Inclusive Online Activities
Access to online activities is more important than ever due to the restrictions that are likely to be in place for a while because of the pandemic, so we’ve put together some tips for running inclusive online activities. The ideas below are mostly about the way you plan and prepare your events, the attitude you take to making people feel welcome and the way you communicate what to expect. If you have any tips that we haven’t shared, feel free to start a thread on the forum. It’s a great way to find out what is working well and what can be improved at this uncertain time.
Send instructions in advance - Whatever platform you are using, think about sending links out to simple joining instructions and tips on what to expect. You might also want to offer a ‘trial’ run for people who are new to this way of using technology. Don’t assume everyone has done an online video session before.
Ask participants to let you know their specific requirements – When taking bookings or responding to emails/calls etc to book on your event ask people if they have any individual/specific requirements to enable them to participate fully. You may want to give examples such as communication support, visual or sound access, or prepared notes/prompts to help them follow the activity.
Offer an informal chat in small groups beforehand - Joining a large group can be intimidating online, just the same as it would be in person. You can use break out rooms to give participants the chance to meet a few new people ahead of beginning your actual meeting/event. If you have confident, returning participants ask them to help run a break out room, and use your leaders to facilitate others.
Outline the plan or agenda and explain what to expect – At the start of your activity let participants know the plan for the session, when any breaks will be, and what your general expectations are for things like camera use, mute or not etc. Demonstrate some key actions/functions for participants if you feel some are new to online platforms.
Build in movement and comfort breaks – Lots of participants will find it hard to sit and look at the screen for a long time. Ensure you take regular breaks to let people move around to get drinks, visit the loo etc.
Creative interaction – Not everyone will be comfortable talking on screen so look for creative ways that participants can take part. There are built in tools to show reactions in many online meeting platforms, but you can also encourage people to make their own emoji drawings to show (make sure you verbally identify these so visually impaired participants know they have been used), or you can invite them to make a noise using a phone buzzer etc to show agreement or make choices during discussions.
Screen size – Be aware that people may be joining using a phone or tablet with a smaller screen. If possible, try out the platform on a range of devices and note down how to make the different views appear so you can share this with participants. Digital poverty is impacting a lot of people in the UK, if you think you may have participants who are struggling to access online events you could find out about grants to loan out tablets/laptops or that individuals could apply to directly.
Visual information – If you know (from asking about specific requirements) that you are expecting participants with visual impairments plan how you will describe any information that is shared visually. You might send notes/an outline beforehand, or just make it part of your introduction to explain what is up on a shared screen before talking it through. This is especially important if you are expecting participants to follow instructions given in written or visual form only.
Keep visual information simple, in contrasting (but not overly bright) colours and at a reasonable size. Lots of small text/detail could be lost on smaller screens. Make sure you have a non-visual way of getting attention/taking turns to speak if possible.
Auditory information and speech – In any online meeting with lots of participants it can be difficult to follow lots of different voices. Consider using auto-captions or better yet booking a Speech to Text Interpreter. These are highly trained professionals who will provide a much more accurate level of live captioning. Grants might be available to help cover the cost of this as a communication support, or consider what you are saving on room hire and put that budget toward captioning.
If your paid staff are deaf or hard of hearing you may be able to get captioning funded through Access to Work.
If anyone attending is a deaf BSL user you will need to discuss how they can access a BSL interpreter. Interpreters are usually very confident in using online meeting platforms and can explain how you can facilitate their involvement. Make sure you leave time before the meeting begins to find out how they would like you to work with them.