Leadership / 05.18.22
Ticketing Accessibility: Come One, Come All
“If you build it, he will come.”
You may remember this famous line from the ‘80s movie “Field of Dreams.” Kevin Costner, playing Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, hears these words whispering repeatedly to him while walking through a cornfield.
Ultimately, Ray dares to dream, makes the investment (by plowing down part of his crop) and builds “it” — a baseball diamond in the middle of his Iowa cornfield. Then the ghosts of baseball legends Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox players banned from the game for throwing the 1919 World Series show up.
By now you are probably wondering just what does this line from a sports fantasy movie have to do with ticketing accessibility?
The way we see it, a whole lot, but with some caveats.
If you build “it” — with “it” being accessible online ticketing — then all your customers will have equal access to buy seats and go to live events. Yet the investment and commitment must go further still, Sarah Caswell, North American Training and Onboarding Specialist at Spektrix, says. “Individuals with access requests and needs have often experienced judgement, exclusion and discrimination ... From physically inaccessible buildings to ticketing practices, many folks would rather skip an event than risk having to go through potentially uncomfortable experiences,” she says.
We are thankful to have an expert community to guide us when it comes to creating welcoming environments for customers with disabilities. Being mindful and intentional about the language we use to communicate, leveraging disability language resources and the concept of creating “intentional invitation” are also essential to creating a positive overall live event experience.
And part of that experience, of course, is getting tickets for an event.
Beyond accessibility in ticketing being the law (the United States Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, stipulates that people with disabilities should have the right to purchase tickets in the same ways and means as anybody else), it is also vital for business. Indeed, in her INTIX 2022 closing keynote, renowned accessibility authority Betty Siegel revealed that billions of dollars have been left on the table when people who are blind or have vision loss could not complete their online transactions.
Echoing Siegel’s thoughts, Caswell says, “Over all my years working in accessibility, a lot of old school individuals will think about access as a charity issue. Every day is a little bit of a battle trying to get folks to recognize that access is not a charity issue, it is an equity issue,” Caswell says. “If you are not trying to make your venues as accessible as possible at every turn with your physical accessibility and with the care and consideration that you reach out to your customers with, you are missing out on a whole demographic of people that can buy tickets as well. This is not charity. You are missing out on a key demographic.”
As stated in its “Introduction to Accessibility” website materials, Spektrix believes that “everyone deserves the same experience when searching for, booking and attending live performances” and that serving the largest possible audience is good for business.
Indeed, people with disabilities have considerable strength, both in numbers and in terms of their buying power. And that community is growing each year. Currently, Siegel says that 15% of the world population has a disability, which equates to approximately 1 billion people, and at least one in four Americans has a disability.
We asked some technology vendors what they are doing when it comes to accessibility, how they are working with clients, what conversations are taking place and more. We uncovered many common themes to improve access as well as a genuine effort to advance equitable experiences for all audiences. Here, in no particular order, are some of our findings.
Making your physical spaces and online presence accessible is critical, Caswell says; however, that alone does not guarantee that purchases will flow in. Ultimately, she says, “The quality of experience is the piece that is of paramount importance to everyone.”
And that, Caswell says, is why Spektrix integrates accessible ticketing best practices from the very beginning while, at the same time, helping clients to build inclusive communities in every area of their business, from patrons and staff to artists and more.
“When we kick off with our clients, when they are in the project phase, we start talking about accessibility,” Caswell, who adds that Spektrix is a powerful solution offering all the functionality that arts and culture organizations need while emphasizing that every organization requires custom elements and that they can be used to further advance accessibility from the very beginning, says.
She continues, “We want to make sure that ... we set them up for success in the long run, which means things like allowing their end customers the ability to self-identify on their account in terms of accessibility needs. When end [user] customers create their account ... they can go through and self-select if they have any disabilities, if they have any sensory processing disorders [and provide] any information [they] want to relay to an organization to help them have a better experience.”
Caswell says, “Some people do not log in online, so we have it on the order level as well. That allows individuals to specify whether they utilize a mobility device [or] if they would like to request assistive listening devices, open-caption glasses if those are available, large print Braille programs, even booster seats. Depending on the offerings, we help our clients customize those pieces at the front end with the customer as well as at the order end. Then we also have reporting specifically for our clients and our house managers to be able to gather that information prior to a show, to be best prepared to serve those individuals who have volunteered to share that information.”
Having people within your organization who are enthusiastic about creating equitable experiences is another important key to success, Caswell says. For example, three members of the Opera Holland Park team helped transform the overall audience experience a couple of years back by focusing on access initiatives in the ticket office and throughout the organization.
Helping its members meet consumer accessibility needs has also been a top priority for Tessitura, which powers the success of arts and culture organizations around the world. Nara Zitner, Product Owner for TN Express Web (TNEW), the e-commerce application of the platform, told INTIX Access that the team continues to work with both passion and purpose to advance technology that offers equal experiences for all patrons.
“We are building [new] accessibility functionality into our white-label application so all members can benefit from ... WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 AA standards as our guiding light,” Zitner says, referring to the current international voluntary benchmark for web accessibility.
Tessitura, says Zitner, is working to provide an equitable experience throughout the application so that the experience is similar for any user, regardless of their disability or whether or not they have a disability. This, she says, goes even beyond providing an accessible experience, yet doing so is far from simple.
“A lot of initial assumptions are that it is quite easy to make a website accessible or you just need to basically tick these three boxes and there is color contrast,” Zitner says. “The functionality underneath the hood and the way that the information, the semantic markup is constructed, needs to be suitable for your dynamic situation ... It takes quite a bit of effort just to make sure that the actual hierarchal structure underneath it all is appropriate because that supports all types of assistive technologies.”
Another common misunderstanding, says Zitner, is that accessibility primarily helps people who have low vision or are blind. “It is a lot wider than that, and you need to take into account things like cognitive abilities,” she says.
Zitner says, “We have basically rehauled and redesigned the entire user interface and the front-end markup to support all those standards for all assistive technologies and for all the disabilities that a user might come to TNEW with to navigate. We have focused ... on not just screen reader support, but keyboard navigation and focus management [as well].”
Beta testing on Tessitura’s new functionality is wrapping up. An initial, invite-only release is expected in June 2022, with full availability for all Tessitura members currently scheduled for late June.
Back in January 2022, VBO Tickets announced that its white-label online ticketing software now meets WCAG based on VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) version 2.4. According to the press release, the “evaluation [of VBO’s platform] was conducted by an external consultant of Pure Accessibility LLC, Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.”
“We have worked really hard to develop our user interface with accessibility guidelines in mind, and spent a lot of time to comply with the requirements of the VPAT. This means that our platform serves the need for accessibility out of the box; allowing our clients to confidently sell tickets to their events online to anyone,” Courtney Files, Business Development Manager for VBO Tickets, says. “We are always motivated to assist our clients with any accessibility needs that might arise after they have been operating. In cases like that, we communicate with our client, and potentially their customer, to resolve their need for an accessibility update.”
Files says, “Becoming WCAG compliant is another piece to our company mission and values. We strive to make a difference and provide excellent customer service to everyone. We are always listening to their needs and adapting our software to meet them. We are happy to empower our clients so they can reach more patrons. It is our goal to make their experience better.”
Maintaining accessibility standards and ensuring a better overall experience for people with disabilities are priorities for VBO Tickets. Through conversations with clients, they learn how patrons may be interacting with their user interface to buy tickets online. This may include use of a screen reader device, which, like other accessibility features of VBO Tickets, does not need to be activated or enabled by clients.
Files says, “[The way that patrons interact with our user interface] is important [for us] to understand as it is directly related to the VBO Tickets embedded solution on our client's website, and how the needs of the patron using the assisted technology are affected. Keeping these conversations going allows us to better maintain our software and comply with accessibility standards going forward.”
Saffire also works to achieve the latest WCAG standards with its integrated ticketing and website platform.
“Our ticketing websites are built and coded to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Level 2 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance,” Aaron Pederson, President of Saffire, says. “We make sure our online experience is built in a way to support that level of compliance. This means we start our design process with color contrast validations to ensure every website is accessible to those who have visual impairments, including color blindness. Our platform’s code is also built to facilitate screen reader software and tools for users to be able to easily navigate the site and ticket purchase process.”
Each Saffire website is completely client-managed in terms of page content, Pederson explains. “We give all our clients the ability to manage image alt-tags and a site structure that supports hierarchical headings in the site management software to ensure contextual ADA compliance. To ensure accessibility for those with a hearing disability, we provide tools for people to embed audio and video content with supporting scripts and documentation. We really try to empower our clients by giving them everything they need to create a beautiful and accessible website.”
The tem at Saffire are not legal experts and never claim to be, Pederson emphasizes. They do, however, strive to provide their very best advice pertaining to the ADA based on their own experience in the field.
Pederson says, “Many of the accessibility features we have built into our systems are based on what we learn is needed from our clients. But we also think it is important that websites and ticket sales should be reviewed often for accountability internally or by external legal counsel. We also advise our clients that accessibility is a journey, and often a long, arduous one. Documenting your own progress toward better accessibility is also a very important component to establishing best practices and being prepared in the event of litigation.”
Tix Ticketing, Chief Operating Officer Hrefna Sif Jónsdóttir says, “continuously strives to adhere to the latest WCAG standard, consulting Aria WAI recommendations to include meta-tags and support for helper tools such as screen readers, caption grabbers and more. This includes, for example, the ability to traverse the buying flow using keyboard tabulation, enter/escape key.”
Jónsdóttir says many of its clients offer companion seats for wheelchair users free of charge and that Tix makes it easy to “put this reality into action.” Often, these accessibility and companion seats are located in a specific section of a venue, she notes.
“We support their needs by drawing up specific seats and spots for these in the seat plans of the halls and we offer specific settings for these, for example, different prices, special notes to display in the buying flow. These particular seats and spots can also be allocated to a specific link [that] venues present to their ticket buyers, either on [an] individual basis or [by displaying] them in the buying flow,” Jónsdóttir says. “Repeat customers with accessibility needs can be tagged to automatically offer them access to the seats that meet their requirements when they log into their account.”
There are times when clients of Tix Ticketing offer suggestions for new accessibility functionality, Jónsdóttir says.
“One example of a feature our clients suggested was the ability to describe in text all content that is graphic instead of text. Tix Ticketing complied by adding alt-texts to all image elements. Another opportunity was brought to us in the request to be able to automatically assign the seat next to a wheelchair-designated seat. Once again, we saw value in the suggestion and added this functionality,” she says.
As it works to provide intuitive ticketing in the simplest way, Tix “knows that the arts enhance everyone's lives and play an integral part in making our world a better place,” Jónsdóttir says. “If we can open the doors wider to the world of creativity, beauty and understanding that the performing arts displays, through our providing ease of use and increased access, we have fulfilled our intentions of making a simpler way.”
Over almost 20 years, Softjourn has developed a reputation for successfully developing ticketing solutions for clients in entertainment and other industries.
“Softjourn works with clients with regard to accessibility and making ticketing features [and] solutions accessible to people with disabilities in the same way that we work with any client on any issue they are examining,” CEO Emmy Gengler says. “We start with the problems they are looking to solve, their objectives, and/or needs of their client base. Are they trying to fulfill legal requirements [such as ADA rules and regulations], requirements of their current target market [such as venues] or trying to grow and expand their client base that requires them to enhance their accessibility?”
Among the accessibility features and issues that clients have requested, Gengler points to mapping ADA seating including associated companion seat(s), categorizing ADA seats by section and price, seating availability based on a user’s profile and self-attestation, access control, the purchase flow, ticket transfers and improving the in-venue experience. The latter may include navigation within the venue via a ticketing app as well as pre-ordering food and beverages to be ready during intermission, for pick-up at a predetermined time and location or in-seat ordering and delivery.
We also asked Gengler if there is anything that ticketing organizations can do to increase their success when it comes to providing an accessible experience. “Think about what improves the experience for the patron [or] fan, what would make their life easier and the experience better. Think about what would help the personnel working at the venue [or] event, what would make it easier for them to be able to provide a better experience [for people with a disability],” she says. “Of course, most or all ticketing platforms already have a great user group that they work with in order to closely understand needs for their target market and the target’s fans, which should help a lot with increasing their success in providing an accessible experience.”
As the entertainment world turns to new technologies, it is important to keep accessibility at the forefront. True Tickets, which has had great success attaching rules, policies and pricing to tickets and enhancing digital delivery using blockchain, is doing exactly that.
“Accessibility is a priority for us and our clients,” CEO and Co-Founder Matt Zarracina says. “Given that, we start with the goal of achieving AAA accessibility ratings on our products that interface with our client’s patrons. For use cases that require a non-digital option, we work to create appropriate off-ramps from a digital-first solution that do not sacrifice the security features our service provides.”
Zarracina says that conversations about accessibility with clients typically involve UX/UI design concerns such as adjusting color and font contrast and ensuring screen readers can be used effectively. “For non-digital options, it usually involves working with clients to ensure they have an option to convert a digital ticket to a hard ticket as well as incorporate operational procedures to address these situations as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
He says, “What we have done well with our blockchain-enabled solution is in abstracting the complexity of the technology out of the patron experience. There is no impact to accessibility with our blockchain-enabled service.”
With no impact on accessibility, Zarracina and his team are proud to be delivering an experience that is equitable for everyone.
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Tags: Accessibility , Leadership