Director of the Disability Institute UNSW, Professor Jackie Leach Scully teaches us practical tips on how to make our online meetings inclusive for people with disabilities.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the shift to working from home we have all had to become used to a range of platforms such as Teams and Zoom for online meetings, sometimes involving multiple participants. While many of us struggle at first with these new ways of working, some people with disability, like me, encounter additional barriers to participation with this mode of communication.
Here are a few points to bear in mind when hosting meetings to ensure people with disability are actively included:
- Ensure your face is well-lit (facing a window or a light, not silhouetted against it), and that your whole face is visible including your mouth – this is vital for people with hearing impairment.
- If your image on the screen carries a label identifying you, make sure it has your name and not just your university zID. You might give your name when speaking but this may not be audible to all participants.
- Wear a headset if you have one as it enhances the clarity of speech.
- If you are chairing, do a quick round of introductions at the beginning. This will obviously depend on the size or regularity of the meeting but it’s a good idea so that anyone with a visual impairment can recognize who is speaking during the discussion.
- If you are chairing, remember to repeat or paraphrase questions or requests from the floor just in case others are unable to hear.
- Remind participants that Zoom has a closed caption function (not automatic for all users though) which may also be useful.
- Circulate papers ahead of time where possible. This is particularly important for visually impaired participants using screen readers who may not be able to ‘read’ the document and follow a spoken discussion at the same time.
- Ask participants to mute their microphone to minimise background noise and remind them not to rustle paper or run their fingers over laptop microphones.
During the meeting
- Nominate one person to monitor the ‘chat’ function so that people can ask questions or request clarification via chat if they have not heard a key point. This works particularly well for large meetings where there is a lot of information being shared.
- If a participant is using a sign language interpreter, remember that the interpreter needs to hear the meeting but it is the participant who should be visible, and that their response will be delayed as it needs to go through the interpreter.
- Allow time for responses. Being online can make certain disabilities invisible to the group. It is easier to miss people whose impairments (e.g. dexterity issues, respiratory difficulties, use of mouth controls, interpreters or closed captions) make it harder for them to respond rapidly to questions or to break into a discussion. Ensure participants are given adequate time or alternative means to respond.
- In the interests of inclusion, invite participants to contribute either individually or by a general invitation.
- Allow short breaks in longer meetings and invite participants to feel able to turn off their video during any break if necessary. Some physical and neurological conditions make it harder for a participant to sit in a chair facing a laptop for the duration of a meeting.
I hope these tips are helpful for you when hosting online meetings and are a good reminder of what being inclusive of people with disabilities means in practice.
If you have additional points that you would like to include, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured: IT staff member Roxane McDonald wearing a headset.