Accessible Online Engagement in the Age of COVID-19

Written by Nicole Armos

As policies and practices shift rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly important to establish strong, responsive lines of communication between governments or organizations and the diverse communities they serve.

However, public engagement practitioners are also adapting to new circumstances. Many are left wondering, how can we offer accessible and equitable engagement while maintaining social distance?

The COVID-19 pandemic raises new considerations for accessibility and equity, including:

  • Increased reliance on online engagement platforms due to the public health risks of in-person gatherings, exacerbating the “digital divide” (barriers related to access to technology, digital literacy and online safety)
  • Increased financial stress due to widespread job loss or reductions in working hours, with a particularly high impact on individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds or more precarious housing situations
  • Increased family caregiving responsibilities to care for those who contracted COVID-19 as well as due to the closures of schools and childcare, and limited access to support workers or non-critical healthcare services
  • Increased emotional stress and mental health concerns due to health concerns, grief, financial stress, decreased social contact and major adjustments to routines and lifestyles
  • Increased safety risks for those self-isolating in abusive household situations and/or who lack privacy in their online activities

The core principles for equitable public engagement still offer a roadmap for designing an inclusive and meaningful engagement processes. In particular, it is crucial to clarify and communicate the objectives of public engagement initiatives in order to draw participation despite competing priorities (see Principle 1).

It is also important to consider how community members’ identities and experiences may impact their ability to learn about, access or participate safely in an engagement—and tailor plans to suit diverse needs (see Principles 4 & 6).

For specific accessibility suggestions, check out our new Tipsheet for Accessibility and Equity in Online Engagement during COVID-19, as well as further planning considerations on p. 57-73 in our comprehensive guide Beyond Inclusion: Equity in Public Engagement.

Dialogue Dispatch


Dialogue Dispatch is our community of practice newsletter where we share updates on our team's knowledge exchange activities alongside inspiring case studies, suggested readings and practical tools for people and organizations working to transform the field of democratic participation.

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