Is Your Virtual Reading Accessible?

Make Your Virtual Reading Accessible

For authors who had been looking forward to book signings and readings, stay-at-home orders and social distance meant a quick pivot to online events.  Last month, one of my authors had a virtual reading planned, hosted by a local bookstore. She wondered if I could help her make the reading accessible for the deaf, at the request of a friend who planned to attend.

I, like everyone else, have attended my fair share of Zoom meetings these past seven months. As someone who has been deaf since birth, I have been observing the ways in which meeting hosts have been able to make their events accessible and I learned that, along with a few other companies, were offering live captioning for Zoom meetings. A game-changer! So, when Marlene asked for help, I jumped in with both feet.

Tips for Making Your Virtual Reading Accessible

Woman with curly hair and black sweater in front of a window, holding a large Ipad in her palm, looking at the screen and giving a thumbs up

A note about these tips: It’s difficult to anticipate every need, and to accommodate every need as well. We are all learning as we go, so just try your best. This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but it is a minimum.

  1. Ask for Access Needs: In your marketing for your event, allow potential attendees to request an accommodation, with the caveat that you might not be able to provide it. If you are offering closed captioning, note that in the marketing or registration materials.
  2. Captioning: There are several services available that will live caption your Zoom event, at various price points. Some of these services are provided by real people, and others use AI. The service I use is Rev, which costs me $20/month. Zoom also gives you the option of assigning a captioner– if you happen to have a friend or colleague that has amazing transcription skills and is willing to be your captioner, this is a no-cost option for you. (Maybe buy your friend a beer or something, though.) Another no-cost option is Google Meet, which has captions already embedded. I find that Google Meet’s video quality is not as good as Zoom’s though, but YMMV.
  3. Prepare a Slide Deck: A slide deck allows you to present information visually. In this video of Marlene’s reading, you can see how we added PDFs of the pages that Marlene read from in her book.  Slide decks are useful for relaying instructions, especially if you will be having an interactive event.
  4. Use Mute All: Not only will Mute All provide a better recording environment, it cuts down on the audio distractions that come from ambient and other noises in attendees’ environments.
  5. Speak Visual Descriptions: This is a new tip that I learned recently. For the vision-impaired, consider describing yourself and your surroundings. In more than one event I’ve attended, the speaker included in their opening a description of what they were wearing, their hairstyle, and their physical description. (“I am a heavy white woman with curly brown hair in a ponytail and glasses. I am wearing an oversized blue t-shirt that says Complex Female Character. I have pearl earrings in my ears and I am wearing a silver necklace with a silver four leaf clover.”) 

Want to learn more about making your virtual author events accessible? Join me for a free workshop on Saturday, October 24, 2020. Register at https://prolificwriters.local/product/making-your-virtual-readings-accessible

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