Accessible Engagement and Participation Online

This webpage relates to an input to a CLD webinar about digital tools for online participation and engagement, held on the 12th May 2021 .  

  • Why accessibility is even more important now
  • Accessible information considerations
  • Holding accessible online meetings

The voices of disabled people may have been underrepresented in the last round of CLD plans.  The increased use of digital tools provides new opportunities to widen access and engage more people this time around. The Education Scotland review of CLD plans 2018-21  highlighted on page 30,  ”Most plans make some reference to targeting disadvantaged or marginalised groups and communities but some equalities groups, such as disabled young people and their families, that are being given less consideration. We could not find evidence of Equality Impact Assessments (EQIA) being referred to in any of the plans”. 

Direct involvement by disabled people is critically needed to address ‘supercharged’ inequalities, amplified by Covid19. One of the recommendations highlighted in Glasgow Disability Alliance’s supercharged report, Oct 2020 is to involve disabled people in planning recovery and renewal, ‘Invest in inclusive community learning and community development through inclusive digital and offline engagement and capacity building, raise disabled people’s aspirations and opportunities to fulfil their potential, and strengthen participation and democracy’. Disabled people have been amongst the hardest hit in the pandemic.

This guide to the National Standards for Community Engagement will help you to think about how you can engage communities for recovery and renewal following the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Standards for Community Engagement is available in alternative formats. It covers some of the issues which are impacting on communities and which might make it more difficult for people to take part in digital engagement activity. It has very practical information and signposts you to useful online tools that can help. The Glasgow Disability Alliance have produced two other resources which include handy checklists to engage disabled people, Participatory Glasgow – leaving no one behind and Budgeting for Equality.

Accessible Information

Ofcom have produced a report about Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes in 2020-21 published 28th April 2021.

If you are using a laptop or desktop to choose your platform when creating information for community feedback or about a meeting coming up do check it works just as well on a mobile device. The OfCom report shows that whilst in 2020, a broad range of devices were used to go online Smartphones were the most likely used by 85% of internet users. And 10% of internet users ONLY used a smartphone to go online.”

Connecting Scotland and the Digital Inclusion Fund have reduced the digital poverty gap by providing devices and data for many CLD learners, but many people who could add value to your consultation may still be using a phone.

Many disabled people use assistive technologies to access the internet. Is your information accessible and compatible with assistive technologies?

Are you using accessible digital tools and platforms? Is your information accessible? How would you know?

Accessibility regulations came into force for public sector bodies in September 2018 and by 21st June 2021 mobile apps require to be accessible as well as websites.

If your website is accessible, that’s not the end of the story. It is still possible to upload an inaccessible document to an otherwise accessible website.  For example a digital poster made in Microsoft word, which has a text size which is too small, poor colour contrast, images overlapping text, which creates barriers for many people. 

The front end of the website or app might be accessible, but what about the back end.  Anticipate that you will have disabled staff on your team who may need to use assistive technologies with these tools and check they are compatible.

The good news is the practical skills which enable you to be accessible online can be learned and there are a growing number of online resources to support you. You can use the accessibility checker within word to check your work as you go.  There are a lot of online guides, available, there is even a wikihow to create accessible word documents or you could access more tried and tested structured learning with tutor facilitation through specialist disability organisations. The latter will have been co-produced with disabled people. Lead Scotland has three free sessions for your third sector partners in May and June 2021 Michael Chamberlain at The Curve.

Using your own artefacts on your own website to share information is one method, but you are likely to be utilising a lot of third party free tools, apps and social media to engage people. Platforms such as Facebook may be very popular and we have successfully used these too, but you cannot assume they are accessible to everyone or as above, consider the accessibility of your uploads to these sites. Ask people from your targeted audience groups what they need and specialist technical support to understand how to maximise the accessibility options available. Adding alterative formats such as BSL or community language information options welcome people as well as providing accessible information.

CLD services are universally accessible and inclusive but sometimes you will need to work in partnership with specialist agencies and with individuals from specific communities. People with profound and complex needs for example are amongst the least well served when it comes to post school learning options. Contact an agency like PAMIS, SCLD or the Scottish Transition Forum for support to hold consultations with the people who have the fewest post school options available.

Holding Accessible Online Meetings – Example

Lead Scotland staff have the flexibility to use a wide range of tools to meet learn need. We use zoom for groups because many learners choose to then use their free account with friends and family too.  There are lots of resources to support the use of online video platforms, such as How to Use Zoom Easyread.

For group meetings we found things work better when we have a tutor and an additional person as back up who can sort out any individual tech problems. We also offer one to one ‘how to use zoom’ sessions ahead of time if needed. 

Inviting People to Your Meeting – Example

Within the narrative of your invitation consider how you will take responsibility for coordinating access requirements. Here is some text that you could use within the invitation by way of an example:

‘We know that webinars can present accessibility challenges for some disabled people. We are committed to finding ways to overcome these challenges so everyone can participate within the webinars. Please tell us about your access requirements in the form below and then tick the box at the end which gives us your consent in case we need to get in touch with you for more information. Thank you.

Then in the form itself you could provide a list of options (consider what the organisation can offer as relevant for the session) such as:

Please tell us about your access requirements to enable you to participate fully in the session:

  • BSL Interpreter (note: do they want to bring their own or will you organise and pay for the interpreter?)
  • Closed Captioning (subtitles) (you may have inhouse expertise, engage a palantypist or you could use a third party app for this, some do a free trial)
  • Recording the session
  • Slides/resources in advance
  • Breaks at specific intervals – ask the person to specify what they need
  • Note taker
  • Training/support in advance to access the webinar with specific assistive tech (for example to try out a specific screen reader if they haven’t used it before with that platform)
  • Training/support in advance to use zoom/teams etc
    Communication support worker (this would vary depending on need but could either support someone with hearing loss who does not speak BSL or could support someone with an Autism or a learning disability who may need prompting and support to engage in group discussions)
  • Other – please specify

Then you could also add on a narrative box for them to explain their needs in more details if they want to.

If the platform you use to send invitations doesn’t allow you to use multiple choice in this way then you could ask a single question ‘Please tell us about your access requirements to be able to participate fully in the session. For example, if you need a BSL interpreter, need the slides or more information to be sent to you beforehand, or need breaks at specific intervals’.

The disadvantage with this is that people don’t always know or understand what their options might be so the dropdown is preferable.

Contact Emma Whitelock, ewhitelock@lead.org.uk

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