Why are we slowly heading back to inaccessibility?

When the pandemic hit businesses, understandably, panicked. Suddenly the majority of the workforce was remote, and that was a new thing to a lot of companies. How do you manage staff when they’re not sat at a desk you own? How do you know people are working if you can’t see them?

Zoom, WebEx, Teams enter stage left. For me, Teams has been a revolution – You can have a text chat with someone, turn it in to a phone call, a video call, a screen share with no real effort. Wonderful. Collaboration should be this easy, and in 2020 it was.

Industry events that used to be in-person only were suddenly, and hastily, thrown online. Yes, thrown. It’s different to put on an event that is online than one that is held in-person, and a lot of the first events I attended didn’t have time to re-assess how to deliver their content. Those events were painful to be honest, but it was new so nobody is really at fault.

There were a lot of clunky handovers from speaker to speaker, all waiting for the another to give the signal they had finished speaking / it was your turn to speak. There was a surprisingly large number of backgrounds that featured guitars, too.

Then, things got better. People had time to evaluate how to present online rather than in-person. Content was updated to reflect that. Training courses improved immeasurably. The world was fairly OK. The most fundamental part of this shift to 100% online, 100% remote was that suddenly a whole raft of content was accessible which had never previously been. Live captions are possible, real-time translation is a thing now. How incredible. Finally, the IT industry can put some of its computing power to good use.

Recently, though, things have started to take a step back. I recently got an e-mail about an event I’ve been to a few times (both in-person and online) saying how they were disappointed to not be able to host the event in-person and would have to resort to online again. Why should remote access, with accessible content play second best?

Personally, I love that you can access content at a time that suits you, rather than having to be available at a certain time on a certain day. Ok, so if you watch an event on ‘catch up’ then you can’t ask questions in real time. But, that’s what account managers and pre-sales are for right?

I’m also hearing more often things like “Oh, I hate WebEx. I prefer to see people face to face”. Yes, there are social cues that are lacking over a phone/video call. Zoom fatigue is a thing. I get it. But there’s so much more to be gained than has been lost with decentralisation. It’s a modern accessible world. Get with the times.

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