With the rise of remote work, particularly during the time of the pandemic, hosting a virtual meeting empowers businesses for multiple stakeholders worldwide to collaborate and communicate. As the focus, awareness, and efforts to support accessibility and inclusivity of employees and individuals with disabilities grow, holding an accessible virtual meeting is critical to ensure every voice is heard – audibly or in writing.
A study in early 2023 from Stanford University surveying nearly 10k American full-time workers indicates roughly 27% worked from home. With the power of digital communication technologies, providing accessible online meetings can be simple and seamless when implementing best practices. Solutions like Zoom and Google Meet both offer a set of tools and tips for inclusivity to help ensure easy and accessible participation for anyone in remote meetings.
Best Practices For Accessible Online Meetings
There are a range of ways organizations can support the collaboration of people with disabilities in online meetings, from reaching out and asking regarding accommodation needs, to enabling tools on virtual meeting platforms that drive accessibility. Here are some helpful best practices to ensure inclusion of every participant and support Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in any web conference or meeting held.
1. Inquire with Stakeholders About Virtual Meeting Accommodations
Virtual meetings often include a blend of internal and external stakeholders – from employees, to customers, service providers, and collaborative third parties. To get the best user experience and participation of every member involved in your web conference or online meetings, it’s best to ask if any accessibility accommodations are needed. This practice not only shows you care and consider the diverse needs of everyone involved, but often will allow the meeting to run more smoothly with frictionless communication.
2. Accessibility Disclaimer For Registration of Web Conference
A web conference could be anything from a webinar, to a presentation, or an internal meeting. To ensure you’re compliant with ADA requirements and WCAG guidelines, add a disclaimer or statement on your registration page. This creates awareness of the inclusivity and accessibility you provide in the remote meeting, while also giving participants another chance to request any specific accommodations to ensure participation considers all their needs.
3. Consider Multiple Device Use in Online Meetings
With globalization and the inclusion of individuals from all walks of life and in various corners of the world, virtual meetings can often be accessed from multiple devices. Notifying your participants that the best user experience will likely be from a desktop or laptop computer could make all the difference in their experience, as mobile devices and smaller screens can limit accessibility. Participants with visual, hearing, or cognitive disabilities in particular benefit from devices with larger screens so that content is more readily understandable and easy to process.
4. Make Sure Your Virtual Meeting Host Can Implement Accessibility
Moderators and hosts can be critical to the success of your virtual meeting’s flow and engagement. While it’s important to take precautionary measures and try to accommodate every individual participating in advance, the spontaneous need to implement features like captions or descriptions of chats for visually impaired participants could make or break the inclusivity of remote meetings. Make sure your host knows how to implement available features ad-hoc so your meeting always considers DEI.
5. Caption Online Meetings for Inclusion of Every Participant
If you have the resources and manpower for real-time closed captioning, use them in both the virtual meeting or in breakout rooms. Specific platforms will enable AI-powered captions of a live meeting, but they’re often unavailable in recordings and the algorithms struggle with accents and accuracy. Hearing and impaired individuals can benefit tremendously from live captions. Some virtual meeting platforms do offer automated captioning with APIs, while others don’t.
6. Accessible Communication in Remote Meetings
Consider that everyone wants to know just what’s happening and who’s sharing insights at any moment of your online meetings. Ensure every speaker introduces themselves before speaking every time, and minimize confusing language that complicates transcription for accessibility technologies, like abbreviations and acronyms. If video conferencing limits participation, offer dial-in communication for participants so everyone is included.
7. Chat in Remote Meetings: Enable, Describe, Or Mute
The chat feature presents clear advantages to anyone who’s verbally or hearing impaired, or to commenting on anything. But for individuals using screen readers, using the chat function frequently can interrupt with screen readers’ transcription of the presentation or the key messages. Encourage hand raising and describing discussions in chat, while also muting chat during critical moments of the presentation so screen readers streamline core messages without interruptions.
8. Describing Visuals and Materials Presented & Sharing Them
Integrating visuals might be an imperative aspect of your presentation, but it’s important to include all of your participants throughout the remote meeting. Send visual materials in advance and following online meetings in accessible formats like Word, PDF, or excel for screen readers and other assistive technology. Share and describe visuals, from pictures, to charts, graphs, tables and statistics. This is key to ensuring everyone can benefit from the information.
9. Record & Share Online Meetings
Accessibility needs can come in various forms and shapes. From absences, to participants attending to disabilities mid-way, to hearing and visually impaired individuals or those with cognitive and learning disabilities referencing content retroactively, recording remote meetings is a strategic and resourceful move. Anyone can review critical messages, and screen readers can access the content to confirm any ideas or key takeaways.
10. Transcriptions of Your Online Meetings
While real-time captions can be helpful to individuals with learning and hearing impairments, providing a full transcript of the meeting is also a best practice and helpful to anyone. Participants can review the full meeting at their own pace, particularly a benefit for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Individuals who rely on a refreshable braille display from their devices can export the transcript and gain full accessibility to items covered. Real-time captions can pose limitations to braille technology, so transcripts help overcome this challenge.
UserWay’s PDF Accessibility Solution for Materials of Remote Meetings
If you plan to share your virtual meeting presentation and materials before or after the event, converting them to a PDF and remediating accessibility is simplified with UserWay’s PDF Accessibility Solution. The tool allows you to monitor and remediate PDF files to ensure they’re fully accessible & compliant with WCAG, ADA and PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) standards. You’re able to both supply materials considering accessibility needs, and ensure you benchmark standards.
What are some tips to make online meetings accessible and engaging?
Organizations that inquire with their participants about accessibility needs in advance take proactive measures to ensure inclusion of everyone. Offering materials in advance, giving participants video or dial-in options, providing real-time captions or transcripts, and engaging users with descriptions of visuals are all strategic ways to create an inclusive and accessible virtual meeting.
Why are accessible remote meetings critical in all organizations?
More and more organizations are offering remote and hybrid work models, and when considering employees, third parties, and stakeholders with disabilities, hosting accessible virtual meetings is now integral to collaboration. With global organizations hosting events to connect with individuals in various corners of the world, accessible remote meetings are often integral to communication and relationship building.
What are some features remote meeting platforms offer to ensure accessibility?
Some platforms like Zoom and Google Meet will allow you to record a virtual meeting, in addition to transcriptions. Captioning your remote meetings in real-time can be made possible with APIs of specific technologies, and using features like chat and screen-sharing can help people with learning and hearing impairments. Some platforms also enable keyboard commands and shortcuts, while some also have built-in screen readers to amplify accessibility.