11 Accessibility

The participation of people with disabilities in the conference is one of the key aspects of inclusion. Accessibility work requires planning in advance, and includes a wide array of practices. However, inclusion goes beyond accessibility and many of these practices also benefit all the attendants.

Be proactive about accessibility practices, don’t expect people to request a specific type of access. This will create a genuinely inclusive space for everyone. Participants with invisible disabilities and neurodivergences should not have to disclose them to request for access.

11.1 A word about language

Accessibility should not be framed in deficit terms, as a liability or a burden. Avoid an “accommodation” state-of-mind, where inclusion is a concession.

Do not frame disability as a matter of “special needs”. Avoid euphemisms like “special” and “challenged” when talking about disability. Be matter of fact, and follow each individual’s preference for how they identify their disability.

11.2 Tasks of the Accessibility team

The Accessibility team is in charge of:

11.3 Accessibility of the venue

Choosing a venue for the conference is one of the earliest decisions and might be in the initial proposal. The venue should comply with accessibility standards, which in some countries are regulated by law. This means having areas not designed for conferences as venues, such as gyms, university food courts, may require additional work around this topic.

An accessible and inclusive venue should be at a walking distance to hotel(s) and other conference-related locations (food courts, social events spaces), and have accessible ground transportation options. Some people with disabilities travel with assistants. These assistants should not have to pay to register and should have the points of contact information. If needed, volunteers for the conference can be part-time or full-time assistants for people who need one.

The sound system at the venue should have the audio induction loop system that can send signals directly to hearing aids. The availability of this system should be posted on a sign at the entrance to the room, along with specifications if only a certain part of the room is covered. At the time of presentations, everyone should talk into a microphone. If it’s impractical to amplify people asking questions, the presenter or moderator should repeat the questions into the microphone. This is key for a hybrid format as well.

Small breakout rooms should be located near the conference sessions and break areas to provide quiet places for conversations without background noise. There should be some seating available during breaks, even if most people will be standing. Consider visibly marking seats in meeting and poster rooms and break areas for use by disabled people.

Ensure that elevators, aisles, and pathways are wide enough for people using wheelchairs, trolleys, or other mobility device. Ensure that presenters using wheelchairs will be able to access the stage or podium.

Restrooms, including gender-neutral facilities, should be located near conference rooms and break areas. Information should be available on the locations of accessible bathrooms, break areas, lactation rooms, and meeting rooms. You can include these information in the participants’ booklet, see example PDF from useR! 2019.

Parents and child care givers, with young children should be able to easily participate in the conference. This includes organizing childcare for children old enough (for instance, above 3 years old), and making the conference accessible for parents with babies. Some actions you will need to take to provide access to participatns with babaies are ensuring trolleys can enter rooms and navigating in the conference venue, having quiet and private rooms for diaper changes and breast feeding, and allowing free entrance to the conference venue for someone provding them with support during the event.

11.3.1 Inclusive Practices around Food

Provide a wide range of foods, including gluten- and allergen-free, as well as vegetarian/vegan options. Make ingredient lists available, and have someone from the catering service available for questions (with someone speaking English available for translation if the caterer can not speak English).

To avoid contamination with gluten or allergens at buffets, serve food on separate plates or containers (e.g., do not contaminate cheese with crackers). Use the layout or decorations to discourage contamination of utensils. Place gluten- or allergen-containing foods later in the buffet so they don’t contaminate allergen-free foods earlier in the sequence.

Lunch and break times should be long enough for people to leave the conference to get the food they need if it is not available at the conference.

Sugar free beverage options (diet soda, etc. and sweeteners like Stevia, Equal, Sweet ‘N’ Lo) are needed at breaks, as well as plain water. If free alcohol is provided, have something other than beer and have non-alcoholic options.

Buffets, snacks, beverages, dining tables, and check-in tables should be within reach of someone using a wheelchair. At meals and breaks, someone should be available to help blind and low vision people to navigate food and beverage choices. Braille labels can be provided.

11.4 Accessibility of the platforms used during the conference

  • The conference website should be accessible to people with various disabilities as specified in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG; https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/). It should detail the inclusive practices that will be used at the conference so people can decide whether the conference will be accessible enough to attend. There should be a contact listed for questions about accessibility.

11.5 Materials of the conference

Conference presentations and tutorials are made on both visual (slides) and auditory channels: the slides and the presenter’s spoken words. For deaf, hard-of-hearing (HoH), blind, and low vision participants, integrating these two channels so that all information can be understood simultaneously can be difficult without inclusive practices.

Slides should be prepared avoiding the use of small fonts and attention given to choosing colors that are visible to people with color blindness. Recommendations can be found on the Perkins School for the Blind website: https://www.perkinselearning.org/technology/digital-transitions/creating-accessible-powerpoint-presentations-students-visual

High-contrast color schemes are more visible. Large print hard copies of talks could be more accessible for visually impaired participants. Alt-text descriptions should be used for graphics, images, memes, screenshots, and other graphically-presented material.

useR! 2021 prepared accessibility guidelines for every format of the conference, and a blog post with details on how to prepare slide decks.

11.6 Availability of the materials

In addition to making the presentation slide decks as accessible as possible, the materials should be available before the presentations, so that people who use screen readers, braille displays, and people who have low bandwidth and cannot use video during the conference can follow the details (e.g. code) of the presentation.

Some presenters do not have finished materials in advance to the conference, but a stable link can be provided, so that the presenter can update their slides as needed, and attendants have access to the link in advance.

The ideal format for slide decks in the context of useR! are markdown or beamer slides in html format, posted as a html. useR! 2021 created instructions for making markdown or xaringan presentations available as GitHub or GitLab pages

11.6.1 During the presentations

Presenters should be guided to pace themselves so the audience can integrate both audio and visual information. Graphics, pictures, videos, and memes should be described audibly.

Live captioning can provide access to spoken content for some participants. It could also be used to provide transcripts of talks later. While some deaf/HoH people can use both sign language and captioning, others can only use one or the other.

Sign language interpreting is required for some potential participants. Sign language varies regionally, so for example when UseR! is in the United states, ASL (American sign language) interpreters should be available. For conferences in other locations, the local sign language would be relevant. Deaf participants should be able to sit near interpreters, and they should be able to watch the interpreter, the presenter, and the screen simultaneously. Interpreters must be available for social activities such as breaks and meals for full access to the conference environment. The Environmental Science Department at St. Mary’s University has a website with specific guidance for working with interpreters conferences and a variety of related situations: https://smu.ca/academics/departments/environmental-science-work-with-interpreter.html

11.6.2 After the presentations

Edit, caption, and upload Conference Materials

  • Previous consent for recording (talks and tutorials!)

  • Videos + Captions to R Consortium youtube - edit description

  • Add links to slides. Either self-generated link (gslides and github/gitlab pages) or link to a useR! conference unified repository

11.7 Set up a point of contact

We recommend organizing a dedicated subteam for accessibility tasks. The team should designate points of contact and set up an email for answering any doubts regarding this topic. Include this email in the communication strategy of the conference.

11.8 Social events accessibility

Social events should be planned to be inclusive and safe to all people. This includes avoiding putting too much emphasis in movement, people having to talk, body types and abilities. For example, loud music at events can make it difficult for some to participate.

11.9 Captioning How-to

11.9.1 Motivation

Captioning is a key element in accessibility for deaf people and people with hearing disabilities, and for the inclusion of non-native speakers of the spoken language and people who for any reason cannot watch the talks and videos with volume (caregivers, people in noisy venues, etc.)

Captioning in-person events is possible but in-person events might give priority to language interpretation. Live interpretation is not a solution accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, unless sign language interpretation is also provided.

Captioning became a key feature of online versions of useR! in 2020 and 2021.

11.9.2 Before the conference

  • As soon as the schedule is ready, decide which sessions and languages you need captions for
  • Quote possible captioners by telling them the number of hours, languages, and platforms of the event. You might send them a simplified version of the schedule with the captioning needs

A portion of the captioning schedule that was shared with the captioners at useR! 2021, showing the languages needed, the times – using a platform that allowed to display different timezones–, and the occurrence of parallel sessions.

  • Bear in mind that zoom allows for captioning directly inside the platform, via an API key. If you want to have a second language, these subtitles will have to go through another channel, most frequently this is a company-based URL that exhibits the captions in real time. Direct captioning in Youtube requires extra setup steps, and the purchase and setup of a third-party app. Not every caption company offers packages with this setup and it bears additional costs.
  • When quoting, some captioners allow for tests prior to closing a deal with them. Some also allow a setup test prior to the conference, that can happen during thedress rehearsals. After you choose a caption company

  • Make sure that the captions provider has scheduled captioners for every session at the correct timezone
  • Send the captioners a glossary with proper nouns, package names, abstracts, and slides (see Conference materials availability, so they can prepare the key terms in advance and improve their precision

11.9.3 During the conference

Note: make sure you can add caption test to the dress rehearsals.

The team: If possible, have a couple of organizers in charge of the captions, so that if anyone is missing the other can step in.

Depending on the platform these instructions may vary.

On zoom, the host of the Zoom sessions will have to do the following steps:

  1. Invite the captioner to the session, preferably as participant via email.
  2. When they join –they usually join with distinctive nicknames, such as “English captioner”– ascend them to co-host
  3. Zoom menu buttons > Live transcript (Host only)
  4. “Assign a participant to type” (top left of the Live transcript pop up)
  5. On the participants pane, select them as live captioner
  • The zoom host has to be know how to copy and paste the API for captioners in case they need it.
  • These API keys can become outdated if the event is more than 24 hours after you ask for them, so always provide “fresh” API keys, collected some hours in advance, not days in advance.

11.9.4 After the conference: transcripts and subtitles

When posting the recorded content online for archiving, the videos should have captions in the spoken language (most probably English) and in some other languages.

When requesting this service you may ask for clean transcripts, that remove figures of speech and repetitions.

During useR! 2021, this service was provided by star captioning, including the captioning and translation of the keynote in Spanish.

11.9.5 Some terminology

Open captioning: is always embedded on-screen and the attendee has no possibility to turn them on or off

Closed captioning: can be turned on-off by the attendee, using the CC button in most videos streaming platforms

Clean transcripts: removes figures of speech and repetitions

Verbatim transcripts: does not remove figures of speech and repetitions