Video conferencing platforms supported by business transcription services are allowing institutions and organizations to communicate and collaborate to get work done as people stay socially distanced and safe. However, it’s important to ensure that these virtual meetings are accessible to all people, regardless of disabilities. It’s not enough to have digital meeting technology – people with disabilities should be able to participate in virtual events in an equal and inclusive way. Here are 7 tips to make virtual meetings more accessible and inclusive:
- Meeting Invite: In the meeting invite, ask participants about their accessibility needs. Inform them that they can request ASL or captioning for the meeting. Make sure they know how to use the accessibility features of the virtual platform used. Remind people to make requests for accommodations or clarifications in advance of the session.
- Turn on your Video: Turning on the video and facing the camera will be helpful for anyone with hearing impairments or an intellectual disability or trouble communicating who is reading lips. Watching the speaker’s face will improve communication and help participants focus better and build connection and rapport.
- Introductions are Important: Ask participants to introduce themselves when the meeting begins. When people identify themselves by name, it will help those are blind, have with low vision or cannot see the other attendees’ video to follow the conversation and participate in the meeting. A roll call by the chair of the meeting is a good idea. People should identify themselves when they start a conversation as well as the person they are speaking to. The chairperson can make a note of who wants to speak next. This can reduce confusion.
- Live Captions: For a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, lip-reading is easier in a physical meeting than in a virtual meeting. They may understand only 40% of what’s being said or even miss out on the entire event. Providing live remote captions could help these participants. Also called live subtitles and closed captions, live captions are automatically transcribed closed captions that appear on the screen as people speak. Top video conferencing platforms provide live captions. Captioning can be done in-house or with the help of a professional captioning provider. Live captions can provide searchable content which can be converted into error-free documentation by a digital transcription service provider. Documenting the conversation is crucial for reviewing the content after the meeting.
- Distribute Printed Materials Ahead of Time: Another option to help the hearing impaired to keep up with the discussion is to provide documentation and share slides, videos, or audio content ahead of the meeting. Documents with a lot of printed matter are difficult to read on screen. Distributing the agenda and materials ahead of time makes it much easier to attend and follow meetings. This will also increase engagement. Also, when slides are shared in advance, participants can make adjustments such as magnifying colors, etc., to improve accessibility.
- Go on Mute Mode when not Speaking: Deaf people usually use the Active Speaker mode available on online platforms to put the speaker’s full face on the screen. This is important for people who lip read. Any noises can cause deaf people to miss that part of the dialogue as they will lose focus on the speaker’s lips.
- Minimize Background Noise: People who use assistive listening devices can find background noise a real problem. Assistive devices intensify all sounds. Here are some tips to reduce background noise:
- Tell participants to mute audio when not speaking
- Ensure that only one person speaks at a time
- If using the computer microphone, turn off reminders or other sounds such as pings that announce emails.
- Remind participants to put their mobile phone on silent mode
The most important thing when it comes to enhancing meeting accessibility it to understand your audience. Learn as much as possible about their accessibility needs and make the necessary accommodations. If you are using slides, read them out clearly and explain what’s shown on the screen. Make video and audio content accessible with closed captions and explain video for participants who are blind or have low vision. To help note takers, build in pauses during the session. And watch out for Zoom fatigue, which can be a major concern for people with cognitive disabilities due to the additional concentration video calls require.
Accessibility means that you ensure that everyone can realistically engage and participate in your session. Recording meetings and getting them documented using a meeting transcription service will make the information available for people who cannot get it from the audio and/or video.