Inclusive Online Participation: One Perspective

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By Barbara Roberts, Executive Director, WorkLife

In my long career working with how people participate in higher education and professional settings, I have had the joy of being in meetings where information is shared in many ways simultaneously. I have attended conferences, run by students, where there is simultaneous French/English translation, American Sign Language interpretation, Braille and large print copies of slides and hand-outs, all happening seamlessly over the heads of service animals quietly lying beside their companions. I have presented to the United Nations where the headphones and microphones are filled with different languages and cultural nuances, and where the pace of the meeting is nonetheless productive, respectful and creative.


As we move into this new age of constant online interactions, I am reminded of these experiences as we tune our communication skills to hear and be heard by one another, in a medium or venue that may be very unfamiliar. And yet we are learning. It will be easier for some, who are accustomed to teaching or learning or meeting online already, and it will be frustrating, irritating and exhausting for others who are learning how to use technologies, chat windows, screen sharing and other features of live online interaction. Our office has a running joke about this among us. One member of our team, who is the guru of everything electronic is constantly dragging me, the resident hippie, into new and frightening territory where I have to then perform. (“I have to make a podcast?” I did.) And Jaimie Hutchison keeps us front and center in social media, while I just “like” whatever she posts.  Our Communications Team is out in front of it all, connecting the dots and helping us reach you. But we are all growing together in the spectrum of our abilities to work online, and we shifted operations pretty smoothly when the orders came down. Blog posts? Yup. Webinars? Done. Social media supports? Happening. Not everyone is so lucky as to have colleagues who tutor them along. We need to do this for one another, while we learn the myriad ways of participating that will now serve us well, and help us keep the ship afloat through turbulent seas in which we find ourselves, sometimes feeling “at sea without a paddle”.  

We are not without a paddle. There are copious online resources to tell us how to do these things. We have colleagues and friends who can help. And we will learn by necessity, observation and experience.  And most of all, by having the humility to ask for help and guidance, and to willingly, generously and non-judgmentally give one another that help. We can get there. We can make this easier. Ask questions, seek to understand, and offer assistance. For more tips on online participation, see the post on “Netiquette” for working remotely.  See you online!