Designing Accessible Events – Online & Off

Designing Accessible Events - Online & Off

Are you ignoring – or worse yet, alienating – a large percentage of the population in your trade shows, whether online or in person?

Chances are you have been, even if you didn’t mean to.

So I invited accessibility advocate Samantha Evans to join us for Virtual Lunch in the Exhibit Marketers Cafe to share what your events need to include to be more accessible to all. You’ll learn:

  • What to look for and ask about when checking out virtual event platforms
  • Things to consider when adding captions and interpreters
  • How to overcome some of the challenges presented by wearing masks
  • Plus other tips for designing your exhibit booth with better access to all

Note: Scroll down this page to read the transcript for this podcast interview.

Here are links to items mentioned in the interview:

About Samantha Evans:

Samantha Evans
Samantha Evans

Samantha (Sam) Evans, CAE, MBA, The Accessible CAE is from Atlanta, GA. Her primary role is the Certification Manager at the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), a division of G3ict. Sam works with accessibility subject matter experts and professionals around the world to maintain, build and deliver accessibility certification programs. Sam facilitates the work of IAAP and the accessibility community to establish benchmarks of knowledge, skills, and concepts for accessibility professionals. Sam is also an accessibility and inclusion advocate, active in the association management and credentialing professions. Sam holds an MBA in International Business from Kennesaw State University and holds the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Sam brings more than 20 years of association management, meeting planning, training, and marketing to her work in volunteer and professional endeavors.


[00:00:00.550] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to the Trade Show Insights podcast, Season 15, Episode 20. I'm your host and exhibit marketing strategist, Marlys Arnold, bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results. On today's episode, brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe, we've got a rebroadcast of our Virtual Lunch with accessibility advocate, Samantha Evans, talking about how to make your events – both online and off – more accessible to all.

[00:01:02.560] - Marlys Arnold

I actually have had some experience and some insights into accessibility issues for a long time. My mom has had vision issues for many years, and so just the fact of having signage and graphics that's readable and legible and able to be perceived by someone who's visually challenged, that's been on my radar for a long time.

[00:01:31.750] - Marlys Arnold

Then a few years ago, one of my best friends had a stroke when she was only in her 40s, and it left her without the use of much of one side of her body. And she now uses a scooter and she's had to learn all different kinds of ways of doing things now differently. So I've watched and been a participant in that. But probably the most insightful thing was a few years ago, I walked a show floor with my friend Joan Eisenstadt, which some of you may know. And Joan really opened my eyes to the challenges that someone who is in a scooter or has mobility challenges, faces on a show floor.

[00:02:14.870] - Marlys Arnold

So I actually did a podcast with her and I didn't get that link ready ahead of time. But I will share that later. You can find it on

[00:02:24.290] - Marlys Arnold

But recently, Joan introduced me to today's guest, who is Samantha Evans, or better known as Sam, she likes to be called. But Sam is the certification manager at the International Association of Accessibility Professionals are IAAP, and she works with accessibility subject matter experts and professionals around the world to maintain, build and deliver accessibility certification programs. She facilitates the work of IAAP and the accessibility community to establish benchmarks of knowledge, skills and concepts for accessibility professionals. She's also an accessibility and inclusion advocate active in the association management profession.

[00:03:12.420] - Marlys Arnold

In fact, she brings more than 20 years of association management, meeting, planning, training and marketing to her work as a volunteer and professional at a IAAP.

[00:03:24.810] - Marlys Arnold

So, Sam, welcome to Virtual Lunch.

[00:03:27.930] - Samantha Evans

Thanks for having me. I'm so glad to be here with you.

[00:03:30.900] - Marlys Arnold

Well, I'm excited to talk about this because we're going to talk not only about the physical events, but we're going to talk about accessibility and virtual events as well. In fact, let's actually start there. Let's talk about because I think probably a lot of people other than just thinking of, OK, well, I need to have closed captioning. But, you know, there's a lot of different things to think about in the virtual world. So share with us some of those kinds of things that we need to be thinking about.

[00:03:59.510] - Samantha Evans

So I think the default position is people say, I know I need to have captions or if they're going to step beyond, I need to ask if I have anyone who has a need for sign language interpretation. But the challenge with virtual events is that just the same as we expect to be able to get in the door at a physical event, having the ability to engage with a virtual platform is the first challenge. And so the way that people with disabilities engage with the digital world is in the digital concepts being accessible, meaning they can use their assistive technology of choice to engage digitally. So that means people need to be able to use the platform, get into the platform, choose the selection and use their keyboard or speech to text or not use their mouse so that that uncovers a lot of underlying technology that may or may not be in place.

[00:04:57.950] - Marlys Arnold

True. True. Well, and and to be quite honest, some of those platforms are not that easy to navigate, even if you have all of the tools in the tech available to you. So so what are some of the things then as we're looking at platforms, what are some of the things that we need to be aware of and pay attention to in the in the vetting process? I guess you could say?

[00:05:18.470] - Samantha Evans

Right. So the first things to look for that anybody a novice level can do is look for their accessibility statement on their company Web page, search the word accessibility in their magnifying glass search engine. Ask for a VPAT, which is a voluntary production accessibility template. Whether they have it or not is a whole. Other story, ask...

[00:05:43.070] - Marlys Arnold

But if you don't know what it is, that's definitely not a good sign.

[00:05:46.010] - Samantha Evans

Well, sometimes salespeople don't know what a VPAT is and they might have to go ask. So the question to ask is to what level of WCAG, what level of accessibility does your platform comply with? And more than likely, the sales rep will have to go and ask somebody. But those are the kinds of questions. But if you want to get beyond that, is does your platform ensure closed captioning is provided? Is that automated captions or can I use a third party live cart captioner? And is it available in all session rooms? Some platforms only allow it in the main platform or the, you know, the main exhibit hall, not in the breakout rooms. Do you have the ability to pin the the window of a sign language interpreter next to the speakers that are being presented without taking away the display for speakers?

[00:06:44.120] - Samantha Evans

Some have a grid pattern where there's only so many speakers that can be visually presented. So can you pin a sign language interpreter to the presentation? Those are some easy ones. Now what they respond to on the first part is another it's a ball of wax, but those are the kind of things you can ask and if your organization or your customer, your client, your you're serving and meeting planning, if you have a DEI statement, diversity, equity and inclusion. If that statement includes people with disabilities or people of all abilities, then your technology solutions should also support that.

[00:07:22.720] - Marlys Arnold

Well, that's a really good point, too, and just something that we tend to think of as simple, like closed captions you and I discovered just having this conversation, getting ready for this, that the closed captioning sometimes that we think is automatic by some of the services is it may be automatic, but it may not be quick. Like we discovered that Facebook is pretty quick about getting those captions up there for the live broadcast that we're doing like now. But YouTube takes a lot longer. It didn't show up until like the next day. So, you know, some of those kinds of things. There actually is, in fact, I was talking earlier about AppSumo. One of the things that I bought from them earlier this year is a program called Happy Scribe. And I didn't get that link put up in here, but I can share that later. But Happy Scribe is a transcript service where you can upload, like, uploaded MP3 or upload a video and it will do, using AI, will transcribe. Which I know you and I talked about, that the AI versions are not ideal. But I mean, it's better than nothing, right?

[00:08:28.750] - Samantha Evans

Except for in education, medical and legal terms. Yes.

[00:08:31.960] - Marlys Arnold

Oh, yes.

[00:08:34.330] - Samantha Evans

It's not quite the same as horseshoes. You were close count in those arenas. So if your content is delivering something that requires a professional education component, they should be accurate.

[00:08:44.440] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that's the thing I know whenever I use it, I always go back through and it takes quite a bit of editing after the fact, but it actually is faster at least to get the starting point done. So

[00:08:53.740] - Samantha Evans

In transcription, products like that are a great way for somebody on a budget to create quality, accurate captions for your video content and a great way to produce transcripts for podcasts. And all of that work, once it's in a transcript form, is a great way to pull out call outs for advertising and promotions and use for your other evergreen modes of communication.

[00:09:16.300] - Marlys Arnold

True, true. And like I said, it's a great starting point because then you can go back, you can tweak it, you can fix it, and it pulls the time codes, which is also really helpful too, because it matches everything up with the actual video or the the audio. One of the other things we talked about, though, is that, yes, there are challenges with accessibility for virtual, but in some ways it actually is more accessible for some people. So I know a recent conference I participated in, there were a number of people commenting that this is the first time I've ever been able to attend because I have mobility issues or, you know, I'm not able to travel and I can actually attend now in person. So what have you been finding as far as the positives on the virtual side,

[00:10:02.560] - Samantha Evans

The opportunity to build your audience and reach people who you would never be able to connect with is tremendous. If you consider if you fly, you know how tight airline passageways are on the plane and in the restrooms. You know that's not navigable along with having to transport a wheelchair or scooter. So there are people who just or with personal care attendants, travel is cost prohibitive or not not possible.

[00:10:29.020] - Samantha Evans

So they are a large number of people. Up to 27 percent of the US population lives with a disability and worldwide it's twenty percent. And in the US, the the population of people with disabilities is the third largest economic market after African-Americans and after Latino Americans. So it's a really broad market with disposable income and market share that's ready for you to access.

[00:10:55.810] - Marlys Arnold

Wow, that's incredible. I don't think most of us realize that there was such a high percentage of people that face challenges. I mean, we because a lot of it's invisible. I mean, we may not realize that some you know, if somebody is in a scooter or a wheelchair, that's obvious. But there are a lot of other people that face disability issues, or accessibility issues that we're probably not even aware of. So. Well, let's shift gears now and talk about the face to face, because as you and I were talking ahead of time, one of the biggest challenges that our new world presents is the fact that now everybody's wearing a mask. So somebody who is hearing impaired or relies on lip reading, what do you do?

[00:11:38.790] - Samantha Evans

So it's a real it's it's been beyond the challenges that we all recognize for our deaf and hard of hearing community friends. Masks automatically cover your mouth. And unless you happen to have purchased a clear mask, you aren't going to be able to see the person's mouth. So this is a real impact in health care and other things. But for exhibit on the trade floor, Plexiglas is great at stopping the transmission of things, but it also stops sound.

[00:12:07.400] - Marlys Arnold


[00:12:08.250] - Samantha Evans

There are a lot of opportunities to use assistive technologies like your phones to allow instant translation with with technologies on tablets and those sorts of things to allow communication to happen using the assistive tech that we may think is kind of a fancy trick. But iPhones and Androids both have live transcribe options to take an audio. But it does make a difference when you're in a large exhibit hall there's a lot of sound and ambient noise that can also be confusing for somebody with middle range hearing loss. So it's not just profound deafness that causes a challenge. So if you have the opportunity and you're in an exhibit dynamic, consider buying clear mask's. They are available, you just have to look for them. But it's a great way to show people that you've considered deaf, hard of hearing and lipreading professionals in your audience.

[00:13:05.400] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and I think that's a really good point, because, you know, the show is probably, you know, the show organizer is probably not going to provide clear masks for everyone. But that is something you could do for your own exhibit team. If you had like six, seven people in your booth, you could provide those clear masks just to your team. And that way, at least you would be, like you said, showing that you've gone that extra step above and beyond to try to be as accommodating as possible

[00:13:32.010] - Samantha Evans

And as inclusive as possible. I promise you, when somebody who is deaf, hard of hearing or lip reads to augment their hearing, sees a clear mask, they are going to say thank you a million times over because it's just a piece of effort. But if you're on a trade floor or you're visiting or touring, it's a great way to be inclusive and remove a barrier. But keep yourself in the other safe.

[00:13:56.490] - Marlys Arnold

Yeah, and like you said, it may not be the most ideal thing, but at least it shows that you made that extra effort and you went that step beyond. You also have been so kind as to put together this great handy PDF with a ton of links and resources in there. I mean, you sent me this. I was like, wow, this is going to take a while to dig through, but there's so many different things. I mean, you've broken it down. You've got, you know, the virtual and the and the in person. So Alan is going to share that link. I did put that up so people can go and download that. But thank you so much for putting that together, Samantha, because that just it it's it's just a wealth of resources for people to because I mean, you know, we don't we don't think about these things. We don't know. And we don't even know where to go other than just, you know, start Googling. So I think it's so important that people take the time to to try to investigate what are some things, like you said, just taking some simple steps that show that you care and that you're trying to be helpful. So talk a little bit... Oh, go ahead.

[00:15:03.630] - Samantha Evans

I was going to say the effort that you make. So it's interesting in technology world, it takes about eight seconds for somebody who uses assistive technology to discover that a site or an app is not accessible to them and they're gone forever. You know, Malcolm Gladwell talks about Blink, about that moment where you know, well, when somebody knows they're not welcome, they're gone. But when somebody experiences inclusion, where they normally don't, the opportunity to make a lifelong relationship with that person is tremendous. So just taking small steps to make some efforts can really make the difference in relationship building along with being a good citizen and a good partner and a good corporate responsibility.

[00:15:44.850] - Marlys Arnold

That's true, because, like we said, it sends the message that you care and that you're trying. And and I think probably most people understand if you don't have everything 100 percent, exactly what it needs to be. But if you're trying to take some of those steps, at least it shows that you're first of all, you're even aware of the fact that there are challenges and you're trying to overcome them. But it also, I would think, would open up that conversation to where they can say, hey, this is great. I appreciate the fact that you did this. Have you considered adding this or something? And there's more of that conversation of, you know, how can you be even more inclusive, right?

[00:16:19.400] - Samantha Evans

Right. Absolutely. And those conversations, just like if you want to think in the business case for things. Conversations are the place where things start and you can build from there.

[00:16:31.050] - Marlys Arnold

That's true. Any other tips, as far as you know, because we talked about masks, but any other things as we're moving forward into having face to face events again that that we need to think of to try to overcome some of the current issues that we've been saddled with, I guess you could say.

[00:16:48.910] - Samantha Evans

Right. So simple, plain language. Clear printed materials. Make sure your font sizes are not mice type, where even somebody with a pair of glasses would have to squint. Caption your videos. One of the best examples I know for people in trade shows and a big exhibit floors is people who have displays of their amazing fundraising or outreach videos. And they're beautiful. And they spent a lot of production time, money and value. But on the exhibit floor, you can't hear them because there so much ambient noise from everything else that's happening. If a video isn't captioned, you do not have the opportunity to tell your story as people are engaging on on the exhibit floor. You've done the script. You've done the the work. So if the content is there, so consider the value add in captioning in exhibit trade floor deliveries, it's a lot more opportunity for people as they're walking by to read your messaging.

[00:17:49.850] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that's true and that's true for anybody, because I know I have pretty good hearing, but still sometimes I can't make out anything a video on a trade show floor is saying.

[00:17:59.240] - Samantha Evans

Unless you're right up next to the speaker.

[00:18:00.860] - Marlys Arnold

Yes, exactly. So, yeah, you're right. It is sometimes it's not that difficult. It's just taking the time to think it through of like, what could I add to this or what extra step could I take to make it more accessible? So...

[00:18:18.230] - Samantha Evans

Make sure your pathways, you know, your entrance into the booth or around a table, you know, the old meeting planning thing, you could take a yardstick and make sure you had turn radius with the yardstick. But scooters and electric and some motorized wheelchairs take a little bit more space. So just make sure that somebody isn't going to look at your your tradeshow space and go, oh, I can't get in there. Or if there is a raised floor, make sure there is a threshold ramp because a quarter of an inch is a trip hazard. So with tiles of carpets and other things were padded floors that make it more comfortable to be on the floor for eight hours a day, make sure there's threshold ramps. Simple things like that will not cause problems, but also invite people to come join you.

[00:19:00.620] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and the ramps need to be the right angle, too, because that was one thing that I learned when I was walking the show floor with Joan was that, you know, there were some some booths that had put in the little ramps, but the ramp was still like she's like, I'm not going up that ramp. You know.

[00:19:18.530] - Samantha Evans

There is there's rise over run. But like for a three inch threshold, like at a door or a ramp is going to need to be a little better than two feet long to be the right angle. So if you think three inches is almost three feet in length, you need to have it. You know, if it's a it's a maybe a three quarters of an inch raise surface or if it's higher than that, if you've got a platform, the ramps need to be appropriate. That can usually be rented from local facilities. If you're if your exhibit company doesn't have it.

[00:19:47.420] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and again, it's one of those things that it needs to be the thought needs to be there as you're planning the exhibit and not just as an afterthought. It's like, oh, yeah, we need to put a ramp in there. I think that's the key thing. Wouldn't you say that it just needs to be a part of the planning process and thinking through and, you know, and going through the resources that you've given us to see what are some of the checklists and the and the things that we need to be aware of both virtually and face to face. So what what's what's your final thought? What do you want to leave us with? What do we need to take away from this?

[00:20:22.790] - Samantha Evans

So two things. So there's a graphic on the PDF and it features two people on the left hand panel is two people mixing batter and pouring blueberries into the batter. In accessibility, you'll hear the term it needs to be baked right in. On the right hand side, somebody has mixed the batter, baked muffins and forgot to put the blueberries in. So they're trying to smash the blueberries into the muffins after the fact and in the process, probably destroying the muffins as well. So just like you wouldn't put an elevator into a building after it was completed construction and tenants were moved in to then make the elevator. Build your accessibility in in your planning. So baked right in is a good rule of thumb for inclusion across the board. But when you're making making an event, planning for your event, whether you're exhibitor, an attendee or an event planner, clearly state what accommodations and accessibility features you are providing because that's what's being provided it's not unique to any person. Second list what accommodations that you are able to provide and be specific. And third, let those attendees, registrants, speakers know how far in advance they need to let you know what they need so that you can guarantee those accessibility features.

[00:21:41.370] - Marlys Arnold

That's a really good point. I love your example of it needs to be baked right in. I think that's a great way to remember it is let's just let's plan for it as we go and let's try to amaze our attendees with how thoughtful and how well prepared we are with our booth, whether it's virtual or in person. So, Sam, thank you so much for coming today and joining us on virtual lunch. I think you've opened a lot of eyes to all different kinds of things that we need to be aware of. So I really, really appreciate you being here.

[00:22:11.370] - Samantha Evans

Well, you're most welcome. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or on Twitter. And I work with a few thousand accessibility professionals. So if you need somebody for advice, consultations or assistance, there are people around the world who do this every day to make the world a more accessible and barrier free place.

[00:22:32.430] - Marlys Arnold

That's that's definitely that's maybe one of the best resources we've got is to be able to tap into you and your network. So thank you so much.

[00:22:46.590] - Marlys Arnold

You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode's show notes at And if you'd like to join us for an upcoming weekly virtual lunch, you'll find information on that at

[00:23:13.230] - Marlys Arnold

If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device, simply search for Trade Show Insights in Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button. Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons copyright license, you may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embed it on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes.

[00:23:48.000] - Marlys Arnold

To learn more, please see the link in the sidebar the show notes at Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our show Notes and Archives at You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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