As the COVID-19 crisis intensified and employees around the globe transitioned to working from home, technology became critical to enabling a sense of ‘business as usual’. It seems that no remote work week is complete without attending at least one virtual meeting – whether it’s to talk shop, or simply just to say hello and keep connected with your colleagues.
And the numbers don’t lie – according to Bernstein Research, Zoom added more active users in the first 4 months of 2020 than it did in all of 2019 (2.22 million and 1.99 million respectively), meaning that more and more people are realizing the value of face time, even if it’s done virtually.
With much of the labor force expecting to see working from home become the new normal,[1,2] businesses must take steps to ensure that all employees have equal access in the virtual workplace. A vital part of this is making your virtual meetings accessible to everyone – especially employees living with disabilities.
How can you make virtual meetings work for everyone?
In a perfect world, technology would work the same way for everyone, but we know that’s not the case. People living with vision, hearing, or mobility disabilities might require certain accommodations to join and participate in virtual meetings. To ensure equal access, choosing a meeting platform provider that offers accessibility features is a critical first step – without this, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can find a suitable platform by requesting a Voluntary Product Accessibility Statement (VPAT) during your procurement process. A VPAT details the product’s compliance with various accessibility standards (typically WCAG and Section 508) and will be invaluable to helping your organization make an informed decision.
You can also check that your platform of preference has relevant accessibility features, including things like:
- Closed-Captioning: Displays what’s being said in real-time.
- Keyboard Accessibility: Enables users to navigate the platform using only keyboard commands.
- Automatic Transcripts: Transcripts should be automatically generated following meetings.
- Screen Reader Support: The platform should work with screen reader technology.
- Magnifiers: The platform should allow users to magnify on-screen text as needed.
Once you’ve settled on an ideal platform provider, it’s time to think about the meetings themselves.
Preparation is key
Whenever possible, plan ahead. Send meeting invites well in advance to allow people time to prepare. Ensure invite text is large and easy to read, and ask invitees if any accessibility accommodations are required.
When necessary, provide presentation decks, agendas, etc., in an accessible format to participants ahead of time so everyone can follow along in a way that works for them. This includes adding alt text to describe the content of images, graphs, charts, etc. when needed.
During the meeting
Assign an accessibility advocate to oversee the meeting and see that the following actions are taken:
- Ensure all attendees are participating from a quiet location with minimal background noise
- Presenters should always identify themselves and speak slowly and clearly
- All participants should enable video and provide a clear view of their face
- Allow only one person to speak at a time
- If a screen is being shared, describe the visuals as required
- Read any comments that come in through a chat function out loud
- Take occasional breaks to recap critical information and ensure everyone understands what’s being discussed
- Remember to record all meetings, and share the recordings, along with any additional notes and presentation materials once it’s complete.
Finally, be sure to regularly ask for feedback on how you can improve virtual meetings – never assume what someone does or does not need. With a little preparation, you can ensure everyone is able to join in and participate fully in the virtual meetings that have become so integral to today’s workday.