July 28, 2016Byline: BILL WINTERBusiness runs on meetings. Meetings run on people. But when some people have a disability like blindness, your meeting won’t be as productive or efficient as it could be unless you make sure that every person can fully participate. That means accessibility – which isn’t as difficult as you may think. If your business, nonprofit or social organization holds meetings, here are 10 tips to make them more accessible to attendees who are blind. Start planning early. In the first invitation email you send, ask if anyone has blindness or another disability that will require special accommodations. That will give you time to make arrangements. For example, will you need braille handouts? That can take two or more weeks to prepare. Make online registration accessible. Will attendees register on a website? It should be accessible to people who are blind. That means all images are described with alt-text, form fields are clearly and consistently identified, and links are properly labeled. If your website isn’t compliant, contact a consulting service like Perkins Access to learn how to make digital spaces accessible. Welcome guide dogs. Some people who are blind may bring a guide dog. Make sure in advance that everyone – including staff at the meeting site – knows that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically allows service animals to enter buildings and remain with their owners. Describe the layout of the meeting room. When entering a conference room or other large meeting space with someone who is visually impaired, give a brief description of how the room is arranged – tables, chairs, podiums and so on. That will make it easier for him or her to navigate. A detailed floorplan is not necessary. Generally, a description like “There are three rows of tables with chairs” will do the trick. Remove unsafe obstacles. A person who is blind can usually navigate safely with a white cane or guide dog, but neither technique can detect 100% of potential obstacles. Small objects on the ground (like AV equipment or bags) and objects protruding from the walls (like display cases) can be hazardous. Make sure there’s a barrier-free path into and throughout the meeting room. Introduce yourselves. Ask all participants to introduce or identify themselves at the beginning of the meeting. This lets people who are blind know who’s in the room with them. Also, ask people to identify themselves each time they speak during the meeting. Bring accessible handouts. If you plan to share printed material at the meeting, prepare accessible versions, too (like braille or large print). If the handouts are ready in advance, send digital copies in accessible formats (like Microsoft Word or plain text) to participants with visual impairment ahead of time so they can listen to them with text-to-speech software on a laptop, or read them in braille on a refreshable braille display. Make PowerPoint accessible. Send any PowerPoint presentations to participants with visual impairment in advance of the meeting, so they can put the file on their computer and listen to it in auditory format. Make sure all photos, charts and other graphics have alt-text descriptions. Describe visual materials. If the meeting will include stand-alone visual presentations like slides, charts, posters or photographs, make sure the presenter verbally describes them. Usually a brief description will suffice: “The chart shows our sales increased by 77% over the last five years." Get more information. For a comprehensive list of accommodations that will make business meetings compliant with the ADA, see the helpful guide entitled “Accessible Information Exchange: Meeting on a Level Playing Field,” released by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.