Making online meetings inclusive

Man sitting at desk waving to people on a screen in front of him
Man attending online meeting

Online meetings, training and workshops are increasingly becoming the new normal, and as much as organisations adapt and embrace new technologies, we still need to be committed to being inclusive in our approach.

This blog seeks to address some of the challenges faced by disabled people towards ensuring everyone is able to participate in online meetings, webinars, training and workshops.

In part 1 of this series, it is important to highlight inclusive practices, and both pre and on-call etiquette, for all meeting organisers and facilitators to be aware of:

Pre-call:

Include a section in the invite explaining that you aim to make this accessible, and for any participant with additional requirements to get in touch. However, recognising that the words “additional requirements”, “adjustments” and “additional support” don’t translate synonymously cross-culturally. You need to be specific. For instance, “Do you have an impairment, disability, learning difference that you would like us to be aware of, so we can ensure you can access the training?”

Note, this is important for the facilitators to know who’s attending the call, what their needs are, and consequently what to prepare and how to facilitate during it.

Give participants as much information as possible ahead of time so that people can digest in their own ways and be prepared. State the expectations if you do send things in advance. For instance, if they need to have read the materials or whether it’s just optional. Consider whether sending slides is useful (it may not be without a facilitator to explain them).

It’s also vital to consider if the format of information being shared needs to be changed. For example, large print, in picture form, in audio format, braille etc.

Let participants know what they will be expected to do on the call. For instance, “to encourage participation we will be asking you to turn your cameras on, so we recommend you to be in a place where you feel comfortable to have video on. However, this is optional”.

Additionally, tell participants that, “We will be asking people to contribute and speak. If there are any challenges with this and you want to let us know beforehand, please do. I have attached the presentation notes/slides in advance for you to preview, this is not essential as we will be going through it all during the session”.

Practice the call on phones beforehand, ensuring it works (if participants will be attending on mobile), and taking note of differences in functionality and appearance.

Additionally, test other specific devices or tools to ensure they work (If you are using closed captioning or the spotlight function, for instance).

If recording training, ensure you gain consent, or alternatively only record the parts with the facilitator.

Ensure the activities designed are inclusive for all participants, taking into consideration their sensitivity and disability.

During call

Recognise that for disabled participants it may take significantly longer to answer a call/join a meeting, as they would be interacting with their assistive technology first. Also ensuring at the start of calls any special functions being used (such as closed captioning) or specific people (presence of a sign language interpreter) are explained, and participants are aware that this will be available.

Read aloud any information displayed on presentations to ensure that disabled participants are able to equally access the content.

Have a facilitator read out all comments in the chat box or in additional features used, like whiteboards.

Articulate your inclusion and diversity statement at the start.

If possible, add “facilitator” after the names of the facilitators to help participants identify them, and get facilitators to change their virtual backgrounds/pictures to be the same for further distinction.

Let participants, who cannot access additional features like whiteboards, know they can unmute and speak, or add their comments anywhere accessible for facilitators to include. This will ensure all activities are suitable.

Request all speakers to announce their name before speaking. This is critical when participants are unknown or from multiple or external organisations.

This is an overview of some key aspects and discussion points for facilitators and meeting organisers to be aware of when attending virtual meetings. As previously noted, this is not an exhaustive list for each and every conceivable disability, and merely serves as a starting reference point for further investigation that meeting organisers and facilitators can determine prior to their sessions.

Mahomed Khatri, Account Manager, Evenbreak

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