Written in partnership with Elizabeth Ralston, MPH, Consultant
This is a 2-part series offering tips for hosting accessible virtual meetings. In light of Disability Awareness Month, we are sharing these resources to encourage folks to be more inclusive in their meetings every month of the year!
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and an opportunity to raise awareness about disability discrimination and ableism in the workplace, recognize employees with disabilities as productive and highly valued members of a diverse workforce, and celebrate their many and ongoing contributions. The theme this year is “Increasing Access and Opportunity”. This year also marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, as well as the 30th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act.
King County honors Disability Awareness month by recognizing our community members with disabilities; their contributions, their networks of support, and the obstacles to equitable access and opportunity they face. DCHS, Developmental Disabilities and Early Childhood Supports Division supports children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to connect to the services they need to overcome some of those barriers, including;
- Supporting over 2325 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to access long-term supported employment services and gain employment in their community.
- Providing employment services early to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supporting them with obtaining employment and connecting to long-term services before leaving school
- Investing in outreach, information and education for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families across the lifespan.
- Supporting the workforce that serves children ages 0-5, including children with special needs, through large-group workshops, post-workshop support opportunities, and tailored learning communities.
When COVID-19 hit, organizations scrambled to conduct their meetings and programs in a brand new way, including King County staff. Many have pivoted to using virtual platforms and eight months into the pandemic, this has become the norm.
With the switch to virtual platforms, this means that more people can participate in whatever offerings are held. However, in the rush to make this change, too often important considerations were forgotten, namely accessibility for participants with disabilities.
This is a critical opportunity to include people with disabilities who would otherwise not show up to an in-person program or meeting due to accessibility considerations.
There are two main categories that will serve as a blueprint for creating an accessible virtual meeting: preparation for the meeting, including planning logistics and marketing, and participation in the meeting.
Today we walk through inclusive preparation recommendations for virtual meetings.
Consider whether people have what they need.
- Meeting Logistics
- Have a point person available to contact by phone AND email for any questions or requests for accommodations.
- Offer the option for attendees to dial in by phone. This is particularly important if your attendees do not have access to the internet or a computer.
- Some platforms have automated captions (ie. otter.ai, webcaptioner and also in Microsoft Teams and Google Meet) but live captioning is the gold standard for virtual meetings.
- Offer captioning for every meeting. They are beneficial for EVERYONE. You can book a live captioner who will work with you to either integrate captions within the platform or use a separate link to view captions. You would just send the meeting link to the captioner. Some platforms have automated captions but live captioning is the gold standard for virtual meetings.
- In Zoom there is a CC button that participants can use to view captions. The meeting host needs to assign themselves or someone else to type in the captions. Instructions are here.
- Live professional captioners can include a link such as Streamtext, that people can view in a separate window. Sometimes this is preferable if people want the chat and Q and A to be unobstructed from view. The person arranging the meeting just needs to send the meeting link to the captioner, assign the captioner to the permissions and send the Streamtext link to participants either ahead of time or drop it in the chat box.
- Meeting Logistics continued:
- Book ASL interpreters and allow plenty of time for people to request that accommodation. If no one requests an interpreter within two weeks of the event, often interpreters can be cancelled without a fee (you will need to confirm this). Be sure the interpreter is a certified and experienced (they have met a minimum of hours of training on a regular basis and abide by a code of professional conduct). Washington statewide ASL contracts are here as a good place to begin.
- Assign a note taker. This helps participants focus entirely on the meeting and not have to worry about taking notes and missing important information.
- Send the agenda and any information about what to expect from the meeting ahead of time. Also, providing an outline of the talk, transcript, and glossary of terms can be helpful. Note if there will there be icebreakers and if people required to have their video on or off. This allows people to prepare and know what to expect.
- Send slides or materials well ahead of time (at least 1 week) to allow people to prepare, especially captioners and interpreters who benefit from having meeting participants’ names and special terms in advance. People who are low vision will also use their screen readers or assistive technology to review the material.
- Have a full set of materials available to send in the event a different interpreter shows up as a last-minute replacement due to a cancellation or emergency.
- Allow people to send questions ahead of time- this helps presenters be more prepared and give participants a chance to prepare materials.
- Make sure your Powerpoint slides are accessible. Slide presentations should have the following: descriptive alt-text on every image which is also described verbally, at least 20 pt. font, and good color contrast.
- Make sure you allow for short breaks if meetings are long.
- Make it very clear that accommodations can be requested in all marketing materials, including social media, website, blogs, invitations, etc. Any time you publicize a notice about that meeting, include accessibility offerings such as captioning or interpretation and the opportunity to request additional accommodations.
- During the Presentation
- During introductions, have presenters describe themselves and after that, say their name when speaking. This helps people with low-vision have an image of who is speaking and for people who are deafblind, know who is speaking.
- Use headphones and mute yourself while you are speaking. This helps to minimize background noise. Make sure there is good lighting in the area where you are presenting/participating to allow people to see your face for cues and lipreading. Avoid sitting in front of windows as the glare can make your face difficult to see.
- Speak slowly and enunciate. Allow time for people to digest what you are saying. If you speak quickly, many of your ideas might get missed.
- Have a co-host who can repeat what participants are saying, troubleshoot tech issues, and mute participants if necessary.
- Don’t assume what accommodations might work for someone. It is not a “one size fits all” because there is so much diversity within disability.
Stay tuned for part two and how to encourage inclusive participation during virtual meetings!