Technology / 03.24.21
Making Your Virtual Events Accessible to Everyone
When hosting a virtual event, there are no barriers to enter a physical building, but this does not mean they are automatically accessible. At INTIX Live! 2021, Dani Rose and Jayson Bucy from Ticket Philadelphia (www.ticketphiladelphia.org/), the customer service arm of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (www.kimmelcenter.org/) and their resident companies, shared important information to help you ensure there is no digital divide in your organization’s online offerings. Dani has been with Ticket Philadelphia for five years and is currently Manager and ADA Coordinator, while Jayson started his career with the organization in 2012 and has served as Program and Web Manager since 2016.
In watching their presentation, it was immediately evident that Ticket Philadelphia fosters an extraordinarily successful culture of inclusion. These experts introduced themselves to our INTIX audience in a way that may have seemed uncommon to some but was extremely welcoming to anyone who is blind or lives with vision loss.
“I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with my partner, one cat, two Shorkies, just below 80 plants and just above 800 books. I am light-skinned with brown hair. My most notable feature is my big smile. In my headshot, I am wearing a dark green sweater and looking toward the lower right corner of the photograph,” Jayson said.
“I have a certification as ADA Coordinator for Title 2 and Title 3 entities, and my daily focus is training our call center team on outrageous customer service, as well as helping our organizations come up to ADA compliance. I am light-skinned with long brown hair. My most notable features are my freckles and dimples. In my picture, I am wearing a blue dress, a noticeably big smile and I'm holding an Emerging Leader Award from the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability Conference at the Kennedy Center from 2019,” Dani said.
“We’re here today to talk about accessibility in the virtual venue,” Dani continued. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and our venues were closed, entertainment content shifted to our websites. We are hosting our guests now in a virtual venue rather than a physical venue in our communities. Jayson and I are not the decision-makers on content in our organization, and many of you may not be the content creators or decision-makers in your organization. But we are influencers. We find that being intentionally inclusive is not a top-down decision, but rather an organizational value.”
Jayson and Dani went on to share several valuable resources to help influence intentional inclusivity in virtual venues. And in doing so, they weaved accessibility throughout their entire presentation.
The Virtual Stage
“For many organizations, our website has become the stage,” Jayson said. “We are welcoming our guests to enjoy our programs, products and services in the digital realm. We have created a digital place of public accommodation, which must be accessible. When we think about websites and accessibility, we often talk about the WCAG guidelines (www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/) recommending contrasting colors and font size, alt text on images, an image description, mouse-less navigation and screen readers. Additionally, we are places of public accommodation [and] are beholden to all Title 3 areas of the ADA, the same laws that govern our physical spaces. Discovered through precedent set by case law, we must evaluate our virtual venues and take immediate action to ensure our content is accessible, equitable and intentionally inclusive of all people.”
“Let’s get on the same page about the ADA,” continued Dani. “I’m not a lawyer, but I have studied the ADA for the last five years, and I still learn something new every day. On the slide, you see Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods from ‘Legally Blonde’ wearing glasses and a ponytail saying, ‘What, like it’s hard?’ with a smile on her face.”
Many of us can see this; however, by introducing a description of the visual information she was presenting, Dani ensured her humor was accessible to everyone.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed in 1990, and the ADA Amendments Act was signed in 2008. It is the most comprehensive policy statement ever made in American law about how the nation should address individuals with disabilities. There are similar guiding laws in Canada (Accessible Canada Act, laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/A-0.6/) and the U.K. (Equality Act, www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents).
Dani continued, explaining that the ADA includes five Titles to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. They are shown in the graphic above, but we will describe them as well for anyone who may be using a screen reader. Title 1 covers employment; Title 2 is public spaces and government entities; Title 3 is places of public accommodation or private entities; Title 4 is telecommunications, which includes Relay Service and captions for public service announcements; and Title 5 is miscellaneous. “But” Dani said, “don't read this as ‘various and unimportant’; it’s more like necessary across the board and covers things like transportation.”
She continued, “As venues, our accessibility regulations, standards and guidelines come from Title 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title 3 has obligations for places of public accommodation. It says the public entities cannot discriminate against or exclude any persons from the programs and services based on disability. It says we must provide equal access to the physical, communication and information environments. Where equal access is not readily achieved, public entities are required to make reasonable modification to their policies, practices and procedures. And the ADA says if you are not already providing equal access and accommodation is requested, you must provide it according to the specific need.”
“Bringing folks to our website to enjoy content, we are inviting them into an information and communication environment of our creation. To be inclusive of all individuals, our virtual venue should be created accessibly or presented with accommodations,” Jayson said.
Precedent Set Through Case Law
There are two recent cases that help illustrate the precedent that has been set for making websites and web content intentionally inclusive. The first is the Fox Theater case, and the second is the Domino’s Pizza decision.
“The Fox Theatre case is Childress v. Fox Theatre. The Fox Theatre is in St. Louis, Missouri. Tina Childress is a person who is deaf and requested captioning for performance of ‘Rent’ at the theater. The theater denied her request to provide captioning and instead told her that she could attend an ASL interpreted performance,” Dani said. “Tina does not speak ASL, and due to the nature of her disability, assistive listening devices do not enhance her ability to hear lyrics and dialogue. When the case was in court, the Fox Theatre argued that they had provided some accommodation for the performance and were not required to do more. Miss Childress’ lawyers argued that the solution was insufficient, as the accommodation did not meet the need.”
In its decision, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the Fox Theatre was to:
- Provide captioning for all performances where it was requested at least two weeks in advance.
- Publicize the availability of captioning and instructions for requesting it.
- Provide non-telephonic means of purchasing tickets.
- Provide hands-free captioning devices (because holding up a device for a lengthy performance is a burden on the patron).
With this decision, the precedent that accommodations must be made easily accessible to all guests at any performance of their choice was set.
“The second case is the Domino’s decision,” Dani said. “It is outside of the arts but is currently trending in the topic of web accessibility. Mr. Robles is a person who is blind and attempted to order a pizza using the Domino’s online ordering system. The specific service on their website could not be read using a screen reader, preventing Mr. Robles from having equal access to the same service as the general public.”
In court, attorneys for Mr. Robles argued that the ADA requires businesses with physical locations to make their website and other online platforms accessible to people with disabilities. Backed by a range of other business groups, attorneys for Domino’s argued that the ADA does not apply to online platforms that were not envisioned when the law was passed in 1990. They also said that no clear rules exist for how to make their platforms properly accessible.
A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Mr. Robles, writing that “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of the physical pizza franchises, which are places of public accommodation” and governed under Title 3 of the ADA.
“In ticketing,” Dani said, “we know this already, as our tickets must be made accessible through all avenues despite the physical access barriers in our buildings.”
This set the precedent that entertainment organizations are governed as places of public accommodation when offering a digital access option. And, from these cases, the following precedents have been set:
- Accessibility accommodations must be offered to benefit the need of the person with a disability.
- Requests, instructions and use of a site must also be made accessible.
- Entertainment organizations are beholden to Title 3 even when content is online.
Evaluating Your Virtual Venue
You are probably wondering now how to know if your content is accessible. Are you creating content that is intentionally inclusive of all individuals? Please click to watch this quick video, which was created for this purpose.
For anyone using a screen reader, this is a transcript of the voiceover in the video:
“Cut the end off, then cut in half. Toss the unwanted end into the proper disposal (music plays). You can either remove this or leave it intact. It’s entirely your preference. Should you remove it, be sure to dispose of it properly. Continue until all the Brussels sprouts are cut. Thanks for your help, buddy!”
If you are not blind and do not live with vision loss, watching the video and understanding the meaning behind everything is straightforward. But, Dani said, “As we talk about how to evaluate your virtual venue and digital content, we’ll keep this video in mind.”
“Accessible audio and video is essential for people with disabilities and is useful for everyone in a variety of situations,” Jayson said.
Indeed, guests who are visiting your website and experiencing your content may have different needs.
Jayson continued, “Some people obtain audio information from transcripts, captions or sign language. Some people use transcripts so they can read at their own pace. Some people listen to the audio to hear what they can and read captions to fill in what they cannot hear adequately. Some people use audio description of visual information to understand what is going on visually. Some people use a screen reader and Braille devices to read descriptive transcripts that include the audio and visual information as text. Some people use voice recognition software to operate their computer, including the media player. Some people use multiple accessibility features simultaneously. For example, someone might want captions, description of visual information as text and a description in audio.”
To figure out which accessibility aspects your specific audio or video offers, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the media player work without a mouse?
- Does the video have speech or other audio that is needed to understand the content?
- Does the video have visual information that is needed to understand the content?
In the how-to video above, the visual information of the joke is that the Brussels sprouts are eaten by the dog rather than tossed in a garbage disposal. With audio description, everyone is in on the joke. Now, please click to watch the video a second time with captions and audio description.
For anyone using a screen reader, here is a transcript of this second video:
“How-to video: Cut and prep Brussels sprouts with Dani Rose and special guest. Brussels sprouts on a cutting board and in the sink. Hands demonstrate. Cut the end off, then cut in half. Toss the unwanted ends into the proper disposal. Three ends are tossed to a dog and he catches them in turn. Time lapse of cutting Brussels sprouts. You can either remove this or leave it intact. It’s entirely your preference. Should you remove — fed to dog — be sure to dispose of it properly. Continue until all the Brussels sprouts are cut. Pile of cut sprouts. Thanks for your help, buddy! Dog behind a dinner plate with cooked sprouts. End.”
“Making your content intentionally inclusive of all individuals lets everyone in on the joke and lets everyone enjoy your content in the same way at the same time,” Jayson said.
If you do not have in-house experts, your organization can work with an external company to audit your website for accessibility. These evaluations help point out areas where accessibility features may be lacking and where accessibility features are sufficient. Some of these companies are provided in the resource list at the end of this story.
Three Easy Tips for Content Accessibility
Once barriers to access have been identified, Dani says it is time to act. She offered three easy tips to help get your organization started today. “The first is to provide captions and transcripts for any spoken words presented, like subtitles on the screen. It can be done in post-production, added to any video file like I did in iMovie [in the Brussels sprout how-to video], or using a closed caption service, or even live captions also known as CART. Some platforms, like YouTube, allow for captions to be turned on or off for the presentation. Some may require you to have a separate video displaying captions. It’s okay to separate the videos for the purposes of being more accessible, but consider if this is the case, the ease with which a person who requires the captions can access that video.”
The second recommendation is to provide audio description, which is a verbal narration of the visual elements of the presentation. “In our [how-to] video, simply saying the title aloud gives context for the presentation,” Dani said. “Say you’re watching a virtual concert and the title of the piece is never spoken, but it appears as text on the screen. If the title is read aloud, everyone will know the title of the piece being played. Access to the visual information means access to the storytelling. You might describe the setting, characters, and costumes or the context of the performance. This can be done remotely and added in post-production.”
Dani recommends hiring a trained audio describer to do the voiceovers. It is fine to present a separate video with the voiceovers, but make sure they are easy to find. A resource she recommends is Descript, which is a collaborative audio-video editor that works like a .doc file, so you can edit the elements of a transcript. It includes transcription, a screen recorder, publishing, full multitrack editing and “some mind-bending useful AI tools,” said Dani. This is also included in the resource list below.
“The third thing you can do today,” Dani said, “is to provide easy access to all of your accessibility features. Digital promotion of digital events needs to convey the accessibility options available to your guests. It should be immediately clear how to turn on captioning or audio description because making folks search for features is not providing an equitable experience. Studies show that marketing accessibility features directly leads to increased participation not only for those with disabilities, but also for allies, advocates and those who feel passionately about inclusion. Including CamelCase hashtags, image description, alternative text (or alt text) and mouse-less navigation, and being ready to explain those features to those who are not familiar and describe why you are using them. If your video is click-to-play, make sure it says that on the page. Add a statement about your commitment to access and welcome feedback from the disability community. Ask a person in your community or one of your patrons who uses these features to consult or provide feedback. Nothing should be provided for the community of people with disabilities without including their voices in the development and execution. Be ready for feedback, and be ready to evolve.”
We have included the email addresses for Jayson and Dani in the resource list, too. By now, you are probably wondering why we did not just link to them and to other resources within this story. The reason is that a person who is blind or lives with vision loss will not know that there are links embedded in our story, but they can access the information if we list it separately.
Resources & Reference
Email address for Jayson Bucy: email@example.com
Email address for Dani Rose: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ticket Philadelphia: https://www.ticketphiladelphia.org/
ADA Title III
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
Evaluating Your Site Accessibility
Web Captioner: https://webcaptioner.com/
Rev (Transcript/Captions): https://www.rev.com/
Connect the ADA Network to find local resources: https://adata.org/find-your-region
Read this blog:
Video editing (all in one service):
Davinci Resolve: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve/
Tags: ADA , Accessibility , INTIX 2021