Want to be accessible? Don’t leave virtual meetings behind.
There’s only one thing 2023 is guaranteed to bring: more opportunities for in-person collaboration. And while many communications teams are looking forward to this new(er) normal, virtual accessibility will continue to be a critical collaboration strategy in the nonprofit world.
After all, it’s often more dominant voices (i.e. white, non-disabled, cisgender, neurotypical, class-privileged) that excel in the in-person spaces many of us cherish. But these spaces continue to leave accessibility gaps that prevent certain voices from contributing to and ultimately shaping organizational outcomes.
There are multiple ways to promote inclusivity at your organization. For this article, we’re focusing on the steps your team can take right now to make your virtual meetings more accessible. While by no means an exhaustive list, these quick tips and tricks will ensure more voices are heard and meaningfully incorporated into your collaborative processes.
Big Duck’s Checklist for Accessible Virtual Meetings
Zoom is Big Duck’s virtual collaboration tool of choice, but these same principles can be adapted to whatever platform your organization is using.
- Share the agenda and any additional materials, slides, links, or resources in advance and with enough time for participants to review.
- Enable closed captioning. Zoom even has a caption translating feature that might be worth exploring.
- Record the session for anyone not able to attend live, or who may need to review the content on their own at half or double speed.
- Add pronouns in all staff Zoom names and as part of the introduction process (i.e. name, pronouns, job title). Why pronouns?
- Already doing this? Include a land acknowledgement as part of introductions. Keep in mind: Sharing pronouns and doing a land acknowledgement are inherently performative if not grounded in a sincere and actionable commitment to both transgender justice and indigenous land return.
- Include a verbal description of your appearance in your introduction for those who are visually impaired. For example: “My name is Josh, they/them, I have long teal hair with shaved sides and black circular glasses, I’m wearing a red V-neck shirt and sitting in front of a full bookcase.”
- Verbally describe any visuals or relevant chat activity as well, including for those who may be calling in.
- Check that any text presented visually (i.e. slides) is in a readable font and size. Less is more here!
- Speak clearly and slowly, and explicitly define any jargon or acronyms you may use throughout the conversation.
- Limit or remove background noise and distractions, though grace here is always welcome! Also ask speakers and participants to mute themselves when not speaking to better support collective focus.
- Encourage everyone to participate in whatever way is most comfortable for them: speaking out loud, typing in the group chat, emoji reactions, typing in a private chat, etc.
- Use breakout rooms for small group collaboration to encourage participation from the quieter members of your team.
- Build in and verbally encourage bio-breaks as needed, as well as allowing participants to be either on or off camera at their discretion.
- If you create space to move or stretch, just remember that “standing up” to move is not an accessible prompt. Try something along the lines of: “Take a minute to stretch your body or do whatever you need to do to feel rejuvenated.”
- Follow the chat and be responsive! This is where some participants will engage and also flag any technical barriers they’re facing in real time.
- If you decide to use interactive tools like a jamboard or mentimeter poll, be sure to demonstrate for all participants before inviting them to contribute.
- Have a Plan B for any tech component you introduce (i.e. polls, jamboards, screenshare), and be sure that anyone who isn’t able to synchronously participate is given an opportunity to participate asynchronously.
- Use a language interpretation service if participants are contributing in a second or third (or fourth! or fifth!) language.
- Incorporate a sign language interpreter and spotlight their video alongside the speaker. Zoom even has a new sign language interpretation view feature that might be worth exploring.
- Send out any new links or materials shared in the chat or inspired by the conversation afterward. Ask participants for feedback so you can keep learning and improve your team’s accessibility practices.
- Review Zoom’s own accessibility tips for even more Zoom-specific recommendations. And for those of you out there who use Microsoft Teams, review their accessibility tools here.
Accessibility needs can often be invisible, so it’s best not to make assumptions. Having honest conversations with your teammates, program participants, and other collaborators about their specific needs in advance is always a good idea.
It’s also important to anticipate unarticulated needs and default to consistently facilitating the most accessible virtual meetings you can. This more proactive approach ensures your communications team will be better prepared to welcome even more diverse collaborators into the fold!
There will be lots of exciting opportunities to work together in-person in 2023, so we encourage you and your team to always provide a hybrid participation option to ensure virtually accessible meetings continue to help close the gaps in our collaborative processes.
Not only does accessibility generate better communications outcomes – it’s also the right thing to do. This new(er) normal may be exciting for many of us, and it’s important to continue dismantling the barriers that will always disadvantage the same voices time and time again.