You don't need to know about people's disabilities to make your meetings more accessible to everyone. An estimated one in four adults in the US lives with a disability(Opens in a new window), according to the CDC, and many of those disabilities are invisible. Plus, people have temporary or situational disabilities. Being in a noisy environment can situationally affect a person's hearing, for example, so that they need closed captioning to follow along in a meeting.
Additionally, you'll have more inclusive and more productive meetings if you increase people's comfort level and ability to participate, even if they don't have a disability. There are simple ways to make meetings more comfortable for introverts, people who don't speak English as a first language, and others.
While having the right video conference software and technology goes a long way to making meetings more accessible, they're hardly the only things you need to consider. Your organizational culture plays a role. So does the way in which hosts and participants speak, act, and interact. With that in mind, here's some guidance for making meetings more accessible. I focus more on virtual meetings than in-person ones because they are by their very nature more accessible and more easily made accessible, as you'll see.
1. Create a Culture of Speaking Up
The most important step you and your organization can do to make meetings more accessible is to create a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up. No matter how hard you try to make meetings inclusive and accessible, it's impossible to please everyone all the time. But if your meetings are safe spaces where people can ask for what they need when they need it, you'll be in an ideal position to make adjustments and provide access to people as needed. If a participant feels comfortable saying or typing into the chat, "I can't see your screen-share clearly. Can you zoom in please?" or "Your ceiling fan in the video is causing me problems. Would you please change your camera angle or blur your background?" then everyone is in a better position to succeed.
2. Provide an Agenda and Materials in Advance
Every meeting needs to have a clear agenda. For recurring meetings, the agenda may be baked into the name of the meeting (weekly check-in, for example) but really, it helps everyone if they know in advance what the meeting is going to cover. Adding an agenda makes everything clear, and it helps participants know what they need to do to prepare. If someone with a disability thinks they are going to be a passive attendee in a meeting and then they're called on the spot to participate, they may not be adequately set up to do so.
Similarly, provide attendees a copy of any materials, such as presentations, before meetings—or at least hand them out right at the start. When you give people a copy of your presentation, they can use screen readers on them, zoom in as needed, follow along at their own pace, make notes on a local copy, and not lose their place or get distracted if a technological glitch interrupts the real-time presentation.
3. Add Alt Text to Images in Presentations
Before you circulate meeting materials (which you'll do before the meeting now), make sure to add alt text for all important images. Alt text allows people who can't see the image, whether because of disability or technical problems, to get a brief description of what they're missing. For example, if you include a financial chart, the alt text should briefly summarize what you're trying to highlight, such as "Chart showing 50% growth from January to June 2022."
In some meeting software, you may not be able to add alt text to some images, like those shared via chat. In those cases the presenter can give a brief verbal description if the image is important to the meeting, or someone can type into the chat a short description: "Alt text: a room on fire and a dog sitting in a chair saying, 'This is fine.'"
4. Make Some of the Meeting Asynchronous
Sending your slides or meeting materials before a meeting is one way to make part of the meeting asynchronous (meaning people are not interacting in real time). When meetings have an asynchronous component, you waste significantly less time in meetings and give people an opportunity to process information, think, and brainstorm before discussing it live. People who are introverted, don't have a firm command of the meeting language, have speech impediments, and many others find it incredibly helpful to come to meetings having already done some of the work that the meeting seeks to accomplish.
5. Record the Call
For important meetings, large meetings, and webinars, record the call and make the video available to people afterward. Having a video means your meeting is now accessible to anyone who couldn't attend. It also lets people rewatch important parts of the meeting, take better notes, and clarify anything they didn't understand the first time. People watching the video can also slow down or speed up the playback, turn on closed captioning (many video conferencing tools include them—more on that in a moment), and sometimes even download a transcript of the audio.
6. Enable Closed Captioning
The biggest players in video conferencing—including Zoom Meetings, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams—all have an option to enable automated, machine-generated closed captioning during a meeting. In Microsoft Teams, it's called Live Captions(Opens in a new window), and it includes a setting for participants to have their captions translated into one of 34 languages (counting several dialects of English among them). Live Captions is part of Windows's accessibility-first approach.Google Meet can likewise transcribe a variety of languages and translate between them.
Auto-generated captions always fall short, however, so Teams now has an option for you to invite a professional stenographer to transcribe meetings in real time and have the more accurate closed captioning appear to participants—it's called CART captions(Opens in a new window), and you have to provide your own stenographer.
7. Make Accessibility Features Opt-Out, Not Opt-In
A crucial step that many people overlook when running virtual meetings is getting to know the software they use. (It was a prime reason so many Zoom bombings happened early in the COVID-19 pandemic; few people knew what options they had to make meetings secure. Zoom was culpable, too and should have made security features more prominent.) As you explore your software and learn what accessibility features exist, see which ones you can enable permanently so that they're on by default. This way, accessibility features become opt-out for people in meetings, not opt-in.
8. Brush Up on Best Practices for Slideshows
Before presenting materials in a virtual meeting, review best practices for creating and presenting slideshows(Opens in a new window) because they improve accessibility, too. For example, one best practice for slideshows is to set the type much bigger than you might expect: 40pt for in-person meetings and at least 24pt for virtual meetings. Making the font that big forces you to keep the text on the page to a minimum, which is another best practice. Don't clutter your slides. Always show the full written name of important products, places, and people (including their titles) that you reference. Not everyone knows who Gary is, and some people might hear "Cary." Write it down.
If you use Microsoft Teams, look into using the feature PowerPoint Live, which allows participants to activate a screen reader on PowerPoint presentations; screen readers don't work on presentations shown via screen sharing. You should still make a copy of the presentation available to meeting participants either before the meeting or at the very start of it, but using PowerPoint Live is helpful if someone didn't receive it.
9. Presenters: Enable Video and Center Your Face
If you are presenting during a meeting, enable your video and center your face. Make sure your face is taking up the majority of the screen. That way, people can see your lips as you talk and read your facial expressions, both of which can help people understand what you're saying. The exception is if you're using sign language while presenting, in which case back away from the camera enough to show yourself from at least the torso up.
(Credit: Getty Images)
Presenters should have their video cameras on while speaking. As to whether other participants should enable their cameras, I believe it's a personal choice. Presenters and meeting hosts typically find it useful to see the audience's faces during a meeting because it gives them feedback—not only if the meeting is engaging and people are understanding the material, but also if something goes awry. If a presenter's microphone suddenly cuts out, for example, the muted participants may cup a hand around their ear or wave to indicate there's a problem.
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10. Speak Clearly, Slow Down, and Repeat Important Information
Speak clearly and remind yourself to slow down from time to time during meetings. People will be able to hear you better and closed captioning will be more accurate. Also, repeat important information in case people missed it the first time. This advice is applicable in any kind of business situation, and it's especially relevant in virtual meetings where technology hiccups and other issues can impede the flow of conversation.
11. Use Headphones and a Mic
Using a headset and microphone is a standard tip for improving video calls, but it also matters for accessibility. The headphones eliminate any chance of feedback, and the microphone makes it easier to hear your voice. A microphone built into a headset is fine, and even an inexpensive set of headphones with an inline mic is better than nothing. Bluetooth devices are usually fine, but when they get old and start to degrade, they may create static or garbled sounds for other meeting participants, so be sure to occasionally ask for a thumbs-up if everyone can hear you clearly.
12. Blur or Neutralize Your Background
A cluttered and chaotic background can make it difficult for people to focus. When you're speaking, make sure you either have an uncluttered and neutral space behind you, or enable a filter that blurs or blocks out your background. All major video conferencing software has this setting.
13. Passive Participants: Mute Yourself
Not muting your microphone when you are a passive participant in a meeting is slightly unprofessional but also bad for accessibility. Accidental noises coming from your end can interrupt other people's hearing and compromise the quality of any closed captioning being used.
14. Put Your Full Name and Pronouns in Your Profile
Most meeting software lets you add your name to your profile so that meeting participants can know who you are. Make sure you fill it out with your full name as you are known by your colleagues and your pronouns. Zoom Meeting has a separate field for adding pronouns. Your name helps other people identify you and including your pronouns helps them refer to you correctly. Clarifying pronouns also normalizes doing it, which can help other people feel comfortable sharing their pronouns and create a more inclusive environment.
Similarly, when you speak in a large meeting or in a meeting where not everyone knows you, state your full name clearly and slowly so people can hear it and know how to pronounce it.
15. Schedule Breaks for Long Meetings
Whenever a meeting is scheduled to run longer than 45 minutes or so, schedule breaks. Everyone will appreciate them, but it's especially important for people who are or were recently pregnant, have chronic pain, or are in a situation where sitting still for long periods of time is difficult and therefore distracting.
For more advice on meetings and remote work, see our 20 tips for working from home and 5 tips for more productive meetings.
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- Create a Culture of Speaking Up. ...
- Provide an Agenda and Materials in Advance. ...
- Add Alt Text to Images in Presentations. ...
- Make Some of the Meeting Asynchronous. ...
- Record the Call. ...
- Enable Closed Captioning. ...
- Make Accessibility Features Opt-Out, Not Opt-In. ...
- Brush Up on Best Practices for Slideshows.
Send meeting invites well in advance to allow people time to prepare. Ensure invite text is large and easy to read, and ask invitees if any accessibility accommodations are required. Finally, include a statement letting individuals know that they can request accommodations (such as ASL or captioning) for the meeting.
- A culture of inclusivity. ...
- Making reasonable adjustments. ...
- Managing cognitive overload. ...
- Embrace different ways of interacting in a videoconference. ...
- Use Q&A instead of chat within Zoom. ...
- Providing captions for those with hearing loss. ...
- Provide information such as slides in advance.
- Enable the Closed Captions Feature. ...
- “Spotlight” ASL Interpreters. ...
- Manually Create Breakout Rooms When Using Interpreters. ...
- Slow Down Your Pace. ...
- Enable “Always Show Meeting Controls” ...
- Enable the “Mute Participants Upon Entry” Feature. ...
- Communicate Keyboard Shortcuts.
- Image alt text.
- Keyboard accessibility.
- Sequential heading structure.
- Accessible hyperlinks.
- Consistent navigation.
For something to be accessible someone needs to be able to complete the task they are trying to achieve without encountering an barrier or issue. To complete a task on a website there are a number of things that need to work. The information that the user needs must be perceivable to them.
- Choose Your Platform Carefully. ...
- Include Live Transcription or Closed Captioning of Your Presentation. ...
- Send Presentation Slides out Ahead of Time. ...
- Use High Contrast Colours on the Slides. ...
- Limit the Amount of Text on Slides.
Zoom cloud meeting recordings can be streamed through the My Recording page of the Zoom web portal. The cloud recordings video player is accessible to screen readers and accessible to keyboard-only. Cloud recordings also support closed captioning and transcript views.