Two animated people reaching out of laptop screens and shaking hands

Making Online Meetings Accessible

There are many things that you can do to ensure your virtual meetings are usable by everyone, including those with accessibility needs. I thought that we would take the opportunity to share a few of them with you –

Assume there are people who are blind, deaf, neurodiverse, have a physical impairment, or any other number of accessibility needs joining your meeting

Unless you have information to the contrary, you should always assume that there are people who have accessibility needs attending your meeting and make the meeting as accessible as possible.

To obtain information to the contrary, you either need to –

  • Have existing relationships with each of the attendees and know they don’t need adjustments, or
  • Ask attendees to declare their accessibility needs ahead of the meeting.

When scheduling a meeting ask something like the following –

Our organisation is committed to ensuring our meetings are accessible for everyone. In order to be able to participate in this meeting successfully, do you have any adjustments/accommodations that you would like us to make? If so, what?

Understand the accessibility features of the tools that you are using

Most the mainstream tools for online meetings and webinars have information publicly available regarding their accessibility features. Take the time to understand what is possible with your tool.

Where you are using additional features of tools (such as whiteboards, chat, polling, etc.) understand the impacts that they may have on participants.

Have fit for purpose equipment

Quality audio visual equipment

Where at all possible, don’t just use a laptop’s built in web camera and microphone. Ensure that you use a high-quality web camera and microphone to ensure that everyone can hear and see you clearly.

Good quality broadband

Also ensure that you are connected to a suitable broadband connection to minimise the chances of any buffering causing issues with meeting members comprehension.

Ensure your materials are accessible

When creating your material, ensure that you follow accessibility best practices. This will require you upskilling to understand how to ensure they are accessible. You can do this by –

Share material out before or at the start of a meeting

Sending materials to the attendees before actually starting can allow them the opportunity to use them should they encounter accessibility barriers with the live meeting.

Provide Captions

The choice of which captioning technique you use will depend largely on the level of accuracy required, budget, needs of those in the meeting. Your options include:

Sign Language

If it is requested, you should engage a sign language interpreter. They will guide you through the process.

See the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand’s Interpreter Directory (opens in a new tab) for a list of interpreters.

Ensure everything on screen is audio described

If something is put up on the screen don’t assume that the audience has read it. Some people will be unable to interact with the visible content so ensure that you have verbalised it as well.

If you can’t verbalise it, then the content shared well in advance to allow those with accessibility needs to consume and subsequently comprehend it ahead of the meeting.

Say your name every time you speak

Ensure that the meeting has an understood convention that every time someone speaks they say their names. This will allow those using audio only links, who are blind or have low vision, or for everyone else where someone has just not labelled themselves correctly in the software, to understand who it is that is talking.

Have someone monitoring the chat

Ensure that you have someone monitoring the chat who can assist people with any accessibility challenges that they may raise.

Post URLs in presentation in the chat

When you share a link to something in the presentation, ensure that the link is also made available in the chat function.

Pause at key points and ask for feedback

People with various accessibility needs may not feel confident to interrupt you to ask a question. Ensure that you ask questions at set points and allow plenty of time for them to do so, including by chat if they prefer.

If one person is dominating the conversation, ensure to ask others for feedback as well.