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.
In part 1 we highlighted inclusive practices, and both pre and on-call etiquette, for all meeting organisers and facilitators to be aware of. In part 2, we’ll dive deeper into specific impairments, and look at some top tips to ensure that we continue to support these participants to engage fully digitally.
The following illustrate some of the challenges faced by people with specific conditions. This is not an exhaustive list, and instead serves to provoke thought amongst organisers and facilitators.
Blind and people with visual impairments
Screen reader disturbance: Whilst a call is active, often the participants screen reading software will also be speaking continuously over that, which poses challenges to concentrate on the conversation. This is exacerbated by other participants joining/leaving the call, or using the chat box. Using this knowledge, the facilitator should ensure the pace of the conversations and activities takes this into consideration.
Chat boxes: Many screen reader users find it challenging to effectively use the chat box, whilst also listening to the conversation. Similarly, it’s difficult to click on links or copy content provided here.
It is advised that facilitators frequently read out anything relevant in the chat box for print disabled users. Additionally, any important information that will be put in the chat box should be sent to the participant in an email, both pre- and post-call.
Screen sharing: Screen reading software will not be able to read anything on the facilitator’s screen whilst this feature is active.
It’s essential to both read what’s on the screen, and read out any changes made, or provide reference points for the participant to be able to follow independently.
Alternatively, if the documents are shared in advance then the participant can open this on their end and follow accordingly.
Whiteboards: With whiteboards, screen reader users are unable to annotate or read them, rendering them excluded from this activity.
One option for the host is to use alternative platforms like Padlet, which is accessible for screen reader users. The host must ensure they sign-up for a Padlet account prior to the meeting. Alternatively, it’s important the whiteboard content is read out, and to provide other ways of participating (unmuting and speaking, typing in the chat box etc).
Use of cameras: On video calls it is often difficult for blind and visually impaired users to position the camera to the right location to ensure their face is visible to the team.
The organisers should ensure that the camera is positioned properly for the blind or visually impaired user prior to the event should they be required to have their video on during the call. Ideally this should be done prior to the beginning of the call.
Use of microphones: Some users may not be aware of how to mute/unmute their microphones, and other participants may be distracted by hearing a screen reader active in the background.
Its advisable hosts learn basic keyboard shortcut keys to assist in muting and unmuting microphones with screen readers that can be provided to the participant prior or during the call. For instance, “Alt+a” in Zoom, “Ctrl+shift+N” in Teams, “Windows key+F4” in Skype etc.
Consequently, facilitators need to be patient with the participant if this does not work immediately or they face any unforeseen challenges.
Visuals: Recognise that screen readers cannot verbalise visuals, so participants would be excluded from accessing these.
Ideally the use of visuals would be minimised, and if unavoidable it’s essential to describe pictures, graphs and others. Similarly, in the case of videos, facilitators should explain what the video is about before playing it. Alternatively, the video can be shared with the participant in advance, with a short summary of the content.
Deaf and hard of hearing
Use of cameras: Many participants lip read, and therefore it’s essential that all attendees turn their videos on when speaking and directly face the camera to ensure inclusivity.
It is advisable that only the person speaking turns their video on, or the “speaker view” is enabled, to allow the deaf participant to focus on the speaker (If they are lip reading). Speakers should ensure there is ample lighting and cameras have good clarity.
Sign language interpreters: It’s advisable to provide sign language interpreters. This is especially important for larger/external events where the organiser knows there will be participants who are deaf attending.
Many platforms have functionality for a dedicated interpreter to always show on screen, irrespective of others joining or leaving a call.
The spotlight function on zoom for example, helps ensure deaf participants can always see the sign language interpreter. However, it’s essential to confirm that they can see each other before you proceed.
Use of microphones: Recognise that participants will have different levels of hearing abilities. Organisers should ensure that other participants are muted when not talking, to reduce feedback and allowing the best environment for persons with hearing difficulties to stay engaged.
Screen sharing: Facilitators must be mindful of screen sharing, as this will overlay the screen with the presenter’s screen, meaning users will be unable to see faces and lip-read to follow the conversation anymore.
Using additional features like live scribing (see below) will assist in mitigating against this challenge.
Subtitles/live scribing: Not all participants will have the ability to lip read. Instead the facilitator can use subtitles to annotate presentations to provide additional information for those unable to participate in the discussion. Ensure “live scribing” or “closed captioning” is turned on. This is an inbuilt feature in some platforms (Teams etc) which converts spoken voice of speakers into text in real-time during a call.
However, its important facilitators keep an eye on the transcription at all times to ensure its accuracy as it is liable to making errors. It’s also advisable to use simple language to assist captioning functions in transcribing effectively.
Chat boxes: Some people who are deaf may prefer communicating through the chat box, and not by unmuting and speaking. It’s important for facilitators to respect this and allow the participant to contribute in whatever way they are most comfortable with.
In this case the facilitators should keep watch on the chat box to ensure that any issues requiring a response are addressed.
Group discussions: Group discussions and open chats are often easy activities and commonly used. However, this may be incredibly challenging for deaf or hard-of-hearing participants, and many may feel excluded and intimidated by this process.
It’s advisable to find out in advance how the participant likes to participate (an interpreter, lip-reading, using the chat box etc), and ensuring that is incorporated into activity planning.
Ideally each group would have a facilitator, and organisers should ensure this facilitator is aware of how the participant prefers to communicate.
Hearing loops: It’s advisable to check that any new platforms used are compatible with assistive technology for persons with hearing difficulties. This piece of hardware allows a user to connect a phone or speaker directly into their hearing aids, to enable them to contribute to the meeting.
Dyslexia or people with cognitive disabilities
Use of language: Some participants may struggle to follow the conversation effectively. Organisers should ensure that language used throughout is accessible. For instance, this could be achieved by limiting the use of acronyms or colloquial jargon.
Facilitators should also provide adequate spaces for participants to seek clarity or ask questions throughout the meeting.
Activities: Often it can take longer to complete activities or perform tasks, and this is exacerbated whilst using online platforms.
The organiser should provide additional time to complete group discussions, or activities requiring any writing. If this is not possible, activities should be emailed to participants in advance so the individual can complete this without being time-pressured.
Presentations: It’s advisable for facilitators to send out summarized versions of any presentations or handouts after the call to support the individual in understanding the content independently. Often bullet points or key themes would suffice, and contact details can be provided in case of further questions or queries.
Use of cameras: Having other participants with their cameras on may help some individuals in feeling more comfortable as they will be aware of who else is on the call. However, the participant may not feel confident in putting their own camera on. It’s important for facilitators to recognise this and support accordingly.
This is an overview of some key aspects and discussion points for disabled people 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.