Accessible Meetings Blueprint
“Let’s hop on a call!”
Five dreaded words that D/deaf, hard of hearing (hoh), and people with other auditory disabilities have to navigate multiple times a day at work.
You would be forgiven for thinking that you’re already having inclusive, accessible Zoom meetings if you’ve toggled captions on. That is, after all, the go-to “fix” for including people with hearing disabilities in professional settings that’s been promoted almost exclusively since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.
I hate to be the one to tell you that if you’re only toggling on Zoom captions and calling accessibility done, your D/deaf and hoh employees are probably very, very tired.
Before I delve into why captions aren’t the pinnacle of accessible meetings, I want to suggest an exercise that will give you a brief glimpse into the utility of Zoom captions. The next time you have a meeting and you fire up Zoom, turn the closed captions on and turn your computer volume all the way off. Now, try and follow along with the meeting relying solely on the captions. Then repeat that for every other meeting you have that day. At the end of the day, note how exhausted you are and how much you’d be dreading having to do it all again the next day.
You might be saying, wait, we went through a whole ordeal with IT to get captions on for Zoom and now you’re saying they’re not helpful? So allow me to clarify. Captions are helpful. Immensely so. But…captions aren’t all that’s required to make meetings accessible.
Imagine a meeting with 15 people, all talking in rapid fire with diverse accents, at varying volumes with mics and internet connectivity of varying quality. Zoom captions struggle to keep up with fast paced meetings, especially those with more than two or three people. Reading that many people speaking that quickly requires speed reading captions of questionable accuracy which detracts greatly from information retention. If we add lip reading in to the mix, which is necessary with auto-captions, and people not turning their cameras on (or looking elsewhere with their camera on) it becomes very easy to misunderstand or miss completely important information.
Speed reading, lip reading, trying to retain information and deduce what has been directed at you for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, multiple times per day leads to the most overwhelming mental exhaustion.
There are things you can do to help make meetings easier though, and they’re all easy to do if you take the time to plan for them. Even better, planning your meetings thoughtfully will serve everyone in the meeting.
Inclusive Meeting Planning
- Have an agenda containing all talking points available prior to the meeting for people to review. This way those of us who rely on captions and lip reading will have context for what we are looking for in the captions and lip reading.
- If you don’t think the meeting you’re planning needs an agenda because it’s going to be short or very casual, consider if a meeting is really the best way to convey the information. Remember not everyone benefits similarly from meetings.
- If action items are assigned to people, make note of them and send them to people after the meeting. This will provide clarity in case things have been missed or misunderstood.
- Stick to the agenda and save additional topics until all agenda items have been covered. Note any new talking points in text chat.
- If attendees are to provide feedback on meeting items, ask that they do so in a shared document prior to the meeting. Then have attendees review the shared document prior to the meeting. This way meeting time can be spent getting clarity on the feedback instead of gathering it and there’s less speed reading and lip reading that D/deaf and hoh attendees have to do.
- If meetings are to go on longer than 30 minutes, try to make some of it asynchronous. The attention required to follow captions, lip read, and absorb information simultaneously is not meant to be sustained for long periods of time.