Network Innovation Spotlight / February 11, 2021

Accessibility and IVLP Virtual Programming

By the Office of International Visitors, U.S. Department of State

The Office of International Visitors will continue to conduct the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) virtually until at least the end of May 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Global Ties Network successfully pivoted to the IVLP Virtual model and has effectively utilized technology to connect U.S. communities with international audiences. The accessibility of this technology should continue being a top priority in the planning phase for projects while IVLP is under a virtual posture.

Just as we provide reasonable accommodations for in-person projects, we must ensure that IVLP virtual participants have equal access to IVLP resources. During the initial planning, think about the accessibility of the platform you select and what features it offers. One simple step is to make sure you provide a dial-by-phone option for people with limited or no access to the internet, and consider the potential financial costs to obtaining an account that might be a barrier to participation in your event or meeting.

As Edward R. Murrow said, “The real crucial link in the international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.”  During the pandemic, the “last three feet” that Murrow discussed may well be from the computer screen to our chair, but let’s ensure that we are creatively building accessibility into our events. Ask participants if they have any accessibility needs when they register for your events, and make accessibility an ongoing, inclusive conversation in your community for all types of events. As you are selected for IVLP Virtual programming, make sure you factor the costs for captioning, interpretation, American Sign Language (ASL), and other accommodations into your project budget.

There are many different accessibility issues to take into consideration as you are planning your IVLP meetings or other community events.

  • For people with sensory issues and interpreters, make sure you are conscious of the audio controls when playing videos.  Allow time for participants to process information; some specialists recommend a ten-minute break every hour in a virtual setting for individuals with sensory issues.
  • Remember that not everyone is familiar with every platform.  In addition to the technical tips provided at the beginning of a session, consider giving the option for people to log in early, provide a dedicated staff person to handle technical issues, and consider creating step-by-step directions to ensure that people can successfully use the platform.  You may also want to offer a training session for members who might need additional assistance.
  • If you are using a PowerPoint during your meeting, have it checked to ensure 508 compliance.  Ensure that fonts are easy to read and text is large and that you have good color contrast. You can find key information about 508 compliance at:
  • Make sure your audio is clear; poor audio quality can make it hard for people to process and understand the event.
  • Ask all of your speakers to use a headset with a microphone whenever possible to improve audio.
  • Mute all attendees except the speakers to keep background noise to a minimum so that attendees can hear easily.
  • Make sure the speaker’s face is well-lit and can be seen clearly.
  • Use accessible, plain language; avoid jargon.
  • If you use images, include alternative text and image descriptions.
  • Do not use flashing or strobing animations in a presentation or other materials you create.
  • If you are sharing pre-recorded video, be sure to describe what is happening in the video.
  • For your virtual event, provide opportunities for attendees to send questions and comments in advance, provide materials and presentations in advance, give everyone notice if you are expecting them to respond to questions, and ensure that participants know how they can ask questions.
  • Do you have ASL interpreters available if requested?  Suggest that participants using ASL pin the interpreters to their screen so they can always see them even when they switch during an event.
  • Closed captioning is available on some platforms, but you might want to consider hiring a closed captioning company for larger events, especially if your audience might benefit from the service.  Make sure the platform allows for computer-based audio listening and speaking.  If you are uploading the video to YouTube, consider using the automated captions and edit before publishing to fix any errors.

All of these tips can help make your meetings and events more accessible to everyone in your local and international community!  Thanks for all of your efforts to  build virtual bridges with IVLP and other international exchanges.