Accessibility of Remote Meetings: W3C Working Group Drafts Helpful Guidance

July 25, 2022

The accessibility of remote meetings has not kept pace with their expanded use. Newly-released Accessibility of Remote Meetings Group Note, from the Accessible Platform Architectures (APA) Working Group of the W3C, aims to change that.

Published July 22, 2022, the draft document is packed with helpful tips, definitions, and cross-references to W3C standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). Six primary sections, in addition to Resources and References information, structure the 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

Breakdown of the New Accessibility of Remote Meetings Group Note

Definitions

The first section lays common ground with important definitions. Among those are definitions for remote meeting and hybrid meeting.

A remote meeting is defined as “an umbrella term used to describe real-time discussions or presentations between two or more parties online.”

A hybrid meeting features “a combination of participants using remote meeting software combined with two or more people physically located in a meeting room.”

Some platform types, such as standalone client and educational platform, are also defined.

Accessibility context

Three main elements, which are distinct but impact one another, determine the accessibility of remote meetings, according to the document: the accessibility of the meeting’s platform, the accessibility of the meeting’s content, and the “accessibility awareness of host and participants” during the remote meeting.

Meeting Platform Selection and Development

This section has the most content and built-out structure. The four second-level subsections, the titles of which are copied verbatim from the document, are:

  • 3.1 Selecting an accessible remote meeting platform
  • 3.2 Creating accessible remote meeting software platforms
  • 3.3 W3C guidance relevant to platform development and selection
  • 3.4 Additional guidance for creating remote meeting platforms

3.1 Selecting an accessible remote meeting platform

People with roles that impact procurement decisions have responsibility to consider the accessibility of the remote meeting platform. This subsection provides some great tips, such as ensuring that the platform’s interface is WCAG conformant. One way to assess the product’s accessibility is to request a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).

3.2 Creating accessible remote meeting software platforms

This subsection is brief, yet important:

“Software developers who create and maintain remote meeting software should ensure that accessibility features and support for accessible user interface elements are included in their products. W3C provides a number of accessibility resources that can assist along with other guidance in this section.”

3.3 W3C guidance relevant to platform development and selection

This subsection offers significant guidance to the developers of remote meeting platforms, helping them understand which existing W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines and Notes apply to making them accessible. Relevant portions of the following are specifically provided:

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  • User Agent Accessibility Guidelines
  • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
  • Real-Time Communication Accessibility User Requirements
  • XR Accessibility User Requirements (XAUR)

3.4 Additional guidance for creating remote meeting platforms

The last subsection on creating accessible meeting platforms offers 13 additional notes for developers to consider. They provide guidance related to the ability to record a “specific user view” (ex: a sign language interpreter) and a transcript of the meeting’s captions; the display and customization of window views and sizes; the generation and customization of closed captions; and more.

Creating accessible content for remote meetings

The fourth section is all about how to ensure that the actual contents of the presentation are accessible to all who attend. Like the section before it, the fourth section points to existing W3C guidelines and provides additional guidance.

4.1 W3C guidance relevant for accessible remote meetings

This subsection identifies the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines as directly applying to the prepared content and presented materials of a remote meeting.

It does not specify which sections of WCAG are pertinent because all of WCAG applies. All digital content can and should conform with WCAG.

We have many free resources to help you understand how to make meeting content accessible:

4.2 Additional guidance for preparing remote meeting content

This subsection is quite brief, consisting of three bullet points. WCAG and ATAG already cover the vast majority of content types that could be part of remote meetings so it is not surprising that there are not too many additional content tips offered here. The tips are, verbatim (with punctuation added):

  • Use clear language and limit the text on each slide when creating presentations;
  • Use consistent design in presentations to reduce the cognitive load on each slide;
  • Start presentation slides with a summary/overview and end with a review of the most important points.

Holding accessible remote meetings

This section provides important tips that both hosts and participants should consider. When everyone understands how their involvement can impact accessibility and does their part, the experience is likely to be more inclusive.

5.1 Hosting accessible remote meetings

This subsection lists 23 action items for meeting hosts. People may already be doing some of the suggestions, like creating accessible meeting notes; however, there are likely many tips listed that will provide new guidance or a much-needed reminder.

For example, how many meeting hosts currently ask attendees to ensure their virtual backgrounds do not flicker? How many meeting hosts explicitly inform participants how to join, use, and leave breakout rooms?

We encourage everyone to review and make reference to this helpful list.

5.2 Participating in accessible remote meetings

This is another brief-but-important subsection, identifying the responsibilities of remote meeting participants. The tips are, verbatim (with one footnote removed):

  • Ensure that the video and audio features of the remote meeting connection are tested ahead of the meeting.
  • Ensure that any documents, presentations, multimedia and other materials to be used in the meeting conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), preferably at Level AA or beyond.
  • Ensure that the host has an accessible copy of any resources intended for use prior to the meeting commencing so that the resources can be provided to participants with disabilities.
  • If a remote meeting features sign language interpretation, participants should turn off their videos so that the interpreter’s view is prioritized.

Holding accessible hybrid meetings

Hybrid meetings introduce some additional considerations, as they combine remote and in-person sessions into one. The sixth section offers seven tips for making hybrid meetings more accessible, such as making sure that “online participants and in-person participants can see and hear each other,” and that “any words spoken by a person without a microphone are repeated by a person with a microphone.”

Looking for more help making your meetings or content accessible?

We are glad to meet for a 30-minute consultation and answer any questions you might have. Contact us to learn how we can help craft a customized accessibility compliance strategy for your organization.

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