A keyboard with inclusion written on the enter key.Meetings are one of the most powerful communication tools available to governing bodies. But without strong participation from all stakeholder groups, your meetings lose their potential for diverse input, common understanding, and educational opportunities. In today’s world of smart phones and tablets, inclusive applies to both physical and virtual access.

Although there are a number of ways to improve participation, it’s important to first understand why you need to make your meetings accessible to all.

With a significant portion of the population living with disabilities that can affect their ability to attend or participate in meetings, there’s both a moral, and increasingly legal responsibility for organizers to ensure meetings are inclusive to all.

What is Digital Accessibility?

Physical Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or physical environments in such a way to provide “universal access” for all people, including those living with disabilities.

Digital Accessibility applies the same principals of “universal access” to websites, applications, online content and electronic documents, so they can be easily navigated and understood by all people, including those who have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities.

If you’re planning a public meeting or publishing an open invitation without collecting RSVPs, you should be prepared to accommodate anybody who may physically or virtually come to your meeting.

Evaluate Your Organization

The first step towards compliance is understanding how inclusive your meetings currently are to different internal and external stakeholder groups. Are you familiar with your accessibility requirements?

Complying with these standards requires a working knowledge of the features that help make your materials accessible. These are called accessibility features and they include blind or low-vision assistance and deaf or low-hearing assistance for computer users.

Hardware and software solutions exist to help the visually impaired interact with computers. Hardware like alternative keyboards and switch-enabled peripherals make peripherals easier to interact with. Software and hardware versions of screen readers exist. Those with hearing impairment benefit from closed captioning of video content and mono audio, which transfers stereo audio signal into a single channel.

Some examples of software that includes accessibility features are Jaws, Microsoft Accessibility, Google Accessibility, Firefox, and Apple Accessibility. Take stock of your organization and what accessibility features you already use. Find out what features you will need to add to become compliant.

Once you have a good idea of where your organization is, it’s time to start working towards improving compliance. Here are 5 simple steps to help you get started

1. Assign Responsibility

Now that you know where your organization stands, it’s time to delegate the responsibility of achieving compliance. Find a team member that is adaptable, works well with others, and has good understanding of the goal of accessibility to step up and be the leader. Throughout your journey to compliance, this person is going to need to affect a number of changes and will potentially need to handle objections to these changes.

It’s important to communicate that these changes are not going to happen in a few short quarters. Full compliance will take time and patience, but the accessibility achieved will be well worth it.

2. Prepare for Your Accessibility Compliance Report

Your project leader should study and prepare for completing the Accessibility Compliance Report.

It is required by law to submit one such report every two years to test your organization’s accessibility compliance.

This will also serve as a guideline for getting your organization compliant!

3. Build A Timeline

Bear in mind that all of your content needs to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA by January 1, 2021. That gives you just a handful of quarters to get your organization set up with the right tools and attitude to comply with this mandated headline.

Your timeline should include adaptation time for each change and a cushion before the 2021 hard deadline to allow for any setbacks you may encounter.

4. Find the Right Tools for Compliance

Staying on top of specific compliance regulations as they evolve is a tough prospect, but it’s necessary in order to remain compliant down the road.

The right electronic meeting software solution will allow you to keep your meetings accessibility compliant. eSCRIBE’s digital meeting solution doesn’t just provide the suite of software you need to keep your meetings compliant; we are knowledgeable in accessibility regulations and our solution will stay compliant as the laws change.

5. Hold an Accessibility-Enabled Meeting to Discuss the Changes!

What better way to first introduce your new accessible meeting tools than to show them off, in action, at your accessibility committee meeting?

Hold an organization-wide meeting using your new software specifically on the topic of accessibility. This will help everyone learn how to use the features and inspire your team to continue the accessibility momentum.

With just some work and the right tools, meeting the new accessibility standards is a great way to invite everybody to the table at your meetings!