Building more inclusive, accessible spaces at RightsCon
In 2020, when we transitioned RightsCon online for the first time, despite the uncertain environment, we were excited about the opportunity to increase representation more than ever before. While our online platform provided means for people to participate and connect across regions (we welcomed 7,681 participants), we also learned from this experience about the tech, language, and literacy barriers it created. During our planning process for the 10th anniversary of RightsCon (June 7-11, 2021), inclusion and accessibility have remained integral areas of focus.
What do we mean when we say inclusion and accessibility? While we often hear these concepts used loosely or interchangeably, we want to be intentional in our wording and transparent in our efforts. When we talk about inclusion, we’re referring to our commitment to ensure people from diverse backgrounds can actively participate, contribute to discussions, and have equitable opportunities in the RightsCon community. Increasing accessibility refers to designing our online spaces centered around the various needs, abilities, and priorities of participants and providing corresponding avenues for engagement during the summit.
Meeting the needs of a growing and diverse community requires consistent and ongoing efforts, we are constantly learning, evaluating, and adapting our practices. With RightsCon starting in under two weeks, we want to share our current approach and encapsulate all our efforts for increasing inclusion and accessibility across every aspect of our summit. As always, we know there is more work to be done and welcome your feedback.
A representative RightsCon Program
As the main pillar of our summit series, it’s important that the public program reflects the diversity of the community that builds it, in both content and production. That is why, when designing a session we ask organizers to uphold our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and evaluate their session with care and consciousness to ensure that critical perspectives are equally represented; particularly of those who are often systematically excluded.
The program supports both live and asynchronous session formats, allowing participants to engage and digest content at their own pace. Whether you’re tuning in from the Philippines, Kenya, or Mexico, programming will be available across all time zones. Below are a few of the initiatives we undertake to achieve a representative program.
Sessions focusing on disability rights and accessibility
This year, in response to targeted outreach, we see greater representation of topics that focus on disability rights and accessibility in the program than ever before. These sessions will discuss issues like designing inclusive voice interfaces, best practices for developing people-centered digital health technologies, identifying the accessibility gaps of commonly used open source tools and exploring the potential for Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technologies for addressing diversity and inclusion, among others.
Once proposals are selected, the Diversity Working Group – an internal Access Now team that works on integrating diversity into the organization’s policies, programs, and culture – will review every session to ensure all perspectives that are integral to the conversation are represented. They will assess the composition of a session to ensure there are no men-only panels (“manels”), and will look critically at panels that present exclusively white, Global North perspectives on an issue.
Language, translation, and closed captioning
We welcome linguistic diversity and encourage session organizers to conduct their session in the language(s) that are most comfortable for their speakers and intended participants. This year’s program will feature sessions in Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese.
Although panels cannot support live translation at this time, we provide additional technical support to Strategy Sessions and Community Lab organizers who would like to include live interpretation during their session.
This year, all strategy sessions and community labs will support closed captions, by default. A square button with “CC” will appear at the bottom of the Zoom screen. Participants can click the button to turn on AI transcription and display captions in English. While panels unfortunately cannot support default closed captioning, we have selected nearly 30 to support with the feature this year. Participants will be able to navigate the program by language and closed caption filters.
Reducing barriers to access
When we launched registration in March, we emphasized our commitment to ensure that RightsCon remains accessible to everyone. To reduce any barriers, our ticket policy offers both free and paid ticket options available to every participant.
During times when we could gather in person – in addition to waiving registration fees – our team provided travel funding to session organizers and speakers who would otherwise be unable to join us at a RightsCon destination. Although online convening has alleviated the need to travel and having to undergo a burdensome visa application process, it has also exacerbated the digital divide and made evident how essential digital connectivity is to our livelihoods. From high data costs to lack of infrastructure to government internet suppression, communities around the world are faced with a myriad of barriers. Recognizing that we are unable to address many of these challenges, we wanted to continue our support, where we could.
In efforts to support connectivity, in 2020 we launched the Connectivity Fund. The fund is an initiative intended to provide direct financial support to session organizers, speakers, and civil society participants for additional bandwidth, increased connectivity or support in other ways that facilitate their full engagement. For RightsCon 2021, we refined our process, and expanded the initiative by doubling the number of participants to support from 78 to 151.
Optimizing the usability of the RightsCon platform
Performing an assessment is a key first step in identifying the current state of accessibility, which is why, in April this year, an external accessibility contractor performed an accessibility assessment of every page within the RightsCon platform based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.1 A & AA. The results from the report included actionable next steps and corrections to optimize and improve accessibility. TechChange – as our production partner who built and tailored the platform – will review these results and address the recommended changes to ensure an effective user experience.
Some of the existing tools within the RightsCon platform allow for a wide range of abilities. These include:
- Low-bandwidth options
- Chat function for non-audio interaction between participants
- Video chat function/networking sessions for non-visual interaction between participants
- Image descriptions (a short, written description that is added on the backend each time that we include a graphic, photo, or illustration on the platform, explaining what is seen in the image) for screen reader accessibility
These efforts are only a starting point and part of our long-term strategy to broaden accessibility at RightsCon. It’s important for our work to be informed by the community it serves and we welcome your feedback and suggestions on how we can improve our efforts. You can get in touch with us at [email protected].