People significantly increased their use of web conferencing software, like WebEx, in 2020. People who had never or rarely participated in online meetings or webinars suddenly found themselves in them frequently.
The change positively and negatively affected everyone, including people with disabilities. For people with disabilities that make it harder to leave their homes, using software like WebEx made participation in the workforce, education and public meetings easier. For people with sensory disabilities, using web conferencing software presented new challenges.
WebEx offers multiple products, including platforms designed for meetings, webinars, or training. This article discusses general ways to make your meetings, presentations and webinars accessible and specific WebEx features that can help you do that.
Best practices for webinar accessibility
If hosting a WebEx webinar, you can use multiple WebEx features to improve accessibility for people with many disabilities. When you set up the event, attach an agenda. Agendas are helpful for all people and especially beneficial for people with disabilities. Knowing the content in advance gives context cues to help people with various disabilities that can get in the way of comprehension. These context cues can help narrow down the possibilities when they struggle with understanding.
Also, attach any PowerPoints or handouts to the meeting in advance. This is beneficial for similar reasons to an agenda. It also allows people with visual disabilities to familiarize themselves with the content before the meeting. This is essential for people using a screen reader, as they cannot simultaneously listen to their screen reader and speakers. People who use zooming and magnification options might find using them while paying attention difficult. Always make sure you create accessible PowerPoints.
After the webinar, WebEx allows you to share an automatically generated transcript, a video recording or both. This is also a feature that many people with disabilities would find useful. They can review it if they need help understanding part of the presentation or conversation. However, if you are going to do this, be careful when discussing sensitive information and make sure everyone knows you are recording them.
Features for people with cognitive or learning disabilities
People with cognitive or learning disabilities benefit from limiting distractions. The host of a WebEx event can control many of the features that people might find distracting. For example, consider turning off the audio notifications that WebEx makes when a person enters or exits the room. Muting participants on entry can also help control background noise. Although participants can mute themselves, they may need to realize their background noise is distracting or help to figure out how to mute themselves.
Consider turning off the chat feature. There are many benefits to the chat feature, such as allowing people to make quick comments or ask questions without interrupting. Additionally, people with social anxiety may find using the chat feature less challenging than speaking.
However, someone might try to follow two conversations and not retain the information from either very well. This can be especially distracting to people with cognitive or learning disabilities. Using the Q&A feature lets you control who can see questions from audience members. This allows participants to ask questions without distracting others.
Features for people with blindness or low vision
The ability to control screen reader notifications is an essential WebEx accessibility tool. As noted above, the meeting host can turn off various notifications for all participants. Screen reader users can also individually turn off notifications. If other users ask questions in the chat, repeat the question when answering.
WebEx also has features that benefit people with low vision. If a participant shares their screen, others can zoom in on their content, and the app is compatible with some OS low vision features.
Options for people who are hard of hearing or deaf
WebEx offers several options for people with hearing disabilities. The host of a meeting can choose to enable automated closed captioning. However, the automated closed captioning will likely contain some errors. You could approach this in several ways. The host could have another person monitor the closed captioning for mistakes that might cause misunderstandings and have a plan for addressing them.
The first language of many Deaf people is American Sign Language. Many Deaf people feel more comfortable with ASL than closed captions. If a Deaf person asks for a sign language interpreter for your webinar, you can use built-in features to meet their request. Moving the interpreter to the stage allows users to see the presenter and/or the presentation and an ASL interpreter. You can customize the stage to find the layout that best meets your needs.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been using web conferencing software more. This has created new opportunities and new challenges for accessibility. If using WebEx, take advantage of the features discussed in this article to make your meetings more accessible.
While WebEx includes these features, you must ensure your participants know them. Share WebEx’s accessibility information in advance of a meeting or presentation. Be certain to provide contact information for participants who have questions.