The Coronavirus crisis means that many of us are now working remotely and using videoconferencing platforms and tools. But how do we use them in an accessible way?
Drake Music have been researching and learning about accessibility in video conferencing/ online meetings/ remote music sessions.
Here are some of the things we have learned from our experience of delivering webinars and working remotely.
We welcome any additional info and will update this article as we learn more.
Edit: Zoom has added new accessibility features in Autumn 2020. Full info here.
A group conversation can move rapidly. This can be inaccessible to some people. In video calls there can also be an overwhelming amount of information to process (audio, visual, chat text etc). Check in with your group as to their requirements.
Some suggestions to support accessible conversations would be:
- Assign a moderator who checks in on people’s understanding and reiterates key points at regular intervals.
- Ask participants to speak one at a time.
- For large groups consider controlling participants’ audio to allow them to chat to everyone, or just the host. (Note: in Zoom there is a ‘raise hand’ function to allow participants to signal that they wish to comment/ask a question.)
- Use the chat function to record key points, giving each a title to separate key info out from general chat.
- Record the meeting and share it afterwards to let people listen to important sections again.
- Be aware that taking part in lots of video conferencing can be draining and schedule accordingly, including planning in regular breaks for long sessions.
- Offer an option for people to switch off cameras.
- When hosting a meeting, be explicit about giving people time to think about questions being asked (e.g. Take two minutes to jot down your thoughts about that question).
- If using Zoom for a large meeting, think about using breakout rooms to offer a quieter space for discussion, and then bring people back together to share their learning.
- Offer to record the meeting and send the video and a transcript of the chat to participants after.
- If you/your participants are new to video-conferencing here is a useful guide to Zoom from Copronet Wales
A large meeting may be noisy and hard to follow. This will make it more inaccessible.
Suggestions for improvements:
- Ask everyone to mute their mics when not speaking to limit extraneous noise.
- Consider using an external mic if you are hosting a meeting, to improve sound quality.
- Use a video conferencing system which supports Subtitles/Captioning – this can be beneficial for everyone and is especially important if you are using screen sharing and participants can’t see you while you are speaking.
- Skype – Automatic captions, not always 100% accurate, but helpful. Multi-videos can crash more. Caption info for Skype here.
- Zoom – Captions can be enabled, but someone has to be assigned to type them. Caption info for Zoom here.
- Google Hangouts – Automatic captions/subtitles, we haven’t tested these yet. Caption info for Google Hangouts here.
- Gotomeeting/ Gotowebinar – Offers transcriptions after the meeting, but possibly not live. Caption info for Gotomeeting here.
- Teams – Microsoft’s service offers automatic captions/subtitles. We haven’t tested it yet. Caption info for Teams here.
- For captions, speak clearly, slowly and into the mic. Limit background noise and try to avoid everyone speaking at the same time. Also allow for extra time to transfer captioners into breakout rooms, or to get set up at the start of an event.
- If you are using slides consider sharing your speaker notes alongside them, so that people can read along if needed.
- If you share videos, ensure they are captioned.
- Headphones may be useful
Please note Automatic captions may work reasonably well for smaller conversations and one-to-one discussions, but that for training, livestreaming or bigger group meetings it is not always the best option.
We use a captioning service called My Clear Text who say: “We have tested the automatic captioning on each platform and our advice would be that for informal chats it can be useful, but not for work related content. It’s just not accurate enough, or laid out well enough to enhance a meeting, it’s more likely to distract.”
When hosting a remote meeting which involves sign language there are specific considerations needed in order to ensure it is accessible – e.g. turn-taking, the visibility of the speaker to the interpreter, the tiring nature of watching signing in 2d.
Access to Work support can be used to pay for a captioning service or BSL interpreters if the video-conference is for work and that support is required to allow you to fully participate in meetings.
Bringing together a group of people is a nice way to feel connected, or to offer training or learning remotely. However, it will be inaccessible if visual cues or slides are not explained verbally in some way.
Suggestions to make it more accessible:
- If you are using slides, read out the content of each slide, or describe images. This often makes us realise there is too much text on the slide, so as a starting point use keywords or a phrase rather than long blocks of text.
- If the group is small enough, ask everyone to introduce themselves and give a short description of them and their environment (e.g. My name is Elvis, I have a black quiff and am wearing a white spangly jumpsuit in my office at Gracelands).
- If you are sharing video content, ideally it is best practice to have an audio described version available. If you don’t have an AD version then give a brief description of any visual elements which aren’t explained by the audio.
- Screen sharing and live annotation will need careful description as this will present significant access barriers to Visually Impaired People (VIPs).
- If you are sharing a website it might be a good idea to give the link in the chat so that people can access it themselves to follow along with your description.
- If you are sharing a document ensure that any VIPs have the document before the conversation (if possible) to allow their screen reading software to go through it.
No Online Access
Poor rural connections, expense and access barriers mean that online meetings are not possible for everyone. How can video-conferencing be made more accessible if that is the case?
Offer an option for people to join the call via phone. This is possible in a number of the platforms above. It will allow people to join in the conversation, but think through how you will try to offer as full participation as possible, without the visual element.
This is a huge topic, with lots of people rightly concerned about ‘zoombombing’ and general online safeguarding. There are many guides being produced about this topic, like this from the Incorporated Society of Musicians. We would caution that there may be extra levels of precaution and safeguarding needed if you are working with vulnerable young people/adults and to take expert advice on this.
This is our learning so far and is how we approach online video conferencing in order to make it more accessible for everyone.
We try to consider the pace of the event, how we welcome and engage people and how we can offer the best possible experience for everyone.
If you have any information, tips, suggestions or corrections please let us know. You can leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.