February 2, 2023
Why do virtual meetings need to be accessible? Well, why not? We live in a day and age where technology is continuing to evolve at a fast pace as it is becoming more and more integral to our daily lives. In recent years, we have seen a steep increase in the use of online technology. Such technological advancements have made it easier to stay in touch with our loved ones and have further increased our ability to work remotely. However, despite these advances, not everyone has the same ease of access to those tools. Not everyone is able to use them without specific accessibility features. If we want to promote and maintain a safe and inclusive digital environment for all, we must start asking ourselves certain questions as it is essential to ensure that everyone, without any exceptions, can fully access and use all the resources and services available.
What is digital accessibility?
Virtual meeting spaces are an extension, if you will, of a company’s physical space. They allow employees to work remotely and give the public access to their (virtual) domain. Just like companies must ensure their physical spaces are fully accessible to the public, they must also ensure that their online spaces (websites and meeting platforms) are just as accessible. This is where digital accessibility comes in to play. Digital accessibility is a variety of services such as document accessibility, web accessibility, captioning & CART services that are necessary to audit, assess and provide solutions related to accessibility needs. It is crucial for institutions to make sure that their spaces, virtual or physical, are up to date in terms of accessibility compliance.
Why is digital accessibility important?
Imagine that one day, you are invited to a conference at a remote location. As you arrive on site, you notice that there are no ramps for you to use your wheelchair and no other alternatives to allow you an easy entry into the building. Automatically, you may no longer want to attend the event as you cannot help but think that no one seems to care about you and your needs. It is not only a bad reflection on the company hosting the event, but also a violation of ADA compliances. The same is true if you are hosting a virtual meeting. Your primary objective should be to make sure that all guests and attendees can fully participate and have an enjoyable experience.
Companies and individuals cannot rely solely on the meeting platforms to provide them with accessibility features and functionality. They must do their own research, their own investigation and take their own initiatives to provide everyone with an enjoyable experience. This often leads to organizations working with a community partner who specializes in digital accessibility. For example, here are a couple of best practices to start implementing when having virtual meetings.
- Be aware of your audience.
Know in advance that some participants might/will need accommodations and do not assume anything. It is always better to be overprepared than underprepared in this scenario.
- We’re ready to refresh our accessibility plans and policies. Who needs to be on board?
Short answer: everyone. Accessibility needs to be baked into your corporate policy and culture. And while it should be embraced at the C-Suite level, leaders must strategize with all arms of an organization on building a comprehensive action plan. Explore how your existing website measures up by running a usability report and encourage your IT and HR departments to review employee-facing software systems. If, for instance, you have a career portal that isn’t accessible to individuals with low vision or blindness, it could prevent your organization from tapping into a skilled talent pool and recruiting qualified candidates with disabilities.
- Empower meeting participants to request accommodations that meet their needs.
It is important for the guests to feel comfortable asking for accommodations. It is not something they should be afraid or ashamed of doing. By encouraging them to speak up, it will motivate everyone else to also voice their needs.
- Have captioning on during the meeting.
Captioning allows participants with hearing impairments can follow along with the rest of the audience. CART services or real-time captioning yields a lower error rate in the captioning of live events.
- Choose the best virtual platform.
Make sure that the platform of your choosing has the best accessibility tools at your disposal and is best suited for the nature of your meeting. This will allow for a more fluid and seamless session.
- Share information in more than one way.
Record the presentation. Make sure the recording is also accessible by including captioning and/or a transcript. That way, individuals can go over the key points at their own pace and on their own time, while also taking better notes for themselves.
- Be mindful and respectful of others.
Introduce yourself and restate your name every time you are speaking to hopefully help attendees with visual impairments associate your voice with your name. Always speak audibly and clearly and do not be impatient if anyone asks you to repeat yourself. It’s just proper meeting etiquette after all.
These recommendations are not the only ways to ensure digital accessibility. Digital accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. Content and meetings that are not accessible excludes employees, customers, stakeholders and potentially those in most need of the information, products, and services an organization provides.
Need help making your digital content accessible to all? The Viscardi Center’s team of Digital Accessibility experts are here to help.
Chief Information Officer, The Viscardi Center
Michael oversees all aspects of technology at The Viscardi Center, where he implements and innovates accessibility for students, staff, and faculty.