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Make Your School & Community Events More Inclusive

By: Aylin Dunham
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When students come forward to report their disabilities, providing them with tools to make their classes accessible is a no-brainer. While schools readily make the majority of these accommodations when students ask for them, the truth is that many students don’t come forward. 52% of students aren’t reporting. Plus, your institutions’ community is made up of more than just your students.

University and K-12 leaders are responsive to classroom accommodation requests, but many are missing the mark when it comes to providing accessibility outside of it. Students’ needs are often forgotten when it comes to sporting games, guest talks and graduation ceremonies, which are all key parts of a well-rounded educational experience.

Including everyone should be the real no-brainer. Educational leaders must aim to make changes that proactively include both their students and diverse community members. Being responsive to specific requests now rarely cuts it. Staying competitive in today’s educational climate means adopting policies that drive inclusion inside and outside of the classroom.

Here are some key areas educators should consider to rethink their accessibility and inclusion strategies and investments.

1. The full college experience happens outside the classroom.

Activities like clubs, performance groups and volunteer opportunities greatly benefit and add to the student experience. Social activities help students develop skills related to their career path, expose them to diverse perspectives and improve their leadership and interpersonal skills.

Offering inclusive social activities can also lead to better academic results. For example, California State University, Sacramento reports that students who are involved on their campus had higher retention and graduation rates. At Purdue University, students who were campus organization officers had higher GPAs among their peers with GPA ranges of 3.0 or higher.

When events and activities aren’t accessible, students with disabilities will surely be excluded. Crafting an inclusive experience can be as simple as adding accessibility technologies, such as captioning guest speaker talks, to ensure all students can access important school community events like their peers can.

Image of a girl sitting at a desk and her computer.

2. Livestreams and hybrid events are here to stay.

The benefits of providing students, parents and the greater community to tune in remotely have been well recognized over the past two years. With more online and hybrid learning opportunities, school leaders have been hosting more events, guest talks and parent-teacher conferences remotely to continue to engage and meet people’s schedules with greater flexibility.

Hosting virtual events or streaming live ones makes it possible for the school community to interact in real-time, no matter where they are. For example, in the past, if parents couldn’t get off work to come watch their kids’ sports games or class presentations, they simply missed them. Now, parents can tune in without having to commute. However, keeping in mind that both students and the greater community watching remotely may have disabilities or needs which warrant accessibility to be provided is key. To make these events inclusive, captioning them or offering audio description are items to greatly consider. Individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing likely form part of your audience, so providing live streaming audiences with tools to participate is essential. Plus, many of these tools help to boost overall audience engagement – by 12%. Leaning into the trend of offering more opportunities to engage remotely and with equity will help to foster an inclusive community that everyone will want to be a part of.

3. It’s not just about your students.

It’s also important to consider the diverse individuals attending your school and community events. Individuals like alumni, parents, grandparents and prospective students from all over the world may be tuning in to watch and learn more.

Everyone in your community benefits from inclusive practices for events and gatherings. Offering tools like captioning on Zoom-hosted events or videos your school is putting out is one small tweak you can do to make them more inclusive right now. Parents or grandparents who are Deaf or hard of hearing and attending their students’ commencement ceremony will be grateful, and the use cases are numerous. Outside participants like these aren’t likely to ask for event accommodations. By proactively offering them tools like captioning or audio description, you can be sure that all audience members will be included.

4. Your community is more global than you think.

Approximately 1 million international students study in the US alone each year, not to mention their family members and the number of prospective students who are likely engaging with your website, events and content. Many of them are likely to be non-native speakers and they’re likely looking for ways to fit in and be more included in your school community. Providing them with materials or talks that showcase how committed you are to inclusion and diversity is key. Captions can also come in to help as visual aids for them better comprehend and retain important information being shared in classes and events. Plus, you can also partner with a brand like AST to offer them captions in their native languages of live and recorded events.

Image of two people sitting at a desk space with a laptop.

5. It’s often required by the law.

With accessibility lawsuits on the rise, providing inclusive and accessible experiences isn’t just the right thing to do to better engage your community – it’s essential. Schools and universities must provide effective communication according to the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) so audience members with disabilities can participate.

To meet the benchmarks of accessibility needed to avoid legal issues, you must provide technologies and tools that meet 99% accuracy levels. Many of the built-in automatic captioning tools don’t provide access. They can be riddled with errors, exposing your school to legal issues for not adhering to the ADA.

To make sure you’re offering an accessible viewing experience, 99% accurate captions, such as those offered by AST, that integrate directly into Zoom or the platforms you’re using for classes and events are needed.

6. You’ll have the added benefit of helpful written records.

When enlisting tools like captioning and word-for-word transcripts to make your school’s activities more accessible, you’ll benefit as well. Having transcripts from live events provide institutions with a valuable resource they can reference and use later. Transcripts can be used as legal backing to have records of information shared during events.

Additionally, transcripts can also be repurposed and used to provide helpful content for your school’s website or determine clips or quotes to be used for marketing and online videos. You can post copies of transcripts for those who missed events and use them to enhance your online presence. If providing transcripts as an additional way for your school community to consume content wasn’t enough, consider their added benefit of increasing the SEO of your institution’s website.

Image of a young woman looking at a laptop.

Start Investing in Inclusion

Many institutional leaders are aware of the benefits of accessibility for their communities, but are confined to budget restraints. Bringing these points and use cases to stakeholders at your institution to at least plant the seeds of the variety of needs your community has is a good place to start. Gaining an understanding of public-facing events and legal requirements for accessibility measures to be put in place is also essential. Overall, working to build a core team to advocate and drive awareness around the need for inclusion can help you secure more institutional buy-in and investment. In this day and age, offering inequitable and inaccessible community and event experiences is no longer justifiable.

Partnering with an accessibility leader like AST will help as well. AST is working with institutions like the University of Arizona, Princeton University and Chemeketa Community College to design inclusive events and arm them with the technology needed to provide equitable campus experiences. Reach out to speak with an accessibility expert today.