Guidelines for Hosting Accessible Virtual Events

These guidelines are for University of Waterloo staff and faculty who are organizing a virtual event (e.g., virtual conference, webinar, etc.).  

Before the Event

Select an Accessible Platform

  • Look for a platform that includes the following accessibility features:
    • Allows live event to be recorded and shared
    • Includes closed captioning or allows a closed captioning window to be enabled
    • Provides a downloadable transcript
    • Allows participants to attend via a dial-in phone
    • Enables participants who are experiencing difficulties during the event to contact organizer
    • Allows participants to test virtual event space prior to the event

Prepare an Accessible Event Announcement and Registration Process

  • Announce the event on open, free, platforms (i.e., a platform that does not require users to have an account such as a public website, social media, etc.)
  • In the publicly posted announcement of the event:
    • State your commitment to accessibility and invite requests for accommodations (e.g., See CTE’s Annual Teaching & Learning Conference accessibility statement)
    • Provide a contact name for accommodation requests so those who need to speak with a person about their accommodation needs can do so privately and confidentially
    • Provide multiple ways for potential attendees to communicate with the contact person (e.g., email, phone)
    • If participants have phoned in, provide instructions on how they can participate in the discussion (they will be unable to a raise virtual hand or provide a visual cue to speak)
    • State the format of the event
    • If audience participation is required, state this in the event announcement
    • Avoid using abbreviations
    • State the ways in which the event will be accessible (e.g., closed captions available)
    • Provide clear instructions for accessing the event
  • If registration is required:
    • Select a registration tool that is accessible (e.g., works with screen readers, navigable by keyboard alone, etc.)
    • Provide the opportunity to specify preferred pronouns and preferred names on the registration form
    • Provide the opportunity to specify accommodation requirements on the registration form
    • Provide a written confirmation of registration to those who submit the registration form

Prepare Accessible Presentation Materials

  • If materials are being used at the event (e.g., handouts, slides):
    • Label each material with a brief, unique and informative title that accurately describes its content (e.g., “Agenda for July 24, 2020 Student Leader Training Webinar” rather than “Document 1”)
    • Make materials accessible so that the user can make adjustments to suit their needs (e.g., size of font, alternative text, navigable by keyboard alone)
    • Follow accessibility guidelines for slide presentations (see Accessibility Checklist for MS PowerPoint)
    • Make materials available before the event
  • Break the presentation into small chunks and provide the opportunity for attendees to ask questions after each section
  • Do not use flashing or strobing animations in the presentation
  • Do not use transitions that have a lot of motion
  • Design a well-organized presentation (e.g., use title slides to separate sections)
  • Provide a clear outline at the beginning of the presentation
  • Recap the main points at the end of the event
  • Use visual representations of complex concepts (e.g., flow chart, concept map) and give attendees time to process complex concepts
  • Define acronyms and abbreviations both verbally and in writing the first time they appear
  • Include a variety of media formats (e.g., text, graphics, audio, video) to communicate concepts
  • Clear copyright for 3rd-party material, especially the right to create alternate formats (e.g., transcripts and captions) for audiovisual material

Assign Roles

  • Designate one or more event organizers to serve as a monitor who can keep an eye on the chat and address technical or other problems during the event. The monitor should not be the facilitator or the individual responsible for recording the event. The larger the event, the more monitors are required.

During the Event

  • Include short breaks in events that are scheduled for longer than 60 minutes


  • Provide written and verbal instructions on how attendees can communicate with organizers if they are experiencing difficulties with audio and video
  • Clearly outline the agenda, learning outcomes, and timing of the presentation at the beginning
  • Check in with attendees to ensure that your technology is operating as expected
  • Invite feedback from participants
  • Enable live, closed captions
  • Provide instructions (written and verbal) on how users can enable closed captioning
  • After posing a question, do not interpret silence as agreement or acceptance. Ask participants to use the “raise hand” feature to indicate agreement, rather than asking participants to voice their response.

Auditory Considerations

  • State your name and introduce each speaker
  • In a conversation with multiple speakers (e.g. a panel), ask each speaker to state their name before they speak
  • When sharing materials on your screen, describe all visuals (e.g., charts, graphs, figures, photos) and explain their significance. If showing complex diagrams or charts, draw attention to the specific parts of a chart that you want participants to focus on while you speak and do so in a way that describes what is being shown
  • If the event includes questions from attendees via a chat or microphone, repeat the question out loud before responding
  • Speakers need to speak clearly at a reasonable speed with a natural flow for captioning. Do not speak slowly in order to watch the words appear in the caption window; rather, maintain a natural rate of speech
  • Note that if you are using more than one source of audio (e.g., from a video, multiple speakers), do not speak when the other audio sources are present
  • Remove or minimize background noise
  • If possible, use a good external microphone and sit close to the microphone or use a headset with a built-in microphone
  • Note that good internet connection is important for high quality video and audio. If necessary, position yourself close to a Wi-Fi router
  • Mute the microphone of all attendees and speakers except the individual who is speaking
  • If attendees are expected to silently read a passage of text shown on the screen, read it out loud

Visual Considerations

  • Use a well-lit environment, avoid being in shadow, and sit close enough to the camera so that your face is visible to those who need to lip-read
  • Face your camera when speaking and note that if you speak when your microphone is muted (e.g., to a family member who walks into your room), attendees who can lip read might be able to understand what you are saying
  • Avoid excessive movement

Physical/Motor Considerations

  • If there is an interactive component (e.g., live poll), allow time for people to use the technology. It may take some people more time to unmute their microphone, type in the chat box, or toggle between websites for live polls, surveys, etc. 

After the event

  • Share materials and the event recording in an accessible format
  • Invite feedback from participants



These guidelines were based on recommendations from the following sources: