I remember the first time I heard of Zoom, the virtual meeting platform. A family member was telling me it was something she used at work to see customers’ screens and help them navigate her company’s learning management system. I distinctly recall her describing Zoom and thinking, “Wow! What innovative technology.” Clearly, this conversation occurred many years ago before meeting virtually on Zoom became a standard business practice and generally the way of the world.
A few years after that conversation, I and most of the world found ourselves conducting most of our interpersonal and group interactions through Zoom when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Back then, I figured by 2022, Zoom would be a thing of the past. While yes, in-person meetings, events, and interactions are more common now than they were in spring 2020, I also recognize that Zoom is here to stay.
I facilitate most of my trainings over Zoom. Meetings with clients largely happen over Zoom, too. I’ll even have Zoom meetings with my coworkers from time to time despite working in person a few days a week. The point is that virtual meetings are a mainstay. They conveniently and instantly allow people to connect from different sides of the country or world.
Because Zoom meetings are an increasingly popular avenue for connecting with others, there are some important accessibility guidelines to keep in mind to ensure these meetings are just as beneficial and clear for people with disabilities as they are for people without disabilities. So, if you’re hosting a Zoom meeting and you know other participants have disabilities or you’re unsure of the disability status of other participants, here are some tips to remember:
- Provide an accessible introduction. At the top of the meeting, verbally state your name, the organization you represent and your position within that organization, and a description of your physical self. Giving a verbal description of yourself helps contextualize your voice for participants who are blind or have low vision. This should include describing your physical features, clothing, and surrounding environment.
- Before a meeting, ask if any participants require accommodations. This is something you could ask on the meeting registration page or in the meeting invitation. Make sure it’s clear to registrants whom they should contact for accommodations if they’re unable to make requests directly upon registration. Be prepared to make any necessary arrangements based on the information you receive.
- You may need to hire a Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) provider for real-time, accurate meeting captions. Although automatically generated captions can be better than no captions at all, they are often inaccurate and confusing. Zoom allows you to generate and send a caption URL to CART providers so they can stream text from their captioning software to your Zoom meeting.
- You may also need to hire a sign language interpreter for your meetings. If you hire a sign language interpreter, make sure their video is spotlighted so it’s always visible to participants who need to see it.
- Send meeting materials to participants in advance so they have time to review them, take notes, or ask questions. It’s helpful for many folks to have extra time to look over and process information.
These tips are a few of many to help make your virtual meetings more accessible. Although this post focuses on Zoom, the tips apply to other meeting platforms like Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, and the various platforms all have similar capabilities. Luckily, most platforms have webpages detailing their accessibility features. For example, you can Google “Zoom accessibility,” and the first result should be Zoom’s accessibility page. When it comes to planning virtual meetings, a few extra considerations can make all the difference.