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Accessible Virtual Events Best Practices
With COVID-19 and a shift to remote work, UCSF events such as Friday Town Hall Meetings, large training presentations, conventions, press conferences and emergency communications go virtual with live broadcasts and live streaming.
Expectations for event contact
- The event contact is expected to be fiscal responsibility for live and post-event services.
- It is the responsibility of the event contact to communicate with the vendor about tasks to get captions during the live event and/or the post-event recording.
Who pays for it
In most situations, the Event Host/Contact/Owner or their department or office is fiscally responsible for captions and accommodations.
Identify vendor partners
Here is a short list, a good place to start your vendor search.
Non-automated services (human)
Live person stenography services. Cost average $125-250/hour.
Hybrid (AI and human)
ACS Artificial Intelligence (AI) with a human scrubber for live events.
Automated voice recognition services (AI)
One person may be able to pull off a Zoom meeting on their own, but with the complexity of a webinar of live event, you may need to collaborate with content contributors, event facilitators, Q&A moderators, UCSF IT AV tech support, Educational Technology Services (ETS), caption reviewer/editor, and/or vendor technical support. Large scale events may warrant a project manager.
What types if technology will be used? This includes any of the following: a webinar system such as Zoom, Facebook Live, file formats of associated materials, Learning Management Systems (LMS), online learning environments, conference software, video cameras, microphones.
Real-time captioning services
Some general categories of real-time captioning services.
CART is an acronym for Communication Access Real-time Translation, the general name of the systems that converts speech to text by a human listening to the event and using a stenotype machine to type what the speakers are saying. It is also know as open captioning or real-time stenography. It is used by court reporters and closed captioners.
A human provides instantaneous, reliable and accurate translation of the spoken language displayed as text merged with the video signal. This type of service can be $125+ per hour because a real person is involved. This is typically done through an integration with a webinar system such as Zoom, Facebook Live or Teams where the captioner "joins" the online event to listen.
Automated voice recognition services
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is in its infancy and many players are coming on the market. Some services provide more accurate caption generation than others.
YouTube, PowerPoint, and other media and streaming technologies can automatically convert speech to text in real time using voice recognition technology. Because of variability in audio quality, differing speaker voices (especially if there are multiple speakers, and more so if they speak at the same time), levels of background noise, etc., raw automated captions tend to have inaccuracies. These technologies may also omit punctuation.
In certain controlled settings, such as when one person is speaking with very clear and annunciated audio, purely automated captioning may sometimes be sufficient. Automated captions can also be useful in generating a transcript and captions for archival media—after a human review and correction process.
- Be aware that some services may not be HIPAA compliant and will not pass a UCSF Risk Assessment for patient communications.
- These types of services may not satisfy the legal requirements of effective communication or WCAG 2.0 success criteria for live events such as identifying speaker changes and relevant sounds such as laughter or applause.
Tips before a live event
Include accommodation request statement in announcements
In all meeting announcements, ample time should be given for people to learn of the meeting and find details on how to request accommodation.
It is essential that you include an accessibility accommodation request statement on all event registration forms, digital and print communications.
Here is some boilerplate language from the UCSF Student Disability Services "Accessible Events Guide" under the Quick Links section. It is good to provide multiple ways for a request to be routed, such as an email address and a phone number. Don’t use italics for the text in this boilerplate language as large blocks of text in italics reduces readability.
To request an accommodation for this event, please contact [insert program/event contact person] at [insert program/event contact person’s email address] or [insert program/event contact person’s phone number] by [insert date, typically at least one week in advance].
Provide vendors and services with the following:
As soon as possible, provide vendors and the person providing the captioning or interpreting services with information before the event.
This will help the interpreter become familiar with the content and transcriptionists program their device so they don't struggle with the spelling of people's names or medical/technical terms during the live event. This provides a higher quality experience for your audience.
Provide vendors with the following:
- Link to the event for Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, etc.
- Times for set-up, start and finish (estimate extra time for set-up prior to the event)
- Speakers' names and titles. Ask if it's possible, to use the names when identifying new speakers.
- List of medical or technical terms, industry-specific jargon, or unusual acronyms that may be used
- Slide deck or other materials, even if there may be last minute changes
Specific to captioning services:
- Be aware if the service requires the event organizer to create an account, link to the event and distribute the link to the streaming instance for users to use. For example, if using Facebook Live with StreamText, ask them to enable StreamText to feed Facebook Live. (Provide the URL https://www.streamtext.net/...)
- Request sentence case rather than all caps.
- Request a display of a minimum of 2 lines of captions, if possible. Readability is the most important aspect.
- Request captioners to manually paragraph every so often so the input box is not filled up, but not too often. Some captioners have their periods and question marks set to paragraph automatically, which will make captions flash off screen. Do not paragraph after every sentence for captioning, as is done for broadcast captioning.
- Speak clearly and avoid mumbling or speaking too quickly
- Verbalize any important visual information on the screen such as telephone numbers, email addresses, URLs, locations, etc. to ensure effective communication with people who are blind or low vision.
- Let your audience know if closed captioning is available and how to turn it on.
- Let your audience know if speakers are using interpreters to expect delays during Q&A sessions to allow for the interpretation time.
Tips during a live virtual event
Have your vendor contact information handy if problems arise while you monitor the level of quality of their services. Monitor the service and look for potential problems.
Tips for CART services
- Monitor the captions during the event and take notes on the quality of the service.
- Make sure the captions are visible. Set the caption font size to large to monitor for those with low vision.
- Check the speed, are the captions going too fast or too slow?
The captioner may not be able to make changes during the live events, but contacting the vendor after the event with feedback may lead to improvements for future events.
Tips for ASL (American Sign Language) and CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreter)
UCSF Interpretation and Language Services has future plans to include the ability to add an ASL interpreter (in addition to captions in English) to videos.
- Ensure the lighting is bright enough and framed so that the interpreter's hands and torso are visible.
- Make sure the interpreter appears in every view.
- In Zoom, the facilitator might consider "side-by-side" view rather than "speaker view" so the interpreter is not off screen. As of September 2020, apparently the latest Zoom version (5.2.2) allows you to "pin" more than one person in large meetings so as speakers join/leave the session, the interpreter is always in view.
This relates to communications during a disaster when communication becomes especially critical, for example, when information is delivered at press conferences.
The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) has information to help ensure that emergency communications is equally effective to everyone such as people who have disabilities or access and functional needs (AFN).
This may utilize the following communication resources:
- sign language interpreters for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing
- translation services for persons with limited English
- alternative formats for individual with blind/low vision
- plain text
Cal OES provides robust and detailed guidance on disaster-related communications in their AFN Library.
Related UCSF resources:
Test all accompanying materials for accessibility before the event, such as PowerPoint slides or Word documents. Test again after an event is recorded and distributed, especially if a recording of the event and a PowerPoint presentation is housed in an LMS – test before and after it is put into the LMS. See the Testing for Accessibility page for more details and tools.
- 10 Tips for Building an Accessible Online Course
- Accessible Tools for Online Collaboration and Learning
- Create Accessible Meetings resource from Section508.gov with a decision tree for planning
- Facebook Live events
- Facebook Live Streaming Best Practices for Major Broadcasts
- Live Captioning Checklist for Remote Events UC Berkeley
- Making Events Accessible W3C
- Settings for Enabling for American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters UCSD
- Zoom and Accessibility from the University of California Electronic Accessibility Committee (EAC)
- Zoom - Live Transcription (Automatic Closed Captioning) resource. Oregon State University. Please note configurations may differ at UCSF.