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How to Create an Accessible Meetup

How to Create an Accessible Meetup

by Thomas Logan


When I moved to New York City in 2014, I started the Accessibility New York City Meetup (A11yNYC) with Cameron Kundiff from thoughtbot and Shawn Lauriat from Google Apps. We have always wanted our events to be as accessible as possible, and over the last two years, we have worked hard to refine our process. This article describes our current approach to setting up events. We’re always looking for feedback on how we might improve, so this article will be a living document that’s updated regularly.

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Before the Event

After the speaker is contacted, we ensure the meetup announcement indicates what types of accessible accommodations are available. From the beginning, we have tried to provide realtime translation services for our events. We have been fortunate to have Svetlana Kouznetsova from Audio Accessibility as a member of our meetup group. She’s an independent consultant specializing in user experience and accessibility, a public speaker, and an author of a book, “Sound Is Not Enough: Captioning as Universal Design”. Sveta has been instrumental in providing guidance and recommendations on ensuring our events provide quality accommodations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. When we know an event will have this service available, we include this information in the meetup announcement. (In cases where we did not have it available, our meetup members frequently request or confirm if services will be available.) For example, in our announcements, we often include the text, “Communication access realtime translation (CART) services for this Meetup are sponsored by SSB BART Group and will be provided by White Coat Captioning.”

Different locations for events warrant different considerations and notifications for guests. For example, guests need to know which subway stop is nearest to the event. We once considered a location on 11th Avenue but declined, because several guests with disabilities would have to travel a great distance from the subway to attend. Also, not all subway stations in New York City are accessible.

It’s important to post the event location and time early enough so that attendees can schedule an Access-a-Ride if needed. This is a service that provides transportation for people in wheelchairs and requires an appointment in advance of the event.

Finally, if a presentation is going to be more about small group communication rather than a presentation, it is often more accessible to procure and provide sign language services. In our April 2014 Meetup, we included the following text in the event description: “We invite you to come have drinks, eat pizza, and have a casual discussion around the latest innovations in our domain.” Because the event was conversational in nature, we hired sign language interpreters from All Hands in Motion to ensure that small group conversations were accessible. In the future, we plan to ask if people prefer different accommodations (such as FM/Loop systems), because many people with hearing loss don’t use sign language.

Preparing the Presentation

It’s important to inform the presenter that if slides will be used, they need to leave room for captions in the bottom 25% of each slide. If this is not done, information a presenter wishes to reference may be obscured by the captions for the presentation, as in the following example:

Captions obscure text at the bottom of a slide

In the second example, there is enough space to keep the presentation text and caption text from overlapping:

Captions and slide content do not overlap

Broadcasting the Presentation

We work with Joly MacFie from the Internet Society New York to broadcast our meetups online. We ensure that we message him ahead of time to confirm if he will be available for our event. In preparation for the event, Joly generates a YouTube link that we can use in our social media announcements promoting the event. We try to post links to our live broadcast on our Meetup page and Twitter as soon as we have a URL available.  This allows people who cannot attend our meetup physically in person to be able to participate in the meeting realtime from their location. For example, we once tweeted, “If you can’t make it to tonight’s Accessibility NYC Meetup (http://bit.ly/1UcbXPP ), the stream will be here: https://youtu.be/eE92Gsgrzik

Screenshot of previously stated tweet

At the Event

The realtime text communicator needs access to the computer running the presentation in order to deploy software that allows captions to be displayed during the presentation. Our events are typically made accessible using Text on Top software, which is described by its creators as follows: “Text on Top is a unique wireless and low cost solution for realtime captioning during a presentation or congress. A captioner types what the speaker is saying and enables with Text on Top that the whole audience can follow the speaker.” (For more information about how this solution works, check out the company’s explainer page.)

To ensure the captions are displayed correctly, the laptop used for our presentation needs to have a USB dongle attached to it. This should be tested before the event begins.  Presenters should be careful not to close their laptop or prematurely disconnect the USB dongle until the end of the presentation.  If this happens then the meeting will no longer be accessible to all participants.

When an event needs a captioner, it’s best to hire a professional. Mirabai Knight, our captioner of choice, types 240 words per minute with high accuracy. You won’t have an accessible meeting if the service provider isn’t able to work quickly and accurately, or isn’t familiar with the material being discussed. As a best practice, we recommend sending material and vocabulary to the captioner before the meeting.

We frequently receive feedback that many of our attendees benefit and appreciate the realtime text translation of the event.

Documenting the Event

When posting content to our Twitter stream we ensure that we include textual descriptions of any images.  Making images accessible for people on Twitter explains how to do this using various technologies. The description you include will not appear visually on the tweet in the stream.  Below is an example of one of Shawn Lauriat’s tweets from our August 2nd event.

Because Shawn typed in a description when creating the tweet a person using a screen reader will be able to hear “Pedro standing and presenting while the attendees at the conference table listen and look on.  View out the window of the sunset hitting the financial district to the south”.

Screenshot of VoiceOver displaying the text spoken when the image is encountered

After the Event

Once we have the video recording of a presentation, we add captions to the video before sharing it online. This is easy to do when the event already had CART services provided.  For example, when Jake Voytko gave a presentation at the NYC Accessibility Meetup, realtime captioner Mirabai Knight was there to provide captions for our livestream. After the meeting, we asked Mirabai for a copy of her caption file. We uploaded a video of Jake’s presentation to a11ynyc’s YouTube channel. From there, adding captions was easy. Here’s how we did it.

  1. On the Video Manager page for your YouTube channel, locate the video in need of captions
  2. Open the dropdown menu, and select “Subtitles and CC”
  3. Click “Add new subtitles and CC”, and select “English”
  4. Click “Transcribe and auto-sync”
  5. In the text box labeled “Type subtitle here then press Enter”, paste the transcript of the video.
  6. Click “Set timings”

We don’t share videos until they’re captioned or subtitled. If you didn’t have a realtime captioner for your presentation, there are several third-party captioning services with reasonable rates that can produce an accessible version for you.

When Bob Paradiso gave a presentation on custom hardware accessibility solutions, we didn’t have a realtime captioner for the event. To obtain captions, we used Amara, a non-profit captioning service committed to making video more globally accessible. Amara typically charges by the minute, so you can easily estimate the cost to caption a video. When we send them a link to our video, along with payment, they send us a caption file a few days later.

Finally, as an additional means of accessibility, we include a link to the text transcript file in the description of the video on YouTube. For example, when we shared Jake’s presentation on YouTube, we included the text “Full Transcript: http://bit.ly/1LW179N” inside of YouTube’s description field.

YouTube video description provides a link to the full transcript

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment and tell us about your experiences with accessible meetups!

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