2020: the Year of the Virtual Event. As COVID-19 made its way around the world, concerts, festivals, and tours came to a screeching halt. Artists ranging from the local cover band all the way to Billboard-charting stars switched on to live stream, and festivals all around the globe moved to virtual formats. For years, people with disabilities have been advocating for greater online access to the arts, and when the entire world finally needed it, their request was granted at long last.

But just simply clicking “Go Live” on Facebook doesn’t mean that a virtual event is fully accessible: there are issues of closed captioning and translators, of modified programming for people with intellectual disabilities, text descriptions to allow for screen reading software to work for those with visual impairments. In the research for creating this guidebook, surveys indicated that 71% of virtual event attendees participated in an event they never would have without a virtual option. While virtual events present many challenges, they also present many opportunities to connect with new people in new ways. This guidebook (linked below) is intended to help you, as an online event planner, navigate the world of virtual accommodations and create an inclusive online festival.

Accessibility may seem an intimidating endeavor for those who are new to the process, terminology, and considerations. What it all really boils down to is being open to feedback from those who offer considerations on how your online events can be more accessible and inclusive. Creating an accessible and inclusive environment isn’t as simple as checking items off of a list, nor does it have a definitive stage of completion. Being inclusive is a matter of emphasis: there is no end destination to solving inequality or ableism.

As much as having a list of goals to have might help event planners consider accommodations they might otherwise not have, keeping accessibility in mind in all that we do is the ultimate goal. The work of storytellers and songwriters and event planners means always keeping innovation and adaptability at the forefront. Real and lasting change in the arts will only occur when we are always asking ourselves the question: Who is missing–from the audience to the stage– and how can we include them?

The above text and entire Guidebook were created by Purdue University Graduate Student Cassie Beer with input from Accessible Festivals Executive Director Amy Pinder and others. 

To access the entire plain text Guidebook, click here.