How to Improve Accessibility For Virtual Events

an asian chinese young female celebrating her own birthday with friends virtual using laptop online video call

Chee Gin Tan / Getty Images

Most folx have probably attended more virtual events since social distancing measures were recommended to limit exposure to COVID-19. While some may have always connected virtually, online meetings may be less familiar for others, which is where accessible virtual events can aid the process.

Whether you are logging in remotely for work or a social gathering, there are ways in which event organizers can think critically about how to improve accessibility. Especially given the reality of Zoom fatigue, it can be particularly beneficial to offer a variety of options to meet the needs of folx.

Make Informed Decisions About Technology

According to a 2020 journal article that looked at improvements in accessibility at a variety of virtual conferences during the pandemic, the benefits of closed captions and transcripts of events were reinforced, especially for folx with hearing and visual disabilities. While these considerations would have likely been costly if attending in person, many video conferencing platforms easily provide such tools for online meetings.

In this way, organizers can better meet the diverse needs of attendees by doing adequate research on the various applications for virtual events to make informed decisions to promote greater accessibility for all folx.

For instance, if you are hosting a support group for folx with body image concerns, the ability to appear on video with the option to block a view of yourself may be particularly helpful to navigate social anxiety challenges.

Promote the Safety of Attendees

In addition to the accessibility tools provided by a virtual platform, organizers should also be thinking critically about how to make attendees feel safe. According to Consumer Reports, there are likely some security concerns with all video conferencing applications, but there are also ways in which folx can limit their risks.

While it is never ideal when an online meeting for work or pleasure is disrupted by an intruder, there are even greater concerns when hosting folx who are particularly marginalized.

Some recommendations included settling on a single virtual platform, using services as a guest to avoid sharing as much information, becoming familiar with that application's privacy features to maximize their use, signing up with a burner email address and password manager, utilizing the platform's password function, and always assuming that you may be recorded.

While these considerations may not be what first comes to mind for accessibility, virtual events must promote the safety of oppressed folx to be accessible.

For instance, if a local writing group is now offering online sessions, but they are partnering with a library known for hosting transphobic speakers, such virtual events are inaccessible for gender diverse folx.

Outline Objectives Clearly

According to a 2018 journal article that looked at the development of an asynchronous interprofessional learning platform, there were benefits to engagement that could transcend time and place constraints through extensive initial discussions to decide on the program's objectives.

Organizers do a disservice to the attendees of virtual events when they fail to make firm decisions about the goals that they are working to achieve.

For example, if the goal of an event is psychoeducation rather than support, recordings may be a priority so that folx who are unable to attend at a scheduled time may still be able to benefit from the learning by viewing the recording at a later date.

Instead, if synchronous participation is prioritized for a support group, access to the chat function for all attendees may aid with accessibility as folx who may be uncomfortable sharing their thoughts verbally may still be able to participate by typing out their feedback.

Validate Attendees and Promote Engagement

In a research study that measured the efficacy of a virtual resiliency intervention for parents of children with autism, its participants noted the benefits of being able to attend online without having to drive somewhere for a session.

Other folx admitted that they may not have tried new coping skills such as guided imagery without the opportunity to explore it together with participants and debrief about the process after.

While that group program took place before the pandemic, the benefits of validation from facilitators that they were engaging appropriately is worth highlighting.

When it comes to engagement, it can be worthwhile to remember that it can come in many forms, especially when thinking critically about how accessibility needs may differ from one person to the next.

For instance, one attendee may feel extremely comfortable appearing on camera with their pet, while another may have concerns about folx being let into their home space, especially if cramped or shared with others. Given these considerations, skilled facilitators can make spaces accessible by offering a variety of ways for folx to engage safely on their own terms.

Facilitators may promote comfortable engagement for folx by:

  • Making expectations explicit to reduce ambiguities for participants
  • Providing both video and call-in options for attending events
  • Being open to folx enjoying an activity to minimize social pressures
  • Encouraging participation during a time when folx may pop in or out
  • Sending calendar invites and reminders in advance of virtual events
  • Facilitating connections among attendees based on shared interests
  • Letting folx know that there is no pressure for them to be on camera

Create Opportunities to Engage New Folx

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, this shift to online spaces may also offer new opportunities that can provide benefits long after social distancing measures are a concern. A 2020 journal article delves into both the possibilities as well as the challenges of virtual volunteering, especially for youth, seniors, and folx with disabilities.

Given how difficult recruitment and retention of volunteers can be, this virtual format may provide an opportunity to engage folx who may not have been well served by traditional structures for civic participation.

A Word From Verywell

While many organizations have begun to think more critically about accessibility, a great deal more work is needed for virtual events to truly live up to that goal. It can be helpful to think of accessibility as an area for improvement at all times. With such an approach, feedback from participants can come to inform better planning for future events.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sarabipour S. Virtual conferences raise standards for accessibility and interactionsElife. 2020;9. doi:10.7554/elife.62668

  2. St. John A. It's Not Just Zoom. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, And Webex Have Privacy Issues, Too. Consumer Reports; 2020. https://www.consumerreports.org/video-conferencing-services/videoconferencing-privacy-issues-google-microsoft-webex/.

  3. Fowler T, Phillips S, Patel S et al. Virtual Interprofessional LearningJournal of Nursing Education. 2018;57(11):668-674. doi:10.3928/01484834-20181022-07

  4. Kuhlthau K, Luberto C, Traeger L et al. A Virtual Resiliency Intervention for Parents of Children with Autism: A Randomized Pilot TrialJ Autism Dev Disord. 2019;50(7):2513-2526. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03976-4

  5. Lachance E. COVID-19 and its Impact on Volunteering: Moving Towards Virtual VolunteeringLeis Sci. 2020;43(1-2):104-110. doi:10.1080/01490400.2020.1773990