ASAE Annual Meeting

How Accessibility & Blueberry Muffins Promote DEI & ROI

By Association Adviser staff • August 18, 2021

Samantha Evans, CAE, MBA
Samantha Evans, CAE, MBA

Does your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) statement include people with disabilities? If not it should include provisions to include people of all abilities, says Samantha Evans, CAE, MBA, a speaker at the 2021 ASAE Annual Meeting. 

But where does accessibility fit in association management? Evans notes that it fits in every place a disabled person has an interest: in governance, executive leadership, organizational strategy, operations, business development, member and stakeholder engagement and management, marketing and communications, and advocacy.

Why should your association make the effort to be accessible?

Accessibility is particularly important when it comes to digital programming, whether that’s communications, events, or a platform used to complete work. Access is a human and civil right. Your association should care about making its operations accessible to more people because:

  • Diversity and inclusion is the socially responsible thing to do.
  • Accessibility can improve your association’s SEO.
  • Making your activity more accessible can also improve your ROI. When you reach the entire market, you have a better chance of more conversions. 
  • Acting inclusively mitigates legal risk. 
  • And knowing how your brand is represented in all forms gives you a better chance to protect it. 

 In 1999, the Worldwide Web Consortium published the first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In 2008, they updated the 4 principles of web accessibility, stating that websites should be:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

In 2018, the ADA incorporated WCAG’s guidelines as the standard for web accessibility. 

Who benefits from accessible content and platforms?

  • Blind people or people with low vision or color blindness
  • People with physical disabilities
  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • People with reading or learning disabilities
  • People with cognitive disabilities
  • People aging into disabilities
  • People who prefer to listen to audio over text, or people who prefer to read instead of listen.

Why should accessibility matter to your association?

Access to work, learn, live and play are human and civil rights. This includes digital accessibility. Making material accessible is the best practice ethically, practically, and legally. Plus, making material accessible allows for equity and fairness in information distribution and opportunities.

What are your association’s social and legal responsibilities when it comes to accessibility?

You must follow the guidelines codified into law in the ADA, section 508, 503 or 504 if you operate in the U.S. If you’re in California, you must follow the Unruh Act and CCCPA. Canadians must abide by the AODA, ACA, and provincial accessibility acts as applicable. The UK mandates that organizations operate in line with the Equity Act. Europeans stick to the EN Mandates and Web Accessibility Directives. 

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so make accessibility part of your business and DEI strategies. Make SMART goals you can reasonably reach, and allow an appropriate budget to achieve them.

In other words, bake accessibility into your association’s work – just like you would add blueberries into your muffin batter before making them if you want true blueberry muffins. Start from the beginning when accommodating others.

6 Steps to Accessible Digital Events

One good place to start with accessibility is with digital events. Here are six steps to an accessible digital event:

  1. Set goals for an accessible attendee experience from the start. Know how to qualify what’s in the market and the vendors you want to use. Ensure they align with your DEI and accessibility goals. Plan enough budget for accessible event experiences.
  2. Look at your event marketing. Is your event website fully accessible? Are any prospective platforms you’re using optimized for viewing by all? Are you using high contrast, alt text and diverse/inclusive marketing images?
  3. Examine your event registration. Is it easy to understand the language about how to register? Understand your language around disability. Are You choosing people-first language that talks about people with disabilities, or disability language that talks about disabled people? The difference is subtle but prominent to those with disabilities. 
  4. Consider your event design. You want to aim for a universal design that is accessible, inclusive, and usable. Examine your code of behavior to include people with disabilities. Give your speakers and presenters a guide to accessible presentations, and have them submit their content ahead of time for review. Find interpreters and require video captioning. Make sure every visual element of your event is easily viewable.
  5. Have an assigned accessibility and accommodations team. Be prepared with alternative media to accommodate those with disabilities. Book captioners and interpreters. 
  6. Empower your accessibility team to distribute alternative media as requested, manage captionist and interpreters, and fulfill requests for alternate accommodations. Have them help attendees navigate breakouts and networking events. Ensure engagement activities like polls, surveys, and Q&A include any attendees with disabilities.

When it comes to your event survey, you will want to ensure that you include feedback about your accessibility features or accommodations that you’ve offered. Things to ask about:

  • Did attendees use inclusive communications tools?
  • Did they like the quality of captions?
  • Were they able to view and pin the sign language interpreters?
  • Did they receive alternative media in time for event use?
  • Are there other ways your association can make your next event more inclusive?

Bonus: Five things you can start doing today to make your marketing communications more accessible:

  1. Use clear typography and fonts. 
  2. Use headings
  3. Ensure you have accessible content: images with alternative text and video captions, for example
  4. Plain language
  5. Use of high color and contrast

Evans offered much more advice about making your association more accessible from all facets of your operations. Check out her notes, which include online resources and tools for assessing your accessibility efforts, here.