Insights: The importance of accessibility when using online meeting tools
Online meeting tools have been around for years and have been gaining traction in the business community to connect with customers and employees on a global scale. There are quite a few platforms to choose from, many of which are similar in functionality and features. These platforms should be a lifeline for people with disabilities, who may find it difficult to travel but are capable of working from home. However, across many platforms, the crucial feature of accessibility is often only partially developed or lacking entirely.
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When it comes to accessibility, we think that lived experience is often missing from the conversation. You may not hear from Insights too often but, when you do, it’ll be directly from the source, from the experts!
Accessibility and Security: The Most Important Considerations
“Honestly, if it’s not accessible, it doesn’t matter how secure it is. I want it to be secure, yes, but it MUST be accessible first.”
In choosing between security and accessibility, the overwhelming majority of respondents, said they would choose ease of use over security. These challenges may be different depending on a person’s disability (i.e, buttons must be labeled properly for screen readers to identify their function correctly, and colour contrast and font sizing options must be available for those with low vision). Those who are not disabled may not comprehend the challenges their colleagues with disabilities face when trying to access different platforms, or they may think these issues are not substantial barriers.
“I would like to have both provided, however this is not always the case. I sometimes have to sacrifice accessibility for my online security.”
In this age of sophisticated hacking and malware attacks, no one should feel that they must sacrifice security for any reason, and yet, many employees with disabilities face this difficult choice. We all want to be on an equal playing field with our colleagues. We want to participate fully in online meetings and webinars, and direct presentations seamlessly. If online meetings are accessible to us, we can be proud of our accomplishments and earn the respect of our colleagues.
“When I’m picking a platform to use, I generally don’t think about accessibility or security, I tend to just pick the product that seems to suit the need at the time. For example, if I want to watch a live stream, I know that my best option for doing that is probably going to be twitch and I watch it there versus finding another platform to watch the same content.”
The experiences within the disabled community are different for each one of us, and that’s why making a product accessible can be complicated. What one person might deem vitally important, someone else shrugs off with little thought. Some people enjoy finding workarounds to accessibility issues, while others may not be as tech savvy and need things to work right out of the box.
Zoom: Most Popular by Far
“Yes. I use it [Zoom] on a regular basis – despite the recent media coverage regarding it. I still find it to be one of the more accessible tools out there, and the development team actively works on any accessibility regressions found. This, to me, speaks volumes.”
A vast majority of respondents in our internal study (80%), use Zoom, and are generally content with how it performs and meets their needs. Even though Zoom has been featured in many headlines and news articles designed to scare readers with horror stories of ‘Zoom bombings’, users with disabilities are sticking with the platform because they are confident Zoom will address these problems as swiftly as they have done for accessibility-related issues in the past.
“Zoom is easy to install on any mobile device or computer. It works well with multiple screen readers. It has a friendly, non-confusing layout... The learning curve is very low, therefore, someone who is not familiar with technology would still be able to learn it relatively easily.”
Other Accessible Options
“Webex is a very accessible communication tool. The text in Webex is easy to see visually and works well when utilizing screen magnification software. The settings in Webex are intuitive and easy to figure out. The only challenge that I have found when using this communication tool is users have difficulty knowing when and how to mute or unmute their microphone during meetings. I would recommend the Webex product to any able-bodied colleague.”
“I would describe the accessibility of twitch as satisfactory for my needs. I haven’t come across any problems while navigating the website watching a stream or interacting with chat one of my favourite features of twitch is actually it’s night theme or dark mode it allows me to be able to see chat a lot easier than trying to read black text on a white background.”
Most of our respondents use Zoom, but apps like FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Webex, and Twitch are also used regularly. People appreciate that they have different options to choose from, and accessibility might not be as big of an issue if a meeting platform is used for recreation.
Barriers of Inaccessible Software
“Just live with it” may not be an option for people with disabilities, who are asked to use inaccessible meeting software. Instead, they may lose out on jobs or other opportunities if their accessibility needs aren’t taken seriously.
We all tend to generalize our assumption about a large group of people because we think it simplifies our understanding of them. Employers may not understand why something works for one employee with a disability and not for another. Even people who have the same disability can have very different experiences with accessibility. For example, two people who have partial vision may have vastly different experiences with contrast settings and font sizes. You can’t expect a single solution to work for all people with disabilities. We want to be recognized as individuals with unique abilities and approaches when it comes to accessibility.
Employees with disabilities may be able to attend a meeting but not fully participate if the meeting platform is inaccessible. This can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, inadequacy, and exclusion, which in turn can affect work performance, cause feelings of resentment towards employers and colleagues, and turn what should be a rewarding and fulfilling work experience into an emotional rollercoaster. Employees with disabilities tend to work harder and stay longer with a company than their able-bodied counterparts, but if the employee’s needs are brushed aside, they may feel trapped in a job with a company that doesn’t value them.
Difficulty of Switching
When users find a particular version of software that works really well for them, they may be hesitant to upgrade in case accessibility has been broken in the updated version. The fear of updating is real, and many people will consult with their peers who have taken the plunge and upgraded to see if there are any major bugs that might impact accessibility.
Due to security concerns, employers may be forced to switch from an accessible platform, to one that is partially or completely inaccessible. We’ve seen this happen with Zoom in recent months as schools, governments, and other organizations were absolutely forbidden to use Zoom and had to scramble to find alternative methods that would meet the company’s needs as a whole. Often this means that individual concerns can’t be addressed due to time and budget constraints, and accessibility is neglected.
If online meeting tools are made accessible, the result is a much more inclusive company for people with disabilities, as online meetings do not require travel, etc. Making fixes, or picking an accessible tool, can have an enormous impact on the employability and experience of people with disabilities.