Webcasting for accessibility: Four things we’ve learned

Meeting hall with people seated and standing
Accessibility of public meetings is now a problem for everyone

Webcasting for accessibility is an increasingly important part of our business. Ever since we started working with MyClearText, the ace provider of accessibility captions, we’ve got more and more interested in understanding how webcasting – as a simple service – can help accessibility, and how it can improve as a result.

Some simple insights have come our way from the work that we’ve done that we’d like to share, because we hope they can help people to think about the benefits of thinking through accessibility.

Accessibility is everyone’s problem

According to the NHS, most people begin to lose their hearing – in small amounts – after the age of 40. By the time you are in your 80s, you are likely to experience significant hearing loss. Similarly, people’s eyesight and mobility are likely to deteriorate with age.

These losses can have a significant impact on people’s ability to take part in life – leading, for some, to loneliness and social withdrawal. Recent research has even connected undiagnosed hearing loss to the development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia – because of the impact hearing loss has on people’s ability to interact with others.

As our populations age, so will the number of people who need specific accessibility help to take part in life. Accessibility is, therefore, already one of the biggest social challenges that we face.

Webcasting for accessibility – it works best in combination

We don’t always think of webcasting as an accessibility technology – but in combination with other technology it can transform accessibility.

People who might not be able to travel to a meeting can watch a meeting online with webcasting. That might be a good accessibility win. But, when combined with an online discussion forum, anyone who can’t travel can ask questions at the meeting – in other words, they can meaningfully take part.

Equally, by using video conferencing in combination with a webcast, we can offer people the opportunity to speak at a meeting without ever leaving home. If you’re someone with reduced mobility that can be the difference between your voice being heard or not heard.

Again, it’s the combination of the technology that makes the greatest difference. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of live captioning of webcasts – where speech to text reporters can offer a live transcript of speakers.

By improving accessibility, we help everyone

Accessibility improvements can lead to benefits for all – not just for those with a specific accessibility need. That is because we can remove problems that we all encounter by improving overall accessibility.

Captions are just one example of this. They are an increasingly popular feature, because anyone can find themselves in situations where captions can be invaluable. If you’re in an open-plan office you might want to keep the sound down when watching. Equally, if you’re watching a video that’s in a language that you’re not completely fluent in, captions can be helpful.

In other words, each of these uses flows from captions that were solely intended to help people who can’t hear. Over time, other benefits from accessibility – including smarter captions technology – will help everyone, too.

Improving accessibility: it has to concentrate on the people who need it most

Designing better webcasting for accessibility starts with understanding users’ needs more completely. And, to be honest, it is also really hard. For that reason, we are fortunate that many of the events we go to – and the work we do – means we get to meet the people who rely on accessibility. It also helps a lot that we work with organisations, like MyClearText, who have much stronger links with the accessibility community – and therefore a greater understanding of needs. It’s allowed us to learn more about how people use webcasting: what works, what doesn’t and what we can do better.

We can help you with webcasting for accessibility

If you are thinking about accessibility and webcasting – perhaps considering how you can improve access to your public event or meeting – please get in touch. We are able to provide advice on webcasting with live captioning and how live streaming can help with other accessibility needs. Simply visit our contact page to find out how you can speak to us.