Accessibility has been something event technology companies have sidestepped for a long time - at best meeting minimum requirements (like us, previously) and at worst ignoring it completely (which we’ve found to be the most common case). Actually it gets worse - some platforms charge more to unlock accessibility features.
This article put out a few weeks ago by TechCrunch really struck a chord with us, and inspired what you’ll read about below and our future ambitions: Imagine being blind and trying to attend a virtual event. Try that next time you stage one.
With virtual events becoming the primary mechanism to deliver events for the last year and for the foreseeable future, event technology platforms like PheedLoop have become the entire venue for events. Streaming, exhibiting, monetization, networking, and other important event concepts have grown and matured substantially, which is great, but accessibility has still fallen short.
We made a commitment at our last user conference to improve accessibility in PheedLoop’s tech, and although we have a lot more work to do (more than what we describe in this blog post to go beyond the minimums), we’re extremely thrilled and excited to present today’s update with a brand new AI-powered accessibility widget built right into PheedLoop’s virtual event module. This certainly puts PheedLoop at the top of the list when it comes to accessible virtual and hybrid event platforms.
We recently partnered with a leading web accessibility provider to take PheedLoop’s virtual event accessibility to a whole new level and continue to push the envelope for PheedLoop’s WCAG, ADA, and AODA compliance.
This new widget is now freely available and integrated right into the virtual event platform. Click on the accessibility icon at the top right of any virtual event, to show the accessibility widget.
The widget provides a wide array of options to adjust the user interface in basic ways (like font sizes and colors) to far more advanced options for attendees with more specific needs which we’ll share a few of below.
The real winner here is that the widget is powered in large part by artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence applies a context-aware approach to interfaces like PheedLoop where there’s a lot of user-contributed content that may not be automatically optimized for accessibility. Our widget scans, understands, and automatically makes much of that inaccessible content accessible!
A great example of this is alternative tags for images which a lot of contributed content may be missing. Our widget works to scan all images, and if they are missing “alt” tags, it tries to understand the image, use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and more to apply accessibility features on top of inaccessible images.
Using ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) alongside several other automated methods, as soon as a screen reader is detected, PheedLoop’s accessibility widget optimizes the virtual event pages to match. The same is done with images through OCR. Keyboard navigation is also optimized and implemented to support “tab” navigation and more, with shortcuts such as “M” for menus and “H” for headings.
Attendees can change font sizes, typefaces, spacing, alignment, and more.
Attendees can select from several color options and profiles to increase context, invert colors, fade out and dim colors, swap colors, and more.
Animations, including GIFs, can be paused or stopped entirely, ideal for epileptic attendees.
Attendees can choose to highlight and give focus to specific content elements including links, headings, titles, and elements that have focus/hover attributes.
Muting content automatically included for third-party embedded content events may integrate can be muted for hard of hearing attendees, and/or to prevent audio from automatically playing and causing headaches. This is ideal also for events which may be adding on captions or sign language (ASL) to their event streams.
Attendees with cognitive disabilities may utilize the built-in search function that can help define and explain specific phrases, words, terms, and more.
The widget has several built-in profiles with feature presets. Profiles include Epilepsy Safe, Visually Impaired, Cognitive Disability, ADHD Friendly, Blind Users, and Keyboard Navigation.
Functions like the ability to change cursor sizes, multiple languages (12), orientation adjustments, and launch virtual keyboards, as examples, can really help take your events to a whole new level for all your valued attendees.
With the launch of this widget, PheedLoop has enhanced its accessibility compliance at the WCAG 2.1 AA level. This cascades into compliance with regulations like ADA (American Disabilities Act) and AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), as examples, which are based on WCAG 2.1 compliance.
We want to be upfront about two things: accessibility matters to us beyond the minimum standards, and that we’re not perfect. This accessibility widget is a huge and exciting step, but we realize that our team is not personally impacted by the challenges of using inaccessible systems and may not be fully aware of limitations even our best intentions may have.
Our commitment is simply that we will continue to innovate, improve, and whenever required, rapidly fix accessibility issues. We work with all our customers as closely as possible, so if you find a gap or mistake in our accessibility features and considerations, please let us know as soon as possible. Addressing your concerns will be a top priority.
Accessibility issues cannot be solved 100% with a single new feature, so we have a lot more we’re working on especially as events transition to hybrid, as we continue to invest in and explore new technologies (e.g. virtual reality), and as we learn more about what our customers are looking for.
Today, however, we celebrate with great excitement the official launch of PheedLoop’s newest accessibility features and we hope you are just as excited as we are.