This year’s shift to online meetings has led to one interesting and unexpected outcome: the opportunity to involve underrepresented audiences. During Diligent’s Modern Governance Summit in September, more than one speaker noted that their streaming meetings are better attended than traditional meetings that required in-person participation.

“We were so impressed by the attendance at our virtual meeting in May—it was about 81 percent, which is a lot higher than we get at an actual live meeting. It was exciting to see.”

– Abigail Serfass, Managing Editor, Kenyon Review

“With broadcasting meetings live now, we have some nights where there are more viewers than we ever would have had in person. So it has gotten it out there to people who maybe couldn’t make it to a meeting, but they can listen to it while they’re doing something else at home. It has really opened up how many people can view our meetings.”

– Kathryn Mayfield, Board of Education Clerk, Wamego, Kansas

One audience whose participation has been eased by new meeting technology? People with disabilities. By removing the requirement for participants—particularly those with mobility-related conditions—to attend meetings in person, the doors have metaphorically opened for all.

Disability’s Increasing Numbers

An increasing number of people in the United States are living with disability. One in four or 61 million adults have some type of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control. These can range from issues with mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision and self-care. Moreover, the aging of our national population increasingly contributes to the rate, with two in five adults aged 65 or older having some type of disability.

Disability and accessibility are critical considerations for meeting planners, whether you are responsible for the physical logistics of a meeting or preparing the materials used for meetings.

In some cases, the law mandates how we make resources available. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 “generally require that state and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden.”

How Accommodation Works in Local Governments and Organizations

Since the ADA in particular passed in 1990, accommodations have been increasingly prevalent for organizations and government. Whether it is a ramp, parking access, wheelchair-sized restroom stalls or handrails in a hotel shower, we’ve become used to coming across accommodations in the physical world, especially for individuals with reduced mobility.

What that has meant for the development of online resources, particularly for nongovernmental entities, has not always been so clear. In recent years, U.S. senators have asked the Department of Justice to clarify whether the ADA applies to websites and whether Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an acceptable compliance standard, among other outstanding questions.

Still, as many meeting planners have discovered, accommodations have benefits beyond meeting legal or regulatory requirements. They also have benefits beyond the target population that primarily makes use of the resource. Parents with young children, for example, can appreciate automatic doors on buildings or ramps that allow easy access for strollers.

The Costs of Non-Inclusion: A Lesson From Gaming

If you have younger people in your life or enjoy gaming, you may be aware of Among Us, an app-based game that took off earlier this fall. An early and persistent criticism of the game centers around its color-based gameplay. To be able to participate, players need to be able to recognize and identify up to 10 separate characters who are mostly only distinguishable by their colors.

As a result, the game developers are currently working on an accommodation that supports gameplay for colorblind individuals. However, they missed an opportunity to be inclusive at launch, which deprived them of players—and sales—during their peak popularity.

Considerations

Make the most out of passive compliance:

  • Web authoring technology such as the correct use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) works hand-in-hand with screen readers to ensure online information is being delivered sensibly to users.
  • OCR (optical character recognition) capable scanners transform scanned documents into accessible material.
  • Automatic closed captioning is available on YouTube. Zoom allows meeting hosts to provide closed captioning as well.

Human intervention will still be needed, however. For example, web users using screen readers count on human effort to add alt text to images — the written descriptions that convey to screen readers what is in a photo or graphic and are a key component of WCAG guidelines.

While your content management systems may require alt text, people inputting the data can use shortcuts such as file names or quickly generated descriptions of the contents (“school logo,” for example) that don’t fully capture what is in the image.

How Board Meetings Look After COVID-19

How you make your meetings available will continue to be a factor. It’s unlikely that many of these newly engaged participants will be content with a return to normal once COVID-19 is no longer a daily threat. So look into making meetings available through a local or school radio station or other media; audio streaming may also be an answer.

Contributing to a more accessible world is not only the law, but it’s the right thing to do, and it has positive repercussions beyond merely adhering to the law. Diligent is committed to continuing to help you create an inclusive meeting experience for your organization.