The on-line meeting has become a common way of getting together virtually. Since the Pandemic of 2020 it has become even more prominent. This has made it possible for many of us to continue to meet and conduct business and have our gatherings and even reach out to larger numbers of people across vast distances.
There are different types of on-line meeting of conference apps and utilities that are commonly used. Some are more accessible than others.
One of the more accessible platforms that is commonly used is the Zoom platform. You have probably attended an on-line Zoom meeting or two since the Pandemic. No matter what the platform, there are some common considerations for making an On-line Meeting and Presentation Accessible.
There are some good Zoom: Accessibility Considerations & Best Practices published by the University of Virginia.
Asking questions, making comments and getting attention to speak in an on-line meeting
It is worth taking some time to point out some obvious things that people don't usually think about. For example, how to keep an on-line group organized so that there is a way for participants to be recognized and ask questions and offer feedback.
Some hosts of smaller groups will have people simply use a physical gesture such as raising their hand or holding up a finger to be recognized. However, this is NOT an accessible method for Blind people. Blind people are not able to see the screen and know when others have a finger in the air. However, most online meeting platforms have a method for this function. For example, Zoom has a built-in "Raise Hand" feature which is accessible to Screen Readers. This is exactly what it is designed for. When used correctly, everyone has the same access. Blind people are also able to host on-line meetings and call on people who have their hands raised using this feature.
It is also helpful for the meeting host to identify the person by name who is being recognized so that your Blind Friends can know who is speaking. One common practice is for people during a conversation to say their own name before speaking. For example, "Mike", I agree with what Renee said earlier ... or "Yolanda", I was thinking of a different approach we could take.
Information on a shared screen is NOT Accessible!
The first thing to know is that your Blind friend(s) who are using Screen Readers will not be able to see your shared screen! Anything you put up on a shared screen is not accessible! It is your responsibility to make all information that is presented via a shared screen accessible to your Blind friend(s).
For example, you can not simply say to the group, "the phone number is on the screen." It is your responsibility to read the phone number out loud and then repeat it to make sure it was understood. However, it would be better to provide that information a different way. This could be done in the chat or by sending the information to the group ahead of time, depending on the content.
Using Powerpoint or similar slides for presentation materials alone is NOT Accessible!
It is common for meeting hosts to use PowerPoint slides for the main content for much of their presentation materials. Often, the host will have members of the group take turns reading from individual slides to encourage group participation. This is NOT accessible to Blind People. Certainly not without modification and planning ahead. Even then, it will likely create a situation of “otherness”!
There is no possible way for the screen reader to read the text from a PowerPoint Slide that is being shared from someone's screen in an on-line meeting. This is not accessible. While everyone else in the meeting may be seeing the information on the screen, your Blind friends can not! If you are encouraging group participation based on having people take turns reading these slides then you are by definition, leaving your Blind friends out completely!
If your goal is "... a just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”. ... then this is not an inclusive method to use.
Design your presentation so that it is Accessible from the Beginning
According to the WCAG International Accessibility guidelines, one way to solve this exclusionary problem is to plan and make sure everyone in the group has a copy of the materials ahead of time. These copies should contain the same information you are using in your presentation in the same sequence. However, the copies should not be in the form of a PowerPoint presentation -- even if that is what you plan to use during the on-line meeting.
First, it would be a mistake to assume that everyone has the software to run your Slide Show presentation. Second, you don't want everyone focused on trying to use other complicated software during your presentation and trying to keep in sync. A simple text based copy of your information is all that is needed.
It is extremely important that you coordinate with your Blind friend(s) so that they will have an "Accessible" copy of the materials at the time the meeting is being held. What is a Accessible copy? That is up to your Blind Friend(s). Please see "How to make materials Accessible to your Blind Friends".
Once again, if your goal is ..."a just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”. ... then design your presentation in a way that doesn't create any "otherness"! It really is that simple! Whatever method you choose to create your presentation, do it the same way for everyone. Don't try and design different things for sighted users and another thing for Blind friends and yet another for friends who are Deaf ... No! Just make one presentation that follows the accessibility guidelines for everyone and use that. Be inclusive in your design!
Now imagine your on-line meeting with some small but important accessibility design planning first:
You might still use a PowerPoint Presentation. You might still ask for group participation by having people take turns reading. However now, everyone in the group has a copy of the materials. And these materials are in an accessible format. Using this method, regardless of any kind of screen sharing problems, including lack of accessibility; Everyone can participate because everyone already has their own copy of the information which they can independently rely on.
This might be obvious, but it still should be said, be sure to include ALL of the materials that will be used during the meeting. Not just your presentation materials. If there are other materials that will be shared and used during the meeting in any way, then be sure to include them with the accessible materials that are sent out to the entire group ahead of time.
Uplift All and do not designate anyone as "Other"
By following these accessibility guidelines there is NO "Otherness" since everyone is doing things the same way. During the meeting, please don't forget to call on everyone equally!
"Otherness" is when someone has been left out with no way to participate because of a presentation design that lacks accessibility. This sends a clear message that says, "You are not one of us" and "You don't belong with us" ... Creating the ultimate "Otherness"! There is no possible excuse that makes this OK! People with disabilities have already heard every excuse imaginable. The right thing to do is fix the problem. Remove the barriers that prevent us from building Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Communities!
Be sure and see "The Importance of Changing our Mindset from the Medical Model to the Social Model of Disability" to understand why it is our work in making on-line meetings and presentations Accessible that is the thing which determines whether people with disabilities are able to participate or simply be designated as "Other".
Some Examples and More Information
The people that manage the International Accessibility Standards known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have put together a short video that discusses Making Videos and Remote Sessions Accessible – and other new W3C WAI resources:
Dive in and get more specific details on what you should do:
Listed below for your convenience are the links from an abbreviated Table of Contents of the WCAG Document on Accessibility of Remote Meetings.
Table of Contents
- Status of This Document
- 1. Definitions
- 2. Accessibility context
- 3. Meeting Platform Selection and Development
- 4. Creating accessible content for remote meetings
- 5. Holding accessible remote meetings
- 6. Holding accessible hybrid meetings
- A. Resources
- B. References