Predictably, usage of video conferencing tools skyrocketed in 2020, and that trend seems unlikely to reverse anytime soon. More businesses are allowing employees to work from home, and online video conferencing offers people a straightforward means of collaborating — but while digital meetings benefit some people with disabilities, others might encounter challenges.
In some instances, these barriers are obvious. For example, a person with hearing disabilities may not be able to participate as easily in a web meeting as they would in person, and a person with low vision might be frustrated by visual-first presentations. Other barriers might be less straightforward; some physical disabilities might prevent a person operating software, preventing them from accessing a private chat during a meeting.
For decision makers, choosing an accessible video conferencing platform is an important first step. However, just as no website can be 100 percent accessible, no piece of software can be equally usable for every user — to accommodate your team effectively, you’ll need to keep accessibility at the forefront of your business’s collaborative strategy.
Don't choose a video conferencing platform that neglects accessibility
Look for a platform that specifically outlines its accessibility features and pay attention to who might use those features. Approaches to accessibility can range considerably, and because major platforms have gradually upgraded their features over the past year, we’ll refrain from listing the exact features of specific platforms. Some common examples might include:
- Screen reader accessibility, which allows assistive software to convert onscreen text to speech or braille.
- Built-in screen magnifiers, which can be useful for some people with low vision.
- Automatic caption generation and third-party captions, which can be useful for some people with hearing or cognitive disabilities.
- Keyboard accessibility, which allows software to be fully navigated without a mouse.
- Shortcuts or hotkeys to supplement keyboard navigation.
- Custom color themes, designed for people with color vision deficiencies, for example. Be sure to understand the facts about color blindness.
When researching options, review each conferencing tool’s accessibility statement, paying attention to the company’s targets and the methods used to achieve those targets.
Don't assume that your platform's accessibility features function as intended
Team communication tools have made commendable strides towards accessibility, but complex software won’t always operate predictably. Before integrating a new tool into your workflow, test it. Ask questions. Will real-world users be able to use accessibility features as intended? How are those features limited, and what steps will your company need to take to ensure access?
This can be particularly crucial with multi-purpose communication tools and web-based platforms. Consider real-world circumstances; if a user receives a notification from someone while participating in a meeting, can they easily identify the source of the message and navigate to the conversation without leaving the video conference? Does the program provide notifications when a server isn’t accessible or when a participant begins presenting? Will the user need to use visual cues to interpret information accurately?
Identifying these issues can be difficult for people who don’t live with disabilities that affect their work. Make sure that employees understand the process for reporting accessibility issues. Just as importantly, establish a clear process for addressing those issues.
Don't rely on automatic captions and transcriptions
Starting with relatively accessible software is helpful, but choosing a certain tool won’t absolve your business of its responsibility to provide an inclusive work environment. Recognize the limitations of accessibility features — starting with automatically generated text.
While auto-generated captions and transcripts can be somewhat useful in the moment, they’re imperfect, and inaccuracies can create serious roadblocks for employees. Artificial intelligence tools are more likely than humans to make mistakes when transcribing niche terms or interpreting context. Some platforms offer third-party transcription services, and engaging these services can help to ensure collaborative meetings and presentations.
By providing human-written transcripts of important meetings, your team can collaborate more effectively and any team member can search through transcripts to find information when they need it.
Don't treat accessibility as a secondary priority
As we mentioned above, no piece of software is completely accessible. To get the most from your video conferencing platform — and your meetings — you’ll need to think about how you’re using these tools to communicate. Every member of your team will need to make a commitment to the principles of accessibility.
That’s not necessarily a difficult process, but it requires awareness. If you’re sharing your screen in a meeting, you can describe the visual information you’re presenting for people who aren’t able to view it; if you’ve posted something important in the company chat, you might read that information in the meeting.
By cultivating awareness of people with disabilities, you can avoid making oversights that make collaboration more difficult for coworkers and employees. To take the next steps towards a more inclusive workplace, consider our customized accessibility training and self-paced training courses.