How to be more inclusive when working online

Posted on Friday, January 15, 2021

Illustration showing a virtual meeting


As we increasingly rely on web-based tools to teach, learn and communicate, it is important to consider what challenges and systemic barriers these tools may present to participants. We must always aim to be as inclusive as possible in our communications – just as our audiences are diverse, so are their needs and abilities. Below are some tips to help make your online meetings and events more accessible and inclusive.

Don’t be afraid to ask your participants about their needs.

There could be simple adjustments you can make to ensure these needs are met. If participants need to register, always provide a phone number so that anyone unable to complete an online form has a way to register. Including a question relating to accessibility in your event sign-up can help you to plan for any necessary accommodations. Similarly, managing expectations is important – if a portion of your presentation will pose challenges for any users, you may wish to connect with these participants before or after to ensure they get all of the information they need from your presentation in an alternative, accessible way.

Always provide a phone number to join a virtual meeting, webinar or course, in addition to a URL.

This provides options for those who may otherwise have difficulty joining an online event. Similarly, when listing contacts for registration, troubleshooting or questions, always provide both an email and a phone number, wherever possible.

Provide your presentation slides, or supporting documents, in advance.

Offer participants the option to receive your slide deck or supporting documents by other means, including by email, fax or mail. This allows your participants to prepare and focus their efforts on participating. It can also provide a chance for any users with accessibility needs to contact you beforehand to ensure they can be accommodated.

Share some common keyboard shortcuts and/or dial-pad commands.

 

Zoom

MS Teams

 

Windows

Mac

Windows

Mac

Mute/unmute audio

Alt + A

Command + Shift + A

Crtl + Shift + M

Command + Shift + M

Turn video on/off

Alt + V

Command + Shift + V

Crtl + Shift + O

Command + Shift + O

When participating by telephone, you can select *6 mute and unmute in both Zoom and MS teams. In Zoom, *9 will also raise/lower your hand.

Consider using a good headset with a microphone, or a landline, to ensure high quality audio.

Always be sure to test your headset to ensure it is functioning properly with your chosen platform. If your internet or cellphone signal are not reliable, a landline is a great option for your audio. This will be especially helpful for any users who require clear audio for captioning while you are speaking. You can also remind participants to say their names each time they speak, so that all participants know who is talking.

Be descriptive in terms of what you are presenting.

Ensure you read the most important points out loud and do your best to describe any images or charts verbally.

Encourage participation beyond the chat box.

In addition to using chat functions, it is equally important to provide pauses that give those unable to type, or those not on a computer, the opportunity to unmute and speak. Consider reading all pertinent chats for those who cannot otherwise see them. If you are conducting any polls, allow for oral as well as written responses. Be mindful that for any users that require a screen reader, they may not be able to selectively mute any text posted in a chat box, which may be distracting if the chat box is very active. Make sure you’re not forcing mute for all participants as you will inadvertently silence all participants who cannot use the chat.

Depending on subject matter and confidentiality requirements, record your meetings or webinars where possible.

This allows your presentation to be viewed multiple times, and if necessary, captioned and/or translated.

Get to know the accessibility features of your chosen platform.

Conferencing platforms have some integrated accessibility features. Check online to see what features your platform of choice provides (including Zoom and MS Teams). Consider how these features may interact with user’s accessibility aids, like screen readers or captioning tools. If you know you have a participant with accessibility needs, ask them what works best. They will have had lots of experience in various platforms and features and can help you decide what is most helpful.

Finally, these tips should serve as a reminder to promote a welcoming and accessible culture. Our members and participants should always feel comfortable communicating their needs, and any questions or suggestions should be addressed with respect and understanding. Even if you know that everyone in a meeting or presentation does not require accessibility accommodations, it’s always a good idea to practice these principles to encourage inclusive behaviours.

If you have any additional resources to share, please share them with us by email, phone or mail. Contact Emma Dickinson at commsdfm@uottawa.ca / 613-899-2576 / 201-600 Peter Morand Crescent, Ottawa ON, K1G 5Z3.


Read more

Bergen A. How to make your virtual meetings accessible to all. 2020 May 1. Idealist. Available online at: https://www.idealist.org/en/careers/accessibility-virtual-meetings

Botterill S. How to host an accessible online meeting. 2020 June 8. AbilityNet. Available online at: https://abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/how-host-accessible-online-meeting 

Lasser M & Lineback JK. How to make your next virtual meeting more accessible. 2020 May 18. Deque. Available online at: https://www.deque.com/blog/virtual-meeting-accessible-zoom

Leary A. How to make your virtual meetings and events accessible to the disability community. 2020 April 13. Rooted in Rights. Available online at: https://rootedinrights.org/how-to-make-your-virtual-meetings-and-events-accessible-to-the-disability-community

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