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How to design accessible video conferencing tools

Dominik Berger
Dec 15, 2021 9:15:00 AM

With more companies incorporating video conferencing into their daily operations, ensuring everyone can connect online through video is a significant aspect. With the wrong tools, a person with disability may actually experience new barriers.

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is the industry benchmark that provides support for web users living with various levels of conditions.

Making a platform more accessible can assist not only users with physical, visual, photo-sensitive, auditory, or auditory impairments. But also people with temporary disabilities such as a broken arm or lost glasses or “situational limitations” such as language barriers, geographical position or poor network conditions.

By conforming to the WCAG, programmers can design video platforms that are easy to use and accessible. There are three levels of conformance:

  • Level A is the minimum level.
  • Level AA includes all Level A and AA requirements. Many organizations strive to meet Level AA.
  • Level AAA includes all the requirements.

How can developers create accessible video platforms?

Live captions and text transcripts are one of the main implementations developers can add in order to make their video tool more accessible. According to the WCAG, however, auto-generated captions are still considered quite unreliable, difficult to perform effectively in real-time. Already a limit below 90% accuracy can be a serious annoyance.

Resizing and repositioning media

The ability to resize and reposition different elements, from speakers’s windows, captions and other documents and notes can be a game changer in terms of accessibility.

In case of the presence of a real time sign language interpreter, video conferencing tools should give the chance to participants to resize and reposition their window. Allowing also the possibility to overlap the interpreter’s window. The screen-sharing function should also allow the opportunity to enhance the contrast and use of color. 

Mouse free

All while keeping in mind that users should be able to access all the video conferencing features without a mouse, only by using keyboard shortcuts.

Operating system

Considering the diversity of operating systems for which the remote meeting platform is supported. Not all access needs or assistive technologies are equally supported by each operating systems. Digital Samba provides a browser-based video engine solution, which makes us easy to use on every device.

What can hosts and participants do?

While conferencing tools are continually pushing towards new features, luckily there are some small steps that organizations can take in order to improve accessibility. Let’s have a look!

  • Make all documents available before the meeting. This action will ensure that all presentations, multimedia, and documents can be easily accessible and viewed separately. Since screen sharing can have its own limitations. On this note, it is important to keep in mind that employees should prepare their material to conform to the WCAG to aim and reach a level AA or beyond. Text contrast, use of color, and resizible should be taken into consideration.
  • Don’t use the auto-captions provided by Google Slides or PowerPoint. Unfortunately, this option transcribes only the presenter’s audio, excluding the conversation that might happen on the other participant’s end. 
  • Remind all participants to ensure that their faces, including their mouths, are visible and well-lit in the videoconferencing window. If necessary, provide alternatives like a sign language interpreter or real-time captioning.
  • Something small, but still effective for everyone: Request that all participants test their audio and video in advance of any meeting. 

The future of accessibility

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”  Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director

In the future, it is undeniable video conferencing tools and video engines will develop further into providing easier and more accessible platforms. Here is a list of the three key barriers to accessibility that video conferencing tools are focusing on. 

  1. Allowing settings to be saved and shared online with the community. Each user in the disability community could create settings profiles that are tailored for specific disabilities and share them with others who are less experienced.
  2. Better notification system within the platform. Make it easier for participants with visual impairments to understand who raised their hands, who’s turn it is in the queue, and which person has their camera/audio turned off or on.
  3. Improved interoperability. Often screen readers for chats and the voice of the speakers are overlapping, creating confusion. In the future, applications will be able to communicate with each other, improving the overall user experience and satisfaction.

Digital accessibility has underlined how important it is to approach online video conferencing in an inclusive way, ensuring everyone can connect through video and audio. With our video engine, we aim to improve accessibility support by engaging and empowering all types of collaboration.

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