Graduations are arguably one of the most memorable milestones in life. The stakes are, therefore, higher than ever for institutions planning and hosting them. Today, delivering engaging, accessible experiences to students and their families is non-negotiable.
Additionally, those planning graduations need to ensure that their ceremonies are in line with the strides the education sector is making daily to reinvent itself. The pandemic showcased what’s possible with remote learning and virtual experiences. As a result, audience expectations are higher than ever. Individuals and students now expect flexibility to participate in either in-person and online settings.
These changes present additional considerations for institutional leaders to ensure their events are inclusive and accessible to all participants.
“The best way to plan any large event, any graduation, is to make it inclusive of everyone, regardless of if they’re tuning in virtually or physically,” said Spencer Kirschner, Customer Success Manager at Verbit.
Importantly, ensuring that level of physical and virtual accessibility for events requires plenty of planning and effort. Here are six useful tips to make your graduation ceremonies more inclusive and meaningful for everyone involved.
1. Use live chats to drive attendee interaction
Live chats present exciting, interactive ways to get everyone in on the graduation action. Whether attendees are watching your graduation live on YouTube or attending in person, you can create a sense of engagement and community by offering live chats. Chat features from YouTube and Facebook Live allow viewers or families to cheer on graduates with supportive messages in real time.
You can also assign a moderator to the chat to interact with participants, ask questions about the graduates, troubleshoot any viewer challenges and much more. Live chats help to create an interactive event dialogue that will surely keep graduation audiences more engaged.
2. Support diverse audience needs for access
Accessibility must be top-of-mind when planning a ceremony. Graduating students, along with attendees such as those with disabilities, elderly family members, non-native speakers and others, are likely to make up your graduation’s audience.
One way to support inclusion is to ensure that all audio, video and images are accessible to individuals with disabilities. These ceremonies must also meet ADA guidelines. As a result, it’s important to provide captioning and other accessibility solutions. Participants who are Deaf or hard of hearing, for example, greatly benefit from having live captions. Verbit is an essential partner for graduations and works with many institutions to offer them live and post-event captioning. It’s also possible to add captions directly within Zoom or YouTube through Verbit’s convenient integrations.
“Making it so that everyone can participate and have that equal access is important,” said Heather Rose, Disability Specialist and Service Coordinator at the University of Akron. The University of Akron is using Verbit to boost the inclusivity of its graduations. “It just opens up accessibility for everyone to see their child, grandchild, neighbor have that shining moment of graduating,” said Rose.
Consider pre-event messaging to ensure everyone attending is aware of or has a forum to communicate their access needs. You can also share a QR code of the captioning stream with attendees and print it on your commencement programs. Taking these steps helps ensure that in-person viewers can access captions through their cell phones if it’s easier to view than on-screen at the event.
3. Publish useful resources on a dedicated graduation page
Make sure to set up a dedicated page on your school’s website to share all information related to the graduation ceremony. This page will allow you to communicate effectively with your students and anyone interested in attending the event.
Schools like the University of Wisconsin have set up a checklist on their site so that students can easily apply for graduation and rent their attire online. They’ve also published a page that details the school’s accessibility policies. That resource offers students and family members with disabilities access to the support they need to enjoy the ceremony. Consider making a page with tabs for graduates, attendees, faculty and staff to address different FAQS and ensure all have the tools they need.
Additionally, it’s helpful to have resources that pertain to the smaller colleges within the university if they have their own ceremonies. Don’t forget to invest in providing resources and accessibility for these smaller ceremonies as well.
4. Make the graduation available on-demand
Don’t assume that everyone will be able to participate live. Preserving the moment of graduation so that students, their families and friends can watch at their convenience will be greatly appreciated. Alert students regarding where they and their loved ones can watch or rewatch the ceremony and when it will be available. Posting an on-demand recording of the graduation on your social channels or dedicated site page for easy viewing is also a good idea. Ensuring that these on-demand viewing experiences are equitable is another vital consideration.
Adding the on-demand video with captions will be helpful and necessary for many to consume it with equity, but transcripts are also an option. Transcripts don’t just benefit those with disabilities or access needs but can also make the on-demand video searchable. Transcriptions like Verbit’s allow those viewing the on-demand graduation to search terms and locate the exact place in the video they want to reference. For example, they can search the name of the graduating student relevant to them and jump to the point in the video where that student is called to the stage. Transcriptions also present institutions with the added benefit of increasing the SEO of your website.
5. Gathering audience feedback is key
Collecting real-time feedback while the graduation is happening can help you make adjustments live. Gathering feedback from students and attendees after the event can also provide with valuable information.
It’s possible to collect this information in a follow-up survey via SurveyMonkey. You can either send the survey via email or list it prominently on your site the day after the event. This feedback will help inform each future graduation. Be sure to assess how successful you were in providing an engaging event, meeting accessibility needs and facilitating in-person and virtual audiences.
6. Don’t be afraid to lean on tech to transform your graduations
Many event producers are still working out the kinks of virtual and hybrid event experiences. Whether the ceremony will occur online, in-person or in a hybrid fashion, leveraging the right technologies can help. Finding a partner who can handle your graduation needs at scale can make your ceremony even more interactive and successful. Plus, audience members will be impressed by the innovative ways they can engage during the event.
Verbit is an essential partner for institutions hosting graduation ceremonies, offering expertise for planning events with access at the forefront. Our specialized teams and technology are delivering event captioning to hundreds of institutions, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Lewis University and the State University of New York (SUNY). Contact us to learn about must-have captioning solutions that can make your institution’s ceremonies more engaging and inclusive.