By: Kim Wee, Kris Schulze, Jay Wyant, Jennie Delisi
Many employers are shifting to teleworking or holding remote meetings. Following accessibility best practices isn’t just about including people with disabilities – it’s about ensuring that everyone can participate equally in the meeting.
So what do you do to ensure effective and inclusive remote meetings?
First, take a deep breath. This information is familiar for those already adding digital accessibility practices into workflows.
Second, take a few minutes to plan. Review the basic tips and links we provide below to plan for inclusive meetings.
Online meetings are different than broadcasts. This article covers online meetings. Broadcasts happen when you are in one location broadcasting to many people, and attendees only participate through online questions and answer.
Which tool will you use?
- Phone meeting
- Online meeting option (Skype for Business, Webex, Teams, etc.)
- Make sure these have a phone number option for joining. Don’t have a number? Ask your support team or IT help desk to assign one for you. This will enable people to participate if they:
- Experience low bandwidth
- Use caption and video relay services
- You may need captions for your meeting. More information is provided below, but note if you will be using a live captioner.
What are you sharing?
- Polling/interaction tools
- Showing videos (continue to follow typical accessibility best practices for videos)
- How many people will speak during the meeting?
- Are you sharing the captions with all attendees?
Make sure your online meeting tool supports the features you need.
Who will have a role?
- Meeting leader: this person must provide the structure, so people take turns and do not try to speak at the same time.
- Chat monitor: this person will also monitor whether the captions are working.
- Multiple presenters?
- Note taker: different person than the meeting leader.
Send these with the meeting invitation as a separate email.
- One person speaks at a time. This ensures that whoever is speaking can talk without interruption. It also helps those who may be reading live captions provided through relay or video interpreting services (for those that use American Sign Language), and will provide a more accurate caption file if you are recording the meeting.
- Say your name before speaking. Not everyone has a distinctive voice. Saying your name both ensures transition between speakers and ensures everyone knows who is talking. You may not realize that someone is using captions or an American Sign Language interpreter during the call. By saying your name before you speak, this will identify you to those who may not be able to determine who you are just by the sound of your voice.
- When possible, send accessible documents to be discussed ahead of time. This ensures a more efficient meeting and effective use of everyone’s time. It also helps those who use assistive technologies and anyone who needs extra time to review documents.
- If you use a whiteboard feature, share your screen, or if you present a PowerPoint, describe what is on the screen. Visual descriptions provide equitable access for those that cannot see the screen or are only using the telephone.
- If using a method for asking questions or requesting a chance to speak, we suggest using a method such as hand raising or indicating this in the chat. This is why the person running the meeting needs to delegate someone else to monitor the chat. The monitor may also read from the chat to share the information with those attending only by phone.
For large meetings, getting an opportunity to speak during the meeting can follow a simple process. One process may be having users type q+ into the chat feature when they have a question. The chat monitor then lets the leader know when there are questions or comments to share.
Typically, meeting invitations should be sent with a request for accommodations and timeline so that accommodations can be prepared (e.g. captions, sign language interpreter). Include a person’s name and contact information should someone require these types of accommodations.
But, during these unusual times, there may not be the availability or time to get these types of accommodations in place. Continue to include the request for accommodation language, but we will give you some options for how to handle these unusual situations.
The best way to provide captions is to use a professional captioner. This can be delivered:
- In person
- Remote: A captioner connects to the meeting from their location, and provides captions.
If you work for a state or federal agency, begin by investigating your typical process for acquiring a captioning service. They may be able to handle your request, even at the last minute.
Captions can be delivered to participants:
- Directly into the meeting platform, such as using Webex’s caption pane.
- Into a browser page when your online meeting tool doesn’t have a caption option. This can also be an option for tools that only allow one line of captions to display at a time, which can be difficult to follow.
- Through auto-captioning tools. Note: This is a "necessary evil" when a live captioner is not available due to an emergency situation. These captions must be monitored as they will make errors. Have a chat line open, if possible, to post clarifications and to allow participants relying on the captions to ask questions if they have trouble understanding due to auto-caption errors.
We know that this checklist does not contain everything you need. Once you have determined what you plan to share and how, you may need more training.
The Office of Accessibility has resources for you!
- Check out our companion article on what you need to get started creating accessible Word documents.
- Our /mnit/about-mnit/accessibility/electronic-documents.jspdocuments page has information for making all types of documents accessible. And, here’s a PowerPoint accessibility checklist.
- Making or showing a video? Our /mnit/about-mnit/accessibility/multimedia.jspmultimedia section can be a good starting place.
- Need more details about remote meetings and accessibility? Jay Wyant and Kris Schulze did a presentation in 2019: /mnit/assets/presentation-it-symposium_integrating-local-remote-participants_tcm38-374415.pdfIntegrating Local and Remote Meeting Participants.
- Looking for information on auto-captions? While we typically do not recommend using auto-captions due to the high error rate, we understand that many meetings have had to quickly shift from in-person to online without time or budget to prepare. Here are some resources but know that once you have some time to plan, this is not an equivalent option for those requiring captions for participation. These are resources, and are not endorsements of their products, or of their reliability.
And, if you are looking for more specifics on what is available for each type of remote meeting option, the differences between live captions and auto captions, the article Captioning Options for Videoconferencing and Learning Management Systems has good details.
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