Dennis Deacon has been involved in digital accessibility for the past four years, most recently as an Accessibility Engineer with The Paciello Group. He’s led the Chicago Digital Accessibility & Inclusive Design Meetup since December 2014. He is organizing Chicago's first Accessibility Camp later this year. And, he leads the curation of the 24 Accessibility article series.
Dennis Deacon spoke about starting the Chicago Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meetup. He spoke about digital accessibility but focused on delivering the most accessible events possible.
What is a Meetup?
A meetup is an informal meeting or gathering. Meetup.com and Eventbrite are popular platforms to organize gatherings; and, LinkedIn has also added the feature. It doesn’t matter which platform you use, it’s all about using the tool to help organize and advertise your event.
Why create an accessibility meetup?
If there is no meetup in your area, create one! It’s the perfect place to connect and learn from others who are passionate about accessibility. Use the space to promote accessibility to a wider audience.
How to start and grow an accessibility meetup
Just do it.
If the event is free, Eventbrite is free to use. Meetup.com has a monthly fee, and you can use the platform to create awareness of your meetup. Meetup.com handles membership activities, and it’s perfect for communicating with the community.
Don't try to do it alone. Your job, your activities, and other external circumstances can take you away from the meetup responsibilities. Invested co-organizers or assistants help sustain the meetup, and can really save you some headaches.
Share information with complementary meetups and consider co-hosting. This increases collaboration between groups.
This can be tricky in the beginning. Be aware of environmental noises and other distractions. Ask the guests if they need any special accommodations.
There are spaces available for hire, like co-working spaces. But, you should be able to find a free space. Ask other members for ideas, they often know about resources you are not aware of.
Make sure the venue is ADA compliant. Stairs, bathrooms, hallways, and seating should be accessible. Be sure the AV equipment can handle all the needs of the guests. Check the projector’s brightness to be sure there is enough contrast.
Wi-Fi is important not only for guests, but also for speakers. Speakers often have their presentation on a web server or want to perform a live demo so internet speed can be an issue.
Consider switching up the venues. This provides options to people who can’t attend some locations due to traffic, parking, mass transit, etc.
When you are just starting, this may be hard.
Colleagues who do accessibility work and meetup members are good resources. Encourage members to speak at the events. You can also reach out to other meetups to recruit speakers.
Post a call for speakers on all of your social media platforms. People in the accessibility field are some of the most accommodating and nicest people. You never know who will respond.
Lightning talks tend to be shorter and can take less preparation. The meetup can have 3 or 4 shorter talks instead of the traditional presentations. New speakers who are nervous or feel they don’t have enough content sometimes feel more empowered to lead short sessions.
Mix it up, keep it fun. Some people don’t respond to presentations; but, they might respond to more interactive or engaging activities.
Some meetup formats:
- Standard presentation - Slides can be made more engaging with demos, this is the closest to a standard lecture format.
- Panels and roundtable discussions - Moderated panels or open roundtable discussions allow for a diversity of opinions on target topics.
- Speed dating style format - Similar to the panel discussion or roundtable, have the guests rotate through “stations” on certain topics.
- Social events - Educational events are good, but it is great to just have fun sometimes.
Be sure the presentations about accessibility are as accessible as possible. Providing guidelines can be helpful.
- Presentation foreground/background colors - Check for a high enough contrast. Be mindful of possible projector issues.
- Font size and weight - Think big for the people in the back, those with limited vision, or guests taking pictures.
- Consider the amount of content per slide - Limit the amount of content. Be concise.
- Content positioning on slide - Keep the content to the upper two thirds. Think about the folks in back of the room. More space at the bottom of the slides means more space for captions.
- Slide effects, transitions, and switching into demos - Be aware of any fast motion; this can make some viewers ill.
- Volume - Be sure everyone can hear you, ask the audience about the volume. Use a microphone, this is extra helpful if the session is recorded. Speak clearly. Project your voice.
- Describe visual content - Low-vision or blind users can benefit from descriptions of any visual content including images, charts, graphs, etc.
- Switching between screens - If done quickly and repeatedly, this can make some viewers experience motion sickness.
- Repeat audience questions - Repeat questions even when there's a mic, this ensures the question is heard when recorded. Also, repeated questions can be paraphrased. This can make the questions more succinct and understandable.
- Be aware of your time - Allow time for questions. Be sensitive to remote captioning. It is helpful to have a clock nearby.
Don’t feel intimidated or bad about asking organizations for money. Provide them with benefits for the money you receive. You can offer to promote something your sponsor does or simply get their brand name out.
Act early. Don’t wait until you need them. Create relationships before you need them, already having a rapport helps. Cold calls are not effective. Provide opportunities for partnerships and meaningful relationships.
Many events don't need sponsors. Sponsorships provide revenue that helps provide extras like snacks and drinks, or added accessibility features like an ASL interpreter or captioning.
It’s not complicated, you can use YouTube to live stream. Have the speaker wear a lapel mic to be sure the audio stream is clear. Bandwidth and background noise are things to consider.
Live streaming can help promote the meetup and bring new potential sponsors.
Live Captioning / ASL
If you live stream, you should provide live captions, so some viewers aren’t left behind. If you can’t provide live captions, be sure to record the presentation and add captions later.
You need to determine whether you want onsite or remote captioning. Some considerations are the audio source and Wi-Fi availability.
ASL interpreters must be onsite. You may need multiple interpreters depending on the length of presentation. They typically break after about 15 - 20 minutes of signing.
NO SHOWS are common. People don’t show up for any number of reasons such as weather, timing, etc. Expect an average of 50% turnout; life happens.
Make sure you have realistic expectations, and you book the venue appropriately.
A couple of tips for better turnout: reduce the time between announcing the event and the actual event and, if food will be provided, mention it!
What's the next step after meetups?
Camps and conferences are the next step.
A camp is basically an un-conference. Generally, they’re 1-3 days and may be free or low cost. This is the natural progression from a meetup.
Conferences can be 1-3 days or a week long. They have a more professional feel, and perhaps presenters are paid for travel, time, and efforts.
As the size of the event grows, so do costs in both time and money. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t grow, but be aware of those changes along the way.
To wrap it up...
Just do it. But, make sure you can dedicate time and effort.
Remember to ask for feedback, so you can make the next meetup even more accessible.
Links mentioned in the talk:
• Slides - http://bit.ly/2KQG6Tq
• A11YChi Meetup Twitter - https://twitter.com/a11ychi
• A11YChi Meetup Meetup - meetup.com/a11ychi
• A11YChi Meetup YouTube - youtube.com/c/ChicagoDigitalAccessibilityInclusiveDesign
• Deborah Edwards-Onoro’s List of A11y Meetups - https://www.lireo.com/accessibility-inclusive-design-in-person-groups/
• Accessible Presentations - https://github.com/A11YChi/A11Y-Presentations
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