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05/19/2022

Are Your Guest-Facing Technologies Accessible to the Disabled or Impaired?

Cvent is working hard to make its own products more accessible and hopes the rest of the hotel tech industry will follow suit.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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Wheelchair icon embedded into computer chip

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) takes place on the third Thursday in May and will be commemorated this year on May 19th. The purpose of GAAD is to raise awareness around the need for greater digital access and inclusion for the more than one billion people with disabilities and impairments. Cvent is one company in particular that has made it a personal mission to create more accessible technologies and to create awareness around this need within the hotel technology industry.

In addition to building out accessibility resources and specializations across a range of product teams at the company, they also brought on Stephen Cutchins, a senior product manager specialist dedicated to building out the company’s central accessibility team/efforts moving forward. In fact, for the last 17 years, Cutchins has been working to help many companies better understand the pressing need there is for digital accessibility for those with disabilities.

“A few decades ago when I was first asked to look into this topic, no one really knew what it was,” Cutchins explains. “But as I researched it, it really clicked. My mom was an amputee, I have a neurological disorder, I have one cousin who is completely wheelchair bound and another cousin with severe mobility limitations. So this is very personal to me.”

For Cvent, having Cutchins on staff is particularly important as the company has been working toward setting a new industry standard where new tech learnings / innovations are leveraged to unlock more possibilities for inclusion and rich/robust event experiences for those who normally wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy the event.

For a long time, the hospitality industry has focused only on physical inclusivity (e.g. wheelchair accessible entrances, guestrooms, bathrooms, etc.) but for so many individuals these days, the interaction with the property first begins with technology, says Carl Aldrich, Senior Director of Product Management, Cvent.

“If you have some type of disability and can’t even get to the point of making a reservation, register for an event, etc. – then you’re just never going to be there in the first place,” Aldrich notes. “If hotels and venues aren’t providing that kind of assistive technology or creating websites, mobile apps and other digital technologies that work well with assistive technologies, they’re essentially shutting out a huge portion of people.”

According to the CDC, 26 percent of adults in the United States have some type of disability.

“That's huge! If your business doesn’t want to be inclusive, then you’re excluding one in four customers,”  Cutchins states.

WHAT HOTELIERS CAN DO

When it comes to events, hoteliers have a myriad of ways to create a much more accessible experience for attendees. First and foremost, hoteliers can offer a virtual option so that those who have a very difficult time travelling can still attend the event remotely. For those who are onsite at the event closed captioning on video content is another best practice that event planners should begin implementing right away, Aldrich explains. Live closed captioning technology is becoming very accessible as there has been tremendous innovation in the video technology space in general because of the large interest in virtual events, distributed workforces and more.

“Take for example Google Chrome which now has integrated and automated captioning for all video and audio content,” Aldrich added. “Apple just announced that they’ll be adding new accessibility features for iPhone, Apple Watch and Mac, including a universal live captioning tool and improved visual and auditory detection modes. This announcement demonstrates a positive trend toward these things becoming a part of the way that operating systems work.”

While closed captioning is a great tool to offer to guests, if an event could be drawing a significant amount of people, hotel planners might want to encourage the hiring and use of sign language interpreters, Cutchins notes.

“It’s the difference between offering attendees a movie script versus the actual movie,” he explains. “Closed captioning gets the point across the way a movie script does, but interpreters put their whole body and an amazing amount of emotion into their language and creates a much more immersive, emotional experience for the deaf.”

Hoteliers and event planners should also keep in mind how they’re using color on digital signage, on their website and in their mobile app.

“If color is the only way a hotel guest or attendees is going to be able to tell the difference between two things, you’re going to be creating a problem for those with color blindness or vision deficiencies,” Aldrich explains.

The fix can be as simple as introducing text or symbols to go along with the colors.

Consider an app or hotel survey that requires a guest to fill out multiple fields, Cutchins explains. Instead of just highlighting a box in red if there is an error – which could be easily missed by someone who is color blind – an inclusive digital experience would also add an exclamation point next to the box and even text that reads “A last name is required to complete registration.”

TRAIN STAFF, CREATE EMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING

Offering more inclusive digital access to technology is an important step for the industry to take. But hotel CTOs can’t just implement the technology and walk away. Staff members – from the call center to the front desk to the helpdesk – need to be trained on what technology the company offers to those with disabilities, how it works, and what to do if an individual calls and says they’re having issues getting it to work properly on their end.

“It’s really important to build that empathy and understanding for the fact that people have to interact with technology in different ways,” Aldrich explains. “If hotel staff know about the different types of assistive technologies offered by the hotel and are asked a question, that immediately creates a better type of interaction.”

Companies could even take it one step further, Cutchins notes, and create a helpdesk that is specifically dedicated to this area of expertise and staffed by individuals with disabilities who regularly use the assistive technologies the company offers.

“Imagine,” Cutchins says, “a customer calls and says, “I’m trying to make a reservation with your hotel but I’m having trouble with my JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen reader (the No. 1 screen reader in the world).” The staff member replies, “No problem, let me put you in touch with our help desk for persons with disabilities,” and then Mary – who uses a screen reader herself – picks up the phone and guides the person to the proper solution. That would be very powerful and would make a huge difference and impact on the person who needed assistance.”