It is not necessary to have knowledge about people’s disabilities in order to make your gatherings easier for everyone to participate in. According to the CDC, approximately one in every four adults in the United States lives with a disability, and the majority of these disabilities are not visible to the naked eye. In addition, some persons have limitations that are only transitory or situational. Being in a noisy environment might temporarily impair a person’s hearing, for instance, to the point that they require closed captioning in order to keep up with the discussion during a meeting.
Even if a person does not have a disability, if you make it easier for them to participate in meetings and enhance their level of comfort, the meetings will be more inclusive for everyone and more productive for everyone. There are a few easy adjustments that may be made to the environment of a meeting that will help those who are more reserved, as well as those whose first language is not English.
Even if having the appropriate video conferencing software and equipment can go a long way toward making meetings more accessible, it is important to keep in mind that these are hardly the only factors to take into account. The culture of your organization plays a part in this. The manner in which the hosts and participants converse, behave, and engage one another also contributes. Keeping this in mind, here are some pointers to follow in order to make meetings easier to attend. My focus is more on virtual meetings than than in-person ones since, by their very nature, virtual meetings are more accessible, and, as you’ll see, it’s also easier to make something accessible.
1. Foster an Attitude that Encourages People to Speak Out
The single most essential thing that you and your organization can do to make meetings more accessible to more people is to foster an environment in which participants feel at ease participating. It is impossible to please everyone all of the time, even if you put forth a lot of effort to make sure that meetings are welcoming and accessible to everyone. You’ll be in an excellent position to make modifications and offer access to people as needed if your meetings are safe spaces where people can ask for what they need when they need it. However, if your meetings are not safe spaces where people can ask for what they need when they need it. If a participant feels at ease saying or typing into the chat, they are welcome to do so “Your screen-share does not appear to be very clear to me. Can you please zoom in?,” or “The ceiling fan in the video is giving me a headache.” Would it be possible for you to adjust the angle of your camera or blur the background? “When this occurs, everyone has a better chance of being successful.
2. Make an agenda and other relevant materials available in advance
A detailed agenda is required for each and every meeting. In the case of meetings that occur on a regular basis, the agenda may be included in the name of the meeting itself (for instance, “weekly check-in”), but in reality, it is beneficial for everyone if they are aware, in advance, of the topics that will be discussed during the meeting. By including an agenda, everything is made more apparent, and participants are better able to understand what they need to do to get ready. If a person with a handicap goes into a meeting with the expectation that they will simply be observing it and taking notes, and then they are unexpectedly asked to take part in the discussion, they might not be fully prepared to do so.
In a similar vein, guests should be given a copy of any documents, such as presentations, prior to the meeting, or at the very least, they should be handed out soon away. If you provide individuals with a copy of your presentation, they will be able to use screen readers on it, zoom in as required, follow along at their own pace, make notes on a local copy, and not lose their place or become distracted in the event that a technological glitch interrupts the real-time presentation.
3. Ensure that your presentations provide alternative text for any images.
Make sure to include alt text for any and all photos that are deemed significant before you distribute the meeting materials (which you will do before the meeting now). People who are unable to view the image for whatever reason, be it a physical impairment or a technical glitch, are given the opportunity to read a brief summary of what it is that they are missing out on. If you are included a financial chart, for instance, the alt text should provide a concise summary of the information that you are attempting to highlight, such as “Chart displaying 50% growth from January to June 2022.”
It is possible that some meeting software will not allow you to add alt text to certain photographs, such as those that are shared via chat. In those situations, the presenter may choose to provide a brief spoken description of the image if they feel it is relevant to the meeting; alternatively, someone may type a brief description into the chat: “Alternate text: a room on fire with a dog sitting in a chair and claiming that everything is alright.”
4. Conduct a Portion of the Meeting in an Asynchronous Manner
One option to conduct a portion of a meeting in an asynchronous fashion is to send the slides or other materials to be discussed in advance of the meeting (meaning people are not interacting in real time). People are given the opportunity to process material, think, and brainstorm before addressing it live when meetings include an asynchronous component. This allows for a huge reduction in the amount of time that is wasted during meetings. It is extremely helpful for those who are introverted, don’t have a firm command of the meeting language, have speech difficulties, and many others to come to meetings having previously done some of the work that the meeting intends to accomplish before arriving at the meeting.
5. Make a recording of the call
It is a good idea to record key meetings, large gatherings, and webinars, and then make the recordings available to participants after the event. Having a video of your meeting makes it possible for people who were unable to attend to see it afterwards. People are able to better take notes, revisit the parts of the meeting that were significant to them, and get clarification on anything they didn’t understand the first time around because of this. People who are watching the video have the ability to adjust the playback speed to a slower or faster rate, activate closed captioning (many video conferencing programs already contain this feature; more on this topic in a moment), and in some cases even download a transcript of the audio.
6. Activate the closed captioning feature
All of the major companies in the video conferencing industry, including Zoom Meetings, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, provide users with the option to activate closed captioning that is generated by a machine and automatically enabled during a meeting. Live Captions is the name given to this feature within Microsoft Teams, and it consists of a configuration that allows members to have their captions translated into one of 34 other languages (counting several dialects of English among them). The accessibility-first strategy that Windows employs includes the Live Captions feature. In a similar vein, Google Meet is able to transcribe a multitude of languages as well as translate between them.
However, auto-generated captions are never accurate enough, which is why Teams now gives you the option to invite a professional stenographer to transcribe meetings in real time and display the more accurate closed captioning to participants. This feature is known as CART captions, and you are responsible for providing your own stenographer for it to work.
7. Make the accessibility features an opt-out feature rather than an opt-in feature.
When it comes to holding virtual meetings, being familiar with the software that everyone uses is an essential step that many people skip over. (This was one of the primary reasons why so many Zoom bombings occurred in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic; very few individuals were aware of the many meeting security choices available to them. Zoom was also at fault and should have made the visibility of its security features a higher priority. As you investigate your program and become familiar with the accessibility features it offers, determine which of these functions you can permanently activate so that they are turned on by default. In this manner, accessibility features for persons in meetings become opt-out, rather than opt-in, options.
8. Refresh Your Knowledge on the Best Procedures for Slideshows
Reviewing the best practices for generating and presenting slideshows is something you should do before presenting any documents in a virtual meeting. This is because slideshows promote accessibility. For example, one of the best practices for slide displays is to set the type to a much larger size than you may assume. For in-person meetings, the type should be set to 40 points, and for virtual meetings, it should be set to at least 24 points. When you make the font that big, it compels you to reduce the amount of text that is on the page, which is another good habit to follow. Don’t clutter your slides. Always use the complete, written names of significant things, locations, and individuals (including their titles), especially when you are referring to them. Because not everyone is familiar with who Gary is, some individuals may confuse his name with that of Cary. Put it in writing.
Screen readers are unable to operate on presentations that are shown via screen sharing, therefore if you use Microsoft Teams, you should investigate the possibility of employing the function PowerPoint Live, which makes it possible for participants in the presentation to activate a screen reader. PowerPoint Live is helpful in the event that someone did not receive the presentation; however, you should still make a copy of the presentation available to the meeting participants either before the meeting or right at the very beginning of the meeting.
9. Presenters, please turn on the video and make sure your face is centered.
When you give a presentation during a meeting, make sure the video is on and position your face in the center of the screen. Make sure that the camera is focused on your face and that the bulk of the screen is showing it. People will be able to read your facial expressions and see your lips while you talk if you do it this way. Both of these things will assist people grasp what it is that you are trying to communicate. The only exception to this rule is if you are presenting while using sign language; in this situation, you should move slightly away from the camera so that you are visible from the waist up at the very least.
Presenters are expected to keep their video cameras running during their talks. Regarding whether or whether other participants should turn on their cameras, I feel that decision should be left up to them individually. Presenters and meeting hosts typically find it helpful to see the faces of the audience during a meeting because it gives them feedback. This feedback not only tells them whether or not the meeting is engaging and whether or not people are understanding the material, but it also tells them if something goes wrong. In the event that a presenter’s microphone experiences an unexpected failure, for instance, the participants who are unable to hear the presenter may cup their palm around their ear or wave to signal that there is a problem.
10. When communicating vital information, be as clear as possible, take your time, and restate it.
During meetings, be sure to speak slowly and clearly, and give yourself frequent reminders to slow down. People will be able to hear you more clearly, and the transcription for the closed captioning will be spot on. Additionally, it is important to restate key information in the event that some individuals did not pick it up the first time. This piece of advice is appropriate in any kind of business circumstance, but it is especially pertinent in virtual meetings, when hiccups in technology and other obstacles might interfere with the flow of dialogue.
11. Make Use of Headphones Along with a Microphone
The use of a headset and microphone is a common piece of advice for boosting the quality of video chats; nevertheless, it is also important in terms of accessibility. Because of the microphone and the headphones, there will be little danger of feedback occurring, and your voice will be easier to hear. It is sufficient to have a microphone that is integrated into a headset; nevertheless, even a budget-friendly pair of headphones that have an in-line mic is preferable than having none at all. Bluetooth devices are generally safe to use, but as they age and begin to degrade, it is possible that they will produce static or garbled sounds for other meeting participants. Because of this, it is important to make sure that you occasionally ask for a thumbs-up from those in attendance to ensure that they can hear you clearly.
12. Make Your Background More Distant or Inconspicuous
People may find it challenging to concentrate when their background is busy and disorganized. When you are speaking, you should either ensure that there is a clear and uninteresting space behind you, or you should enable a filter that either blurs or completely covers out your background. This parameter is available in every major piece of video conferencing software.
13. Passive Participants: Mute Yourself
It is not only slightly unprofessional but also detrimental to accessibility if you fail to muffle your microphone when you are only observing or taking notes during a meeting. Accidental noises coming from your end can interfere with the hearing of other people and lower the quality of any closed captioning that may be in use.
14. Make sure to include both your full name and your preferred pronouns in your profile.
The majority of meeting software gives you the option to add your name to your profile, allowing other participants in the meeting to identify you. Be careful to provide your whole name as well as the pronouns that your coworkers use to refer to you while filling out the form. The addition of pronouns is handled in a separate area within Zoom Meeting. Providing other people with your pronouns in addition to your name helps ensure that they are referring to you in the correct manner. The practice of clarifying pronouns also helps to normalize it, which can make it easier for other individuals to feel comfortable discussing their pronouns and create an environment that is more inclusive.
When you speak in front of a large group of people or in a meeting where not everyone is familiar with you, it is important to state your complete name slowly and clearly so that everyone can hear it and understand how to pronounce it.
15. Pauses in the Agenda for Protracted Meetings
When a meeting is expected to last for longer than around 45 minutes, break times should be established. Everyone will value them, but those who are now pregnant or who have recently been pregnant, those who suffer from chronic discomfort, or those who are in a circumstance in which sitting still for extended periods of time is difficult and therefore distracting will value them the most.
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Sariel Gomez, a writer who is passionate about using the power of the written word to create change and make a difference. I believe that writing is not just about expressing oneself, but about using words to inspire others and to make a positive impact on the world. I strive to create stories that are both impactful and meaningful, that inspire readers to take action and to make a difference. I believe that writing has the power to change the world, and I am honored to be a part of that tradition.