At Convening Leaders 2022, our headquarters hotel Harrah’s placed Meryl in a hearing-impaired room, which offers a TTY (a text telephone device for those with hearing and communication difficulties) and uses lights and vibrations for its fire alarm, doorbell, and alarm clock.
Because Las Vegas’s mask mandate was in effect for Convening Leaders — making lipreading an impossibility — a member of the PCMA team met Meryl and assisted her through the registration process on site, using text messages to communicate along the way. For her session, we took attendee questions in the Q&A portion through the virtual event JUNO app, but a back-up moderator was prepared to take questions from the audience and repeat them, unmasked and socially distanced near the stage.
3. Technology can be both a saving grace and a pitfall. Tech can help overcome communication and accessibility gaps, but it’s not a replacement for human understanding attendees and providing for their needs. Just as you seek data and feedback to know what agenda formats, event space designs, and session lengths fit attendee behaviors and needs, do the same for those with disabilities. Accessibility concerns also apply to virtual and hybrid events, and many organizations can make their websites, digital meetings, and social media content more inclusive. Consider this thorough collection of resources for social media accessibility by accessibility marketing expert Alexa Heinrich and digital agency Diamond’s 2021 State of Accessibility Report.
When talking with Meryl virtually, auto-captioning will only go so far. Often, it makes mistakes with names and will misinterpret phrases, so repeating and understanding context is necessary. Meryl also told me that many apps aimed at overcoming communication gaps “puts the onus on the deaf person and it’s not discreet.” She explains more in a LinkedIn post, and advises organizations to offer participants two options for contacting them — not just a phone number, but via email and/or text.
4. Aim to over-communicate and prepare. Event professionals are often already adept at communicating and preparing for several contingencies, and this skill should be extended to accessibility efforts. Straightforward and proactive communication — and reminders — can ensure that you’re truly and authentically providing an inclusive experience for everyone, as well as minimizing problems during the event.
My open communication with Meryl, through both email and text, allowed us to prepare for her arrival, answer questions and concerns, learn of challenges beforehand, and quickly respond to any issues that arose. When I was in doubt, I asked Meryl, who was more than willing to share her needs, as well as give me additional context and information to help me better understand existing challenges and ideas for overcoming them.
Beki Winchel is PCMA’s learning content and research developer.