Since the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, millions of students and employees have been learning and working remotely. While there are enormous benefits in terms of health, safety, well-being, and flexibility, there are also a number of concerns regarding accessibility for those who are participating in remote learning and working.
Accessible meeting platforms
Not all remote meeting platform technology is created equally. Consider accessibility features when choosing from these three commonly used platforms.
ZOOM is one of the most accessible platforms for people who use assistive technology. Users who are blind or have low vision prefer ZOOM because all of the controls can be reached and operated using a keyboard. However, while ZOOM allows for captioning of live meetings, the functionality requires either a human transcriber or a third-party plug-in service.
Google Meet is accessible to assistive technology and has auto-captioning. It is not a perfect captioning solution, providing only English captions, but it’s fairly accurate, free, and integrated with the platform. It does not, however, port these captions to any recording of the meetings. Using Google Meet from within the Chrome browser also allows you to use Chrome’s accessibility features.
Microsoft Teams doesn’t work equally with all browsers, but it’s very accessible using Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. It does provide auto-captioning, but only in English. Teams does not support 3rd party captioning.
These three platforms are all mostly accessible for most users, and they are free to use, with some restrictions.
Sharing documents remotely
Document sharing isn’t new or exclusive to remote working or learning. But now more than ever, all documents must be accessible for all users. Digital information accessibility is covered under the ADA and many state laws. Additionally, workers, employers, students, teachers, and parents all must be able to use remotely-shared content. This means that all content creators need to be made accountable for the accessibility of their documents.
Often, PDF files are used to share information because they maintain their visual appearance no matter what device or platform is used to open the file. PDFs are often inaccessible for people using assistive technology because document elements usually aren’t properly tagged. Documents without digital tags will require remediation (the process of adding tags) so assistive technology can understand the coding. Equidox PDF remediation software makes document tagging fast and simple, and is easy to learn even if users don’t have PDF or tagging experience.
Conducting remote meetings and classes
Online meetings and classrooms have their own set of challenges. Connectivity and equipment issues happen all the time. Sound quality varies. Ensure that everyone gets all the information they need by applying some of the following tactics.
Speak clearly and pause for questions
When speaking to one another via online meeting or call platforms, be sure to use clear, simple language and moderate your tone. Some participants will not be able to hear as clearly as others due to disabilities, internet speed, as well as microphone and speaker variations. It’s much harder to ‘read the room’ remotely, especially if not everyone has their camera on. Consequently, you should speak clearly and not too fast, and pause occasionally to ensure everyone can still hear you and that there are no questions.
Provide information both before and after meetings
Provide pertinent information (including an agenda) prior to meetings or classes and a summary or meeting minutes afterward. If participants receive an agenda and reference documents ahead of time, they can ask questions, request alternative formats, and let you know if they will need any other accommodations during the meeting or class. Providing summaries or minutes after meetings ensures that participants have clear and complete information about what was shared during the meeting or class. This can be especially important for parents who may need to assist their children with school assignments later that evening.
Ensure all documents are accessible
Be sure any documents you provide before and after meetings are accessible. This includes agendas, pertinent data, minutes, meeting or class summaries, and any other documentation you provide. Providing parent resources in an accessible format allows parents with disabilities to equally participate in their child’s remote education. Expanded options to work remotely allows more people with disabilities to enter the job market than ever before, so be sure to include those employees by making all content accessible.
Accessibility enhances remote working and learning for everyone
These accessibility tips can make remote learning and working more successful for everyone, not just people with disabilities. The challenges of connectivity, technology, and equipment are real for everyone. Choosing platforms with accessibility features, finding accessible ways to share content, being thoughtful about how you conduct your meetings, and providing summaries both before and after meetings and classes will help ensure that everyone is included, and everyone can have success despite the challenges of online work and school.
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