Accessibility and inclusion

Icon of two speech bubbles.

As we discussed earlier, accessibility and inclusion are key ways to ensure participation of all.

Low vision or blindness: The Zoom product supports common screen readers such as NVDA, JAWS, VoiceOver, and Android Talkback. Additionally, visual interfaces are designed with adequate colour contrast, size, and usage of colour to ensure clarity for users with various vision needs.

More importantly is for facilitators to ensure that the work they are doing has modifications for blind and low vision participants to be part of the online session. This can involve providing additional instructions and describing aspects of what is being shown. Alternate support could include designating a sighted person to call the low vision person on the phone. They describe what is going on to the low vision participant, which allows for them to participate in the videoconference while getting additional descriptive information on the phone.

Picture of 3 people in a zoom call with an ASL translator.

Deaf/Hard of hearing – This is where you might bring on ASL interpreters. Typically, there are two interpreters as they spell each other after 15 minutes, but sometimes the interpreter is OK doing the entire session. Participants can “pin” the interpreter so they always see them.

Another way is to use an automatic transcription service. I’ve used Otter.ai since it integrates with Zoom. Using machine learning, it can transcribe the conversation live. Usually, I post the web page where the transcription is being displayed in the chat.

Screen shot of Otter.ai in action.

Neuroatypical РInterestingly, online sessions can be OK for neuroatypical people provided there is not too much going on at once. However, some things to consider are: ensuring the instructions are not too quick or a description is not rushed. Taking it slow and steady is often good for everyone, and it helps people who are neuroatypical. This can help people with cognitive disabilities as well. Inviting people to turn off their camera if they would prefer is also helpful.

Being inclusive

Other forms of impairments, such as physical or motor control issues, are sometimes better with video because of the challenge of making it somewhere in person. Online sessions can provide people with these kinds of challenges an easier way to participate.

There are many invisible impairments, so check in with people prior to your online session with questions like, “Is there anything we can do in the session to make the environment more comfortable for you?” Issues that might need some adjustment may arise.

I’ve found this article helpful by Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler. She outlines 20 tips about how to make teaching more accessible. For our work, I found these tips the most relevant.

  1. Assume students have a wide range of technology skills and provide options for gaining the skills needed for course participation.
  2. Provide options for learning by presenting content in multiple ways (e.g., in a combination of text, video, audio, and/or image format).
  3. Provide options for communicating and collaborating that are accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities. 
  4. Provide options for demonstrating learning (e.g., different types of test items, portfolios, presentations, single-topic discussions).
  5. Address a wide range of language skills as you write content (e.g., spell acronyms, define terms, avoid or define jargon).
  6. Make instructions and expectations clear for activities, projects, discussion questions, and assigned reading. 
Picture of a man with his eyes closed, singing into a microphone.
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