• Alison Whiting

Bringing A Multi-Sensory Component to a Virtual Conference


The Parks research team recently hosted a three-day virtual conference, back in August 2022. The conference was entirely online, and we did our best to create an inclusive and accessible experience, employing a live captioner, ASL interpreter, language interpreters, and providing speakers with tips and guidance in creating accessible presentations.

The idea for the event goodie bags came from one of the conversations we had with an industry expert who had recently hosted an accessible conference and created their own physical goodie bags to mail to attendees. We loved the idea and quickly added it to the list of things we wanted to bring to our own conference. After much research and discussion, we came up the basic premise of what we wanted our goodie bag to do and represent.

We wanted the goodie bag to accomplish two things: (1) to provide a tangible experience to what is otherwise a completely virtual event, and (2) to add a multi-sensory component to the accessibility of the conference. We also wanted to make sure that the goodie bag was filled with made by Canadian disabled makers and/or companies that support people with disabilities. It was important to the team that the goodie bags uphold the mandate of the conference and be not only accessible, but also spotlight accessible voices within Canada. The goodie bags were comprised of seven items, each carefully curated to align with the conference theme and mission:

  • Braille Card: A four-by-four inches card that was printed with three national park related words in Braille and included the English words underneath.

  • ASL Card (with video) made by Leah Riddell with SignableVi5ion: A four-by-six inches card that featured signing instructions for six national park related words, as well as a QR code that linked to YouTube videos demonstrating the signing gestures. The video was audio described by Renee McKinley and includes closed captions. You can view the video and learn more about Leah’s work on her website.

  • Tea Bags from a Canadian tea manufacturer Cup of Té: Two tea bags brought a smell and taste component to the goodie bag.

  • Art Prints from Disabled Canadian Artists: We featured three different Canadian artists with disabilities in the goodie bag whose art was inspired by Canada’s natural beauty. Candace Lipischak, Troy Lindstrom, and Marie LeBlanc all produced beautiful and unique works of art that we had described. You can hear the audio description by clicking on each of their names.

  • Conference Button: We worked with the company Equity Buttons and two of their artists (Kate Welsh and Gabe Dit L’individu) to design a unique button for our conference.

  • Parks Canada Postcard: a four-by-six inches official Parks Canada postcard featuring one of 41 different Parks Canada sites.

Members of the research team printed and attached a Braille card to each physical item explaining what it was. The physical items were then packaged into small envelopes and mailed to the first 250 attendees who provided a Canadian mailing address.

As the conference attendees grew beyond the supplies that we had, we came up with the idea of creating a virtual version of the goodie bag. These also served the dual purpose of allow us to provide longer, more detailed descriptions of each of the physical items for our attendees with visual impairments. The virtual goodie bag was shared on our website in a Word document format for its compatibility with screen reader technology and posted on our conference website.

The response from the goodie bags has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve had many attendees tell us how much they enjoyed receiving theirs in the mail. And we thoroughly enjoyed putting them together! We really feel that it added another dimension to a virtual conference, at a time when a lot of people are feeling “zoom-fatigue” from remote work and online learning.

If you’re planning a virtual conference sometime soon, maybe consider adding a physical goodie bag to the plans.

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