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Communication access for virtual meetings

Meeting virtually offers many advantages, including allowing more people to attend from various physical locations. However, virtual meetings can also pose challenges for people who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing.IMG - video meetings

This guide offers ideas for making virtual meetings accessible to people who have hearing loss. These tips also make it easier for everyone to participate.

Planning the meeting or event

  • Choose one person to handle all requests for accommodations. Add this person’s contact information to the invitation.
  • Send meeting invitations as soon as possible.
    • Explain what accessibility accommodations have already been arranged, if any.
    • Explain how to ask for accommodations. Participants may ask for real-time captioning (also called Communication Access Realtime translation, or CART) and/or interpreters. They may also need other accommodations.
  • Contact captioning and interpreter providers at least two weeks before your meeting. They will need time to fill your requests.
  • If the event is open to the public, it is a best practice to plan to provide accommodations even if no one asks for them. 
  • Research the virtual platform’s features before the meeting starts. You should:
    • Know how captions work in the platform you use.
    • Understand the difference between automatic captions (automatic speech recognition, or ASR) and real-time captions (CART).
    • Understand video and microphone settings.
    • Know how participants can “pin” a speaker.
  • Send fully accessible agendas and handouts to all participants, interpreters and captioners. This will give them time to read the materials before the meeting.

Before the meeting starts

  • Assign one person to monitor the chat. Ask them to read aloud any questions or comments posted there.
  • Assign one person to provide tech support.
  • Open the room 15-30 minutes ahead of time. This will allow people to sign in and test their technology. If they have any problems, they will have time to troubleshoot and solve them.
  • Teach participants how to use the meeting platform. Show them how to use the features you will use and the features they might find helpful. Remember, some participants may join the meeting with a computer and others may use a tablet or cell phone. Be ready to teach participants joining the meeting with all types of equipment.
  • Ask participants to update their screen name to their first name (rather than user names or general department names). ASL interpreters and captioners should add their roles before their name: ASL Interpreter Linda or Captioner Andre. Participants may also wish to add their preferred pronouns (she, he, they, ze). 
  • If the meeting includes ASL interpreters, make sure ASL users can see them.
  • Perform audio checks so participants and presenters can make sure their equipment works.
  • Ask all participants and interpreters for their consent before recording the meeting.

During the meeting

Set communication ground rules

Enforce communication ground rules throughout the meeting. Everyone – participants and presenters – should follow these ground rules:

  • Mute yourself unless you are speaking to reduce background noise.
  • Make sure there is no background noise when you are speaking.
  • Use the platform features, such as the raise hand feature, for turn taking.
  • State your name before you speak.
  • Talk or sign at a moderate pace. Enunciate and pause between phrases and sentences.
  • When sharing your screen describe what is on your screen for people who are blind, have low vision or are accessing the meeting with a small screen.
  • Limit use of the chat feature. Chat messages can be distracting for participants using interpreters, captioning or screen reader software. If you are using chat for questions, have participants send messages only to the designated chat monitor.
  • Ask people to turn off their video unless they are speaking or presenting. The more active videos there are, the more difficult it can be to see who is speaking or to find the ASL interpreter.
  • Share your video when you are speaking. Maintain eye contact with the camera to aid participants who are speechreading or depend on visual cues.
  • Make sure you are in the camera frame.

Explain how to ask questions or make comments

  • Explain when and how to ask questions or make comments.
  • Build in time for questions and comments either throughout the meeting or at the end. Ask participants to hold their feedback until then.
  • Wait briefly between questions. This gives participants using interpreters, captions or screen readers time to process information and to respond.
  • If possible, type questions on the screen for participants to read.

After the meeting

  • Provide a contact person for any follow up questions.
  • Send out notes, a meeting summary or transcripts.
  • If you record the meeting, make it accessible by adding post-production captions, audio descriptions and an ASL interpreter. Check your business or agency’s policies.
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