The rise of work-from-anywhere jobs has made virtual meetings more common than ever. A boon for most employees, remote work has been especially beneficial for professionals with disabilities, due to its flexibility.
October is Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM), and a great time for your company to make new strides toward inclusion and accessibility.
For employers and managers looking to create a more inclusive and accessible team culture for employees living with disabilities, here are seven tips worth considering.
1. Implement Team Access Checks
In addition to ensuring professionals with disabilities have better access during virtual meetings, “access checks” reflect your team’s commitment to greater accessibility and inclusion, overall.
The Disabilities @ Work Senior Manager in Salesforce’s Office of Accessibility, Jessica Roth says an access check is a common practice on her team “to make sure that your video and audio are clear for everybody.”
This demonstration of respect further encourages colleagues to look for other ways they might be more inclusive throughout the workday. Ask: Do team members face any other barriers to participation? What accommodations can be made?
2. Be Flexible With Video & Audio Options
One of the greatest benefits remote work offers professionals with disabilities is flexibility. Your virtual meetings should further enhance that goal.
From an engagement perspective, expecting team members to keep their videos on is a foundational practice among distributed teams. However, that norm shouldn’t preclude you from maintaining a certain degree of optionality and accommodation, such as permitting colleagues to leave their videos off for accessibility reasons.
For instance, professionals with disabilities deserve the freedom to address health needs as they arise. This could be a coworker with a mental health disability experiencing a panic attack or elevated anxiety letting the team know they need to “turn off their camera for a moment,” for example, without drawing much attention to themselves. Or, it could be permitting a colleague with ADHD to leave their camera off if that helps them focus better on the task at hand.
3. Limit Chat Feature Use
Chat is a very popular feature for distributed teams. However, it can be very distracting or alienating for professionals who use assistive technology or screen readers.
Imagine the experience of a blind or d/Deaf teammate when you use chat. Some assistive technology has a hard time processing it and the video presenter’s audio at the same time. Oftentimes, the two will clash, making it difficult for the user to understand either.
If your team is going to use chat, be sure to consult disabled team members about what approaches will enhance the meeting and not exclude them from fully participating.
4. Describe What’s Happening on Screen
Especially helpful for blind or low-vision team members, try to keep annotations or visual presentations to a minimum. If you must rely on visual elements during a virtual meeting, be sure to articulate what’s happening on screen.
Describe the imagery, mathematical figures, graphs, and even what other colleagues are doing if relevant to the meeting. Be sure to state all the important information, much like when other stakeholders can only join the meeting via a phone call and are incapable of seeing your screen.
Visual presentations or annotations can be frustrating for people using screen readers due to the challenges involved with switching between presenter audio and visual presentation.
If you’re going to have visual elements during a virtual meeting, such as a PowerPoint presentation, try to get them to team members beforehand. This enables a review using assistive technology prior to your virtual meeting.
5. Invest in Real-Time Captioning or Relay Services
To accommodate d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing professionals, utilize a video conferencing technology that has real-time captioning during meetings. Fortunately, this feature is becoming more widespread in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, granting more disabled professionals greater accessibility.
If your company has the resources, investing in a relay service can further accommodate team members with disabilities by serving as a communication assistant. For instance, it can provide sign language interpreters during a virtual meeting, or a variety of other accommodations, to ensure communication remains strong between colleagues with disabilities and the rest of the team.
6. Record All Virtual Meetings
Whether a team member has to step away from a meeting for a moment to address a private need, or lives with a disability that makes virtual meetings a challenge, recordings can be a huge plus.
Not only does making a recording available afterward help those who couldn’t attend, but it gives team members an easy way to review it. This can be helpful for professionals with cognitive or learning disabilities who may benefit from slowing down the meeting speed or rewinding particular segments.
Access to a transcript generated at the end of the initial meeting further augments this experience, strengthening comprehension for colleagues who don’t process information auditorily as well as visually.
7. Foster a Culture of Inclusion & Accessibility
The norms your team cultivate go a long way in nurturing an atmosphere where all people feel a sense of belonging and are able to acquire the proper accommodations they need without stigmatization.
This includes creating space for people to feel comfortable asking for accommodations, knowing that norms have a strong ripple effect, something companies such as Salesforce have worked on for years.
“Everyone in the Office of Accessibility really cares about this stuff,” says Crystal Preston-Watson, a senior digital accessibility analyst at Salesforce. “They want to make products for all of our customers. There really is that focus and drive to make sure everyone can bring their full self to their job, and be able to do their job without any sort of hindrance or wondering why they can't access this or that.”
Make it the norm for people to ask team members to speak up when audio quality is poor, or review a slide, or describe what’s on screen. Additionally, you should make accessibility features during Zoom meetings the permanent default, and permit team members to opt out if they want.
By normalizing these practices, you demonstrate an eagerness to prioritize building experiences around accessibility rather than leave it an afterthought, benefitting both your employees and clients.
Alongside Fable, Morey Creative Studios, and Be My Eyes, Salesforce is a Founding Partner of InclusionHub, an online resource directory helping businesses prioritize digital inclusion and accessibility. Explore our crowd-sourced database for accessibility tools to enhance your virtual meetings and work culture.