What the pandemic taught us about accessible public engagement

Today, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we reflect on the accessibility lessons we have learned as engagement leaders during the pandemic, and share simple yet meaningful steps that organizations can take to make public engagement more accessible in a post-pandemic world.

As public engagement went virtual at the start of the pandemic, the mindsets of organizations and leaders shifted from anxiety to opportunity. They aspired to use technology to make public engagement more accessible, reaching more people than ever before.

During the 2021 National AccessAbility Week, Argyle had the honour of hosting a fully accessible, bilingual national webinar for Employment and Social Development Canada. We also facilitated a hybrid in-person and virtual activity for the City of Lethbridge as part of an Indigenous Placemaking and Public Realm Audit. Based on these experiences, we present an accessibility checklist to help make public engagement more accessible than ever in 2022 and beyond.

Start by asking yourself the following:

  • What is the best format for this event? Don’t default to virtual just because it’s become your new norm. Don’t jump to an in-person event just because it is exciting to reclaim. There are benefits and drawbacks to each format. Consider what your audience would prefer and remember that until young children are vaccinated, people will have different comfort levels.

If your event is in-person, consider the following:

  • Public health:
    • What are the local public health guidelines?
    • Have you clearly indicated the vaccine requirement policy?
  • Venue
    • Does accessible transit go to your location?
    • Are there steps to get into the location or through the venue?
    • How wide is the door frame?
    • What will the sound level be? Will there be an echo in your space or any disturbing sounds coming from outside?
    • Are the washrooms universally accessible?

If your event is virtual, consider the following:

  • Prepare a technical guidance document to outline how to access the event. Remember that many are still new to online formats, and need to know about online functionalities and accessibility features.
  • Consider having a technical support person at all events, ready to answer chat questions or calls from people having difficulties accessing the event or its functions.

If your event is hybrid, consider the following:

  • How will you make the virtual participants feel welcomed and engaged?
  • Will those who attend virtually, and in-person, be able to interact with one another?
  • Do you have the technical AV (audio/visual) skills to be able to ensure that those who attend virtually can hear and see the in-person presentations and dialogue?
  • Is the topic of your event well-suited for a hybrid dialogue?

Regardless of the event format, consider this:

  • What will you tell your guests about the event so that they can make an informed decision about how they attend?
  • What will you give your guests before the event to make it easier for them to attend (e.g., the PowerPoint you will be using with alt text on all images)?
  • Can you give those who cannot attend your chosen venue some other way to share their input?
  • Marketing and content for the event should be accessible to read. Consider font type, sizing, color contrasting, languages used, etc.
  • Will you be using language translation services? ASL (American Sign Language)? Closed captioning on PowerPoints?
  • Do you have blind spots based on your own position and role? Are you considering how the systems of power at play might affect the accessibility and authenticity of the dialogue?

We know this is not an exhaustive list. One of our guiding principles at Argyle is ‘curiosity’ and we pride ourselves on being lifelong learners. We welcome any feedback on how this list could be improved.

Here’s to a more accessible future. Happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities!

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