What We Learned from Hosting Linguistically-Inclusive Virtual HCD Workshops

By Priyal Bhatt | March 31, 2022

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Written by Priyal Bhatt & Elizabeth Sutterlin

In January, the DemTech team hosted online virtual workshops introducing human-centered design (HCD) and the Co/Act toolkit. (If you missed it, check out our short presentation!) A key principle of HCD is to meet your audience where they are; for us, that meant making our virtual workshops accessible in the primary languages of our global audience. Here are some of our takeaways from hosting interactive, virtual workshops in English with interpretation in Spanish, French, and Arabic:

It’s so worth it:

We had some of the highest RSVP and attendance rates we’ve had for a virtual event, but perhaps more importantly, we saw individuals who have engaged with English-only content in the past elect to participate in the workshops in another language. Providing options for linguistic inclusion allows the audience to engage in the manner most comfortable to them. An audience that feels comfortable participating are likely to speak up more and engage more deeply in events; improving opportunities for inclusion also improves program outcomes.

Everything, not just interpretation, should be accessible:

Interpretation at live events alone is not enough to make virtual events linguistically inclusive. For our workshops, we not only had translations of our Co/Act toolkit in each of NDI's core languages, but also translated all public-facing communications with our audience into French, Spanish, and Arabic. This included the event invitation, our presentation slides, zoom poll questions, activity instructions, and even the comments we knew we would drop in the chat during the workshop. Even our social media promotion for the workshops was conducted in all four languages, to ensure that barriers that might dissuade non-English speakers to join were as low as possible.

As we enter the third year of virtual engagements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's easy to assume that everyone will know the ins and outs of your virtual meeting platform of choice. However, after our first interpretation session, we noticed many in the audience were unfamiliar with particular features, especially those used for interpretation and accessibility. We quickly realized that we needed to take time at the beginning of our session to walk people through how to access interpretation. It’s important to remember that participants may be joining through different devices (laptops vs. mobile phones for example), and the way to access video conferencing features is different across devices and platforms. We recommend sharing instructions for accessing any chat boxes, interpretation menus, closed captioning, or other features a workshop will utilize, in multiple formats including verbally announcing, sharing visual slides, and by providing written instructions into the chat box. 

Plan ahead:

Interpretation, subtitling, and the translation of material doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive - whatever your budget, there are many ways to make your events more linguistically inclusive. However, the real cost is committing time to planning how the moving pieces of a live virtual event in multiple languages will fit together.  We needed all of our materials to be ready well in advance, to ensure there would be time to translate all the content and familiarize interpreters with the agenda, the profile of participants, and the topic and vocabulary of human-centered design before the workshops began. The more prepared your interpreters are, the better the participant experience – and your program outcomes – will be.

When hosting live virtual events, we recommend planning the interactive portions of your workshop ahead of time. For example, some platforms don’t allow simultaneous interpretation in breakout rooms, so it's important to think through ways to make components like small-group discussion and activities both engaging and inclusive. In our interpreted sessions, we allowed participants to self-select their breakout rooms based on language (i.e. having an English language only breakout room and Arabic language only breakout room); this way, participants could engage in the language of their choice without requiring the use of time-consuming consecutive interpretation in each group. 

Taking these steps to improve the inclusivity of our workshops opened up new opportunities for partners and NDI staff to engage in and learn about human-centered design, and the success of these workshops has shown the hunger for more resources and opportunities to be made available in languages beyond just English. However, linguistic inclusion encompasses more than just spoken languages. Facilitating sign language interpretation options, transcription, and captioning is also a key aspect of inclusion that we hope to incorporate into future workshops as well. While linguistic inclusion is not a substitute for broader accessibility and inclusion consideration (engaging with differently abled persons, marginalized groups, localization concerns), it is an important and worthwhile step towards making our work more accessible to our partners.