Virtual Meetings: Accessibility Checklist & Best Practices
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses turned to virtual platforms to host their meetings, conferences, webinars, and other events. Post-pandemic, virtual meetings may be used in more circumstances than before, as well as simply more often, due to the lower costs involved and the ability to reach many more participants. Just as with in-person events, virtual events must be accessible to disabled individuals. When planning a virtual event, you must consider their accessibility needs, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, or have intellectual, developmental, or mobility disabilities.
Selecting the right platform is key. It must be accessible to all participants, including those with disabilities. Before choosing one, you can familiarize yourself with the particular accessibility features offered by going to the vendor’s website. Features to look for are platforms that provide real-time captions or otherwise support captions, allow individuals to magnify screen content, can be navigated by a keyboard only and thus provide keyboard shortcuts, and support screen readers and interpreters. Below are some links to the accessibility information and features offered by some of the more popular platforms.
Virtual Platform Accessibility Links
► Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams Accessibility
► GoToMeetings: Accessibility Features
► Google Meet: Google Meet Accessibility
► BlueJeans: Accessibility Features
Accessibility Features of Common Virtual Platforms
► Supports screen readers: Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeetings, BlueJeans
► Supports ASL interpreters: Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams
Can be used by ASL interpreters: Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams
► Sign language interpreter app: Google Hangouts
► Automatic closed-captioning: Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans
► Spoken Feedback Tools: Google Meet, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams
► Live transcription: Zoom
► Automatic transcription: BlueJeans
► Spoken feedback tools: Google Hangouts
► Has keyboard shortcuts: Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeetings, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans
► Provides high contrast mode: Zoom, GoToMeetings
► Has screen magnifiers and visual modifications: Google Hangouts, Zoom, Google Meets, GoToMeetings
After visiting the website, you should meet with the vendor and have ready a list of questions to ask regarding accessibility. This checklist is provided in this section
Below is a checklist to help you ensure that your events are accessible.
1. Is the platform accessible for disabled persons?
2. Has the platform been tested by users with different types of disabilities?
3. Is the platform compatible with assistive technologies used by disabled persons (e.g., screen readers for blind persons, screen enlargement applications, closed-captioning, cognitive aids including computer devices, etc.)?
4. Does the platform have real-time automated captioning, or does it support manual captioning by a third-party vendor? Is the real-time captioning available in the platform or will users have to interact with a separate window?
5. Does the platform allow for ASL Interpreters to stay visible throughout your event?
6. Does the platform have simple keyboard shortcuts for users who may not use a mouse?
7. Does the platform have a chat, note, Q&A, or other features for participation? If so, are they accessible?
8. Does the platform allow for computer-based and phone-based audio listening/speaking?
9. Does the platform have customizable interfaces, so anyone using screen readers or screen magnification can adjust the video windows as needed?
10. Does the platform provide good video quality, including the ability to show two screens at once?
11. Are there barriers/steps to joining the event? For example, is the event password-protected or require a user to input information to join?
Once you have selected the platform, you will want to ensure that you put best practices in place to ensure accessibility. Below are some best practices you can implement.
1. Include a statement on your website, registration, and all other communications that asks attendees to specify their accessibility/accommodations needs, gives a deadline for requests, and provides the name, email address, and phone number of the individual to contact.
2. Ensure that the individual hosting the meeting is trained on how to set up and implement the platform’s accessibility features.
3. List in all event communications accessibility/accommodations that you will provide without the need for attendees having to request, such as captioning.
4. Provide materials that help orient participants to your chosen platform. Offer practice sessions in advance of the main event.
5. On Zoom, screen readers read aloud the comments in chat, distracting screen reader users from hearing the conversation effectively. As a result, use the chat feature sparingly; do not use the chat function; or designate a person who everyone privately messages, and have that person read the chats aloud and keep a record of URLS posted in chat and save the chat to make it available to users after the meeting.
6. Consider your audience and language level. Use plain language when appropriate. Ask attendees if they can hear everyone or if anyone is speaking too quickly.
7. Have a staff person monitor the chat or Q&A function for accessibility issues that may arise during the event and read aloud the author and questions or comments to be addressed. The host may also offer an outside contact point, such as an email address, for anyone who is not able to access the in-platform functions, and monitor it before and during the program.
8. Advise everyone orally and in the chat or Q&A function about the accessibility features/accommodations being offered and how to use them at the start of the event. Do a check of access features. Invite attendees to raise access concerns during the event and instruct them how to do so.
9. Offer the option for people using chat and/or Q&A functions to have their messages read aloud.
10. Offer different ways that individuals can access the event, including via Internet and dial-in.
11. Provide all materials and PowerPoint slides in an electronic format, share via email or the chat function, post on a website before the event, and create a short URL.
12. Announce at the start of the event how to access copies of materials and share the link on the presentation’s first page and in the chat/Q&A function, and read it aloud.
13. Provide CART (real-time captioning) for all events even if the virtual platform generates automatic captions, as these are often unreliable. Captioning creates a transcript of the event that can be used by everyone, including those who attend the live event.
14. Describe all images and videos for blind/visually impaired individuals, as well as for those joining by phone. Some videos with descriptive audio can be found on Youtube or youdescribe.org.
15. Sharing your screen is not accessible for blind persons, so send or post materials electronically on a web page in advance of the event. On the day of the event, provide a link to the materials in the Q&A or chat function and add a visual description.
16. Sharing a video is not accessible for blind and/or deaf and hard of hearing persons. Ensure that the video is captioned and also describe what is happening during the event.
17. Try to schedule your event so as not to go beyond two hours.
18. Allow people to turn off self-view if it is distracting to them.
19. Have the event host only show the person presenting, along with the active ASL interpreter.
20. Advise attendees to stay in gallery view so they can see all presenters and the ASL interpreters at the same time.
21. Avoid loud and distracting noises. Encourage all attendees to stay muted when not speaking.
22. Avoid flashing or strobing animations in presentation or other materials.
23. For people who read lips, ensure that presenters have their camera on and are well lit.
24. Ensure that the environment behind presenters is not distracting. If it is, use a virtual background, but note that some can wash out faces.
25. Eliminate background noise by muting everyone except for the person speaking. At start of the meeting, instruct attendees how to mute and unmute themselves.
26. Some apps can help reduce background noise on calls, such as Krisp.
27. Allow only one person to speak at a time. This will also help the captioner(s) and ASL interpreter(s) more accurately interpret.
28. Have each person say their name each time they speak so that attendees, captioners, and interpreters know who is speaking.
29. Ensure that any voting, polling, or other forms of participation are accessible. Provide alternatives ways for attendees to participate.
The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and editors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the Association. Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only.