Blindness awareness month: Our 5 virtual training accessibility tips

Braille on paper representing virtual training accessibility tips.

With a crisp Autumn October wind in the air, there’s a chance to place a heightened focus on our friends and colleagues in the blind and visually impaired community as we celebrate and promote Blindness Awareness Month and consider the accessibility of our virtual training.

The World Health Organisation tell us that “everyone, if they live long enough, will experience at least one eye condition in their life time”.

That’s right… everyone.

In fact, at least 2.2 billion of us already do live with a visual impairment in some form, and so the need for blindness friendly practice in the virtual world is an issue that affects us all, yet all to often remains an issue many of us still shy away from.

October then, has given us a renewed opportunity to consider the virtual workspace from a different perspective – a perspective all too real for some, and one the rest of us may needn’t imagine for too much longer. Thankfully, whilst the statistics may be daunting, the challenge is one that can be met through careful and considered training design, communication, and meeting management.

So, how can we make virtual meetings and workshops accessible for this surprisingly large (and growing!) community?  At VTT we are always looking to improve the way in which we meet participant needs across the board, and it goes without saying that accessibility should be a priority for all of us, all of the time, regardless of month. To put it simply; accessibility is everyone’s business and when done well, shouldn’t require conscious thought but be embedded within the heart of our unconscious daily practice.

Awareness months do have their place though – most notably serving as a catalyst for much needed conversation around often sensitive topics. So that said, here are five tips on how you can strive for a blindness friendly virtual workspace, not just this month, but for all the months to come!

5 Virtual training accessibility tips

Here are our 5 virtual training accessibility tips:

  1. Back it up
  2. Design for inclusion
  3. It starts before it starts
  4. Patience is a virtue
  5. Be an ally

We’ll explore each of these 5 tips in more details below:

1. Back it up…

If you plan to share information in a virtual environment, make sure any visuals are supported by other additional means of presentation. Out in the “real world” a blind or partially sighted participant may use other senses to navigate and explore the world around them and the same can be said in the virtual setting too – no message should ever be expressed through visual means alone. Consider using audio, verbal descriptions and ALT text (descriptive text embedded within images that can be read aloud by narrator/reader software) to further support your message.

2. Design for inclusion

If you do wish to design your own resources to display in a virtual presentation, there is an array of measures you can take to ensure your resources are accessible such as considering your chosen font size and colour, ensuring text is large enough to be comfortably read and that your contrast between text copy and the background is high. There are lots of considerations that can be taken during the design process, but of course if you find this daunting, this is one of the many things VTT could help you out with!

3. It starts before it starts…

You may wish to consider contacting your participants ahead of time with accessible copies of any resources you plan to show during the presentation and instructions on how to access the software you plan to use on the day, including information on any in-built accessibility tools participants may wish to access on the day.

4. Patience is a virtue…

Allow extra time for responses when you invite interaction from your participants. Without visual cues it can be difficult for some to understand when it is their turn to speak – many choose not to speak or contribute in a virtual setting as to not risk interrupting others. Ensuring your delivery is clear and follows a considered and logical structure will help participants who experience visual impairments feel confident and able to contribute, whilst inviting participants to contribute by name, and allowing extra time for responses can help build a sense of psychological safety within the group and promote engagement across the board.

5. Be an ally

We’ve all been on virtual meetings and felt self-conscious on camera as we begin to over think every micro behaviour in minute detail, worrying how others may perceive us. For those experiencing blindness or other forms of visual impairments, this sense of uneasiness can be heightened. If you notice a participant or colleague is sitting out of frame or perhaps has their camera off or pointing in the wrong direction by mistake a discreet and friendly advice will often be appreciated. Know your audience and know when to offer support.

Final thoughts

Advances in technology and a changed world post pandemic mean that the virtual space is set to grow over the coming years and with blindness an issue that has the potential to touch each and every one of us at some point in our lives, it seems that the need to better build the virtual workspace for accessibility looms as large now as ever before. Perhaps this Blindness Awareness Month you may wish to consider these virtual training accessibility tips and share with us any of your own as we all strive to work together and build an inclusive virtual workspace accessible to all…

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