Virtual Meetings for People with Disabilities

Submitted by Mike Shea on Mon, 04/06/2020


Under a National emergency, many employers move to a temporary work-from-home situation. While many workers work from home, the need to handle everyday meetings and communications exists. Most virtual meeting solutions offer video conferencing with real-time messaging and content sharing. Virtual meetings allow users to join from anywhere they have an internet connection and many times on both mobile and desktop. Screen sharing software is a large standard among many businesses around the world. These online solutions enable internal and external communications, team meetings, and virtual training. A simple search will yield a whole list of virtual conferencing software solutions. How do we find one that limits the barriers to communication for people with disabilities?

Accessibility Guidelines

It is important that all web-based meeting tools are developed with accessibility barriers in mind. Barriers can make them difficult to use among people with disabilities. According the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) all web solutions should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that can affect access to the Web. These disabilities include auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual. Virtual meetings offer the possibility of access to information and interaction for many people with disabilities. Accessible design can improve a user’s experience and satisfaction and can be an important business resource. It is most efficient and effective to incorporate accessibility at the very beginning of a project. People with disabilities access and navigate the Web in different ways, depending on their individual needs and preferences. This makes important that a virtual meeting tool have a robust set of accessible features to overcome communication barriers faced by people with disabilities.

Zoom Meetings

Zoom is one of the first web-based solutions to offer a robust accessible screen sharing platform. Zoom is both content feature-rich and accessible to both a presenter and attendees. Zoom starts all their design and development with accessibility in mind, so it is not an after the fact moment. Zoom’s products go through testing using keyboard navigation as well as the latest screen reading software. They also incorporate customer feedback. Customer feedback is one of their most important elements to providing sustainable accessible products. Zoom’s video communication tool runs on mobile, desktop, and conference room systems. The Zoom platform brings together video and audio conferencing, online meetings, group messaging, and a software-defined conference room solution all into one platform.

Zoom meetings software provides text-alternatives (alt text) to all non-text content. This includes the buttons and graphics. Programmatic labels exist so that a screen reader can relay the nature and purpose of non-text content. Zoom supports live closed captioning and post-meeting transcripts. Closed captioning within Zoom allows the host to add closed captioning during a meeting. The host can also assign a specific participant to type the closed captioning as they host the meeting. The person assigned to adding closed captioning uses a simple interface to type in text and push enter to post. This will also save a text document from the typed text. A third party closed captioning service is also an option through the platform. The entire application allows for keyboard navigation. While the application is in focus, Zoom has a set of hot keys outlined in their how to use guide. Clicking on the shortcut and then pressing the specific keys to use will edit the keyboard shortcut. Many of the features and content built within Zoom are keyboard and screen reader accessible.

When operating a virtual meeting its important to remember that all images should have text alternatives for images. A web browser conveys the information to assistive technologies. This is important for screen readers to convey the content to a user who is blind or has low vision. Most accessibility requirements are easy to meet but understanding the basics of how people with disabilities use virtual meetings helps put in place effective and efficient accessibility guidelines.

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