and unwind from the sessions. However, with so many different communication styles to accommodate, it can feel overwhelming to ensure everyone can equally participate.

Below we have a few suggestions to aid in providing variety in execution:

  • Small break-out rooms that are moderated to help stem the flow of conversation with captioning provided and interpreters who follow the participants for whom they are interpreting.
  • Common working document where participants can type comments to common questions (ensuring the tool used is accessible).
  • Shared experiences such as a concert with chat room open during appropriate times (keeping in mind the screen reader interruptions, reducing need to split attention, and providing time for typing). Tools with emoticons can somewhat help with this as it reduces typing and reading (though low vision and blind users will still hear the text description of the images).

With any option, also be mindful to allow entering and exiting the event without feeling shame. For instance, avoid events that will announce who has entered or exited, or puts pressure on people to engage when they would rather observe.

I. Breaks

Breaks are necessary and, as advised in the ACM virtual conference guide, should be longer than 15 minutes to accommodate the time participants may need to take care of their needs. For ease of leaving and returning, consider allowing participants to stay connected to the video conference service until the official end of the day. Also consider displaying an official time when you will return (such as in a nice graphic with relevant time zones and languages) and also put this in chat for people who need it text-based; this will help ease any anxiety that participants will not rejoin at the appropriate time.

J. Pre-Conference Tours

Some participants with disabilities benefit from additional time with conference spaces prior to the event starting – both when in-person and virtually. Consider providing pre-conference events such as a technical check for presenters and open house for attendees with technical support on standby. Essentially you want to provide participants the opportunity to understand key features such as video, mute, and chat prior to critical moments of the conference.

4. Presentations

Just as with in-person events, the presentations must be accessible to all conference attendees. Below are particular considerations for the virtual environment.

A. Poster and Slide-based Presentations

As mentioned in “Pre-Recorded Clips and Sessions”, virtual poster and paper presentations can benefit from leveraging the various channels of engagement. Presentation artifacts can be made available before the conference on a private section of the conference website or via a secondary channel such as Discord. The items can include the PDF paper, a video preview clip, or even the entire video presentation. Additionally, there can be an option to type questions and answers that are available for viewing before, during, and after the conference via a separate doc (as in a Google Doc) or within the secondary tool (as in within a channel on Discord).

If providing presentation documents for download, the most accessible option is to keep these in the native applications (such as PowerPoint), particularly if they used the application options to create the document (as in selecting the “Bullets” option to create bullets rather than simply styling text to look like bullets). See more in the article “Creating Accessible Documents”.

Presenters should be provided or directed to information that helps create accessible presentations as in the “Accessible Presentation Guide” from SIGACCESS.

Guidance for the slide designs include:

  • Use easy-to-read, simple font face; fonts that are sans serif are found to be easier to read for people with Dyslexia.
  • Use background and text colors that provide sufficient color contrast; several “color contrast” tools can be found online to help determine the ratio.
  • Reduce the use of small, complex images and keep words on the slides brief and scannable.
  • Ensure there is no flashing content or excessive animation that can induce a seizure, migraine, or other type of illness; criteria may be found in WCAG Guideline 2.3 – Seizures and Physical Reactions.

When presenting, presenters should be reminded of the following:

  • Avoid saying “as you can see” or “as this shows” and rather simply provide audio descriptions for pictures and videos; that is, a description of important images or imagery shown for participants who are blind and low vision.
  • Provide and show captions for videos played, announce they have captions so captioners and interpreters are prepared, and announce when you are about to start playing so blind and low vision attendees can understand the transition.
  • Let the moderator and captioner know if you are willing to be interrupted for clarifications during your presentation.
  • Speak at a reasonable, steady pace being mindful that captioners and interpreters are translating what is said in real-time.

B. Panel

Staging panel views in the video conferencing tool will help participants more easily follow the discussion. This can include videos “pinned” in a gallery view and only on for the panelists, moderators, and sign language interpreters. Panelists can take time to audio describe themselves and their environments at the start of the session to equalize the experience for blind and low vision attendees (since the panelists are the visual focus rather than slides). Ensure panelist backgrounds are steady and non-distracting and their lighting and seated position is sufficient to see their faces clearly. Ensure captioners and interpreters able to easily identify the person speaking (as in, “David:” vs. “Jane:”). Encourage panelists to speak at a steady pace to allow for interpreting and captioning accuracy and allow everyone to digest the content.

C. Workshops

Workshop organizers are encouraged to provide multiple ways to provide input to ensure the pace and cadence of the turn-taking does not leave anyone out. This may include utilizing and monitoring the Q&A feature of the conference tool, allowing access to a common working document (such as a Google Doc), and moderated verbal discussions where turn-taking is clear (that is, using the “Raise Hand” feature or other form of notation to call on participants rather than opening up for everyone to speak at once). An overall slower pace will allow everyone time to process information presented, formulate a response, and communicate. Note from the first section that communication can include: text-based (i.e., chat), text-to-speech (i.e., from sentences typed on an AAC device), through a sign language interpreter (who speaks aloud one’s signs), or verbally with potential for labored speech (i.e., a stutter or slurred speech). While it is not possible to predict the outcomes of a workshop (the very benefit is feeding off the feedback of the group), organizers are encouraged to be prepared for discussion from diverse “voices”.

D. Submissions & Proceedings

Still applicable to virtual conferences is ensuring all reviewers (reading submissions) and attendees (reading proceedings) are afforded the same access. For PDFs, authors can leverage the SIGCHI Guide to an Accessible Submission and SIGACCESS Accessible PDF Author Guide as well as the Adobe Acrobat accessibility checker feature. At minimum, documents must include “alternative text” for any images in the document (written description of the imagery), document structure with proper headings, and properly formatted bulleted and numbered lists.

In future, ACM conferences will be using the TAPS publishing system. SIGACCESS plans to post more detailed guidance regarding this process in the near future. For now, when working with proceedings publishers ensure that the index and table of contents of the electronic proceedings are available in an accessible format. If they are Web/HTML, the W3C WCAG guidelines apply; if PDF, then the PDF accessibility checker applies.

Along with accessible documents, video recordings need to meet or exceed WCAG 2.1 AA multimedia guidelines. This includes captions and audio descriptions for all videos, and preferably a transcript for deafblind participants and participants who find reading easier than auditory processing. See the “Pre-Recorded Clips and Sessions” section for more details on video processing.

5. Additional Resources

Below are additional articles, papers, and “How To’s” to aid in preparing for an inclusive conference. We suggest you link these on your conference website as appropriate and utilize the SIGACCESS leadership for any additional assistance.

A. Conference Guidance

B. Web Accessibility

C. Document Accessibility

D. Presentation Accessibility

E. Video Accessibility

6. Checklist

Below is a succinct checklist based on the document to ensure organizers have addressed all key considerations before, during, and after their conference.

Stage: Early Preparation

  • Appoint Accessibility Chair(s) (“Accessibility Chair”)
  • Obtain quotes for CART caption services and sign language interpreters (“Budgeting for Accommodations”)
  • Choose most accessible conference software (“Conference Software”)

Stage: Planning

  • Ensure conference website meets WCAG 2.1 AA including proper heading structure, keyboard-only navigation, color contrast considerations, and alt text on images (“Conference Website”)
  • Ensure conference site contains the Accessibility FAQ page & contact for the Accessibility Chair(s) (“Conference Website”)
  • Ensure email and social media advertisements meet accessibility standards including alternative text and key information in text as well as images (“Advertisements”)
  • Ensure registration includes accommodations requests (“Registration”)
  • Confirm caption and interpreter services (“Accessibility Chair”)
  • Consider the diverse attendee needs in conference set-up (“Conference Set-Up”) including:
    • Clear program organization (“Program and Schedule”)
    • Easy-to-find presentation artifacts (“Program and Schedule”)
    • Breaks longer than 15 minutes (“Breaks”)
    • Easy-to-follow multi-track execution (“Multi-Track”)
    • Accessible social events, if applicable (“Social Hour”)
  • Create Help Desk system for accessibility questions and pre-populate with guidance (“Help Desk Channels”)
  • Ensure pre-recorded clips and sessions meet WCAG 2.1 AA multimedia standards including captions, audio description, and transcripts (“Pre-Recorded Clips and Sessions”)
  • Share guidance for accessible documents and presentations to presenters (“Document Accessibility”, “Presentation Accessibility”)
  • (Optional) Conduct technical check with presenters and attendees with disabilities (“Pre-Conference Tours”)

Stage: Execution

  • Ensure moderators have instructions for captions, interpreters, and question & answer (Q&A) (“Moderators”)
  • Ensure transitions to different “rooms” for multi-track sessions are clearly explained and documented (“Multi-Track”)
  • Ensure captions and interpreters are situated correctly in “rooms” (“Multi-Track”)
  • Monitor the Help Desk system for accessibility questions and technical issues (“Moderators” and “Help Desk Channels”)
  • Follow TAPS process for accessible proceedings (“Submissions & Proceedings”)
  • (Optional) Use the Help Desk system to gather feedback for the next conference (“Help Desk Channels”)