Online meeting platforms can be a way to connect professionally and personally.
If you attended a meeting online during the last year, you are in the majority. A recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows 89% of the people responding to its questionnaire about online meetings say they attended at least one meeting online in the last 13 months.
As the pandemic continues, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other online video conferencing platforms will remain vital tools to stay connected and continue meeting at a distance.
Mandi Grys is a new Zoom user. The Wisconsin Rapids area woman has low vision and is finding the technology easy and very useful. As the Wisconsin Rapids Low Vision Group leader, Grys wanted to use Zoom to join the Council’s Low Vision Support Group from her home, and says she also needed to have the ability to virtually attend meetings she might otherwise miss.
“I figured out how to use Zoom on my own,” Grys says. “It’s pretty simple. All you do is download it, run the install and set up your account. Really, the hardest thing was waiting for the install to finish.”
The Council’s Access Technology Specialist Jim Denham says having the ability to meet online has become important for people who are blind or visually impaired. “Transportation is always an issue. So, meeting this way actually creates a much more accessible opportunity to be part of a discussion.”
If you are considering using an online meeting platform or want to make your next virtual meeting experience your best, we’ve gathered some tips to help you succeed.
Preparing for an Online Meeting
Finding a quiet space to keep interruptions at a minimum while you attend an online meeting is a key to success. Explore Access is a website resource of the University of Arkansas-Partners for Inclusive Communities and offers ideas to consider both the environment around you, and your role when attending a meeting. It also shares a reminder that not everyone attends an online or Zoom meeting in the same way. People with vision loss may be reading captions, using access technology, and some may be connecting by computer or tablet, while others are dialing in on a phone.
Grys recalls only feeling a little anxious the first time she used online video conferencing, but says, “I’ve found even if I’m using a screen reader or magnifier, it’s simple.”
What to do once you are set up:
- Test your microphone and camera prior to attending an online meeting. A mic and camera test can be considered the equivalent of looking in a mirror before attending a meeting in-person.
- Think about your background if attending an online meeting using video. Cameras see you but will also see other items in the space around you. You may even want to consider purchasing a divider which sits just behind your chair and blocks out other items in your room.
Starting an Online Meeting
Video and audio used together online can make it feel more like an in-person meeting for everyone involved. Stacy Kelly and Gaylen Kapperman with Northern Illinois University’s Visual Disabilities program describe Zoom as a great tool for traditional video conferencing by people with visual impairments.
How to get started on your online video platform:
- Turn on your camera, unless it is an audio only meeting. Even if you are blind or visually impaired and cannot see the other participants, they can still see that you are taking part in the meeting.
- It is acceptable to ask at the start of a meeting if you are in focus and in front of your camera. If you are sighted, don’t be afraid to speak up and tell an attendee who is blind or visually impaired that they need to move left or right to be in full view of the camera. A follow-up text or email is also something most people will appreciate. Denham, with the Council, has even asked other people in his home to look at where his camera is pointing prior to joining a meeting.
- Mute your microphone when you are not speaking during the meeting to ensure unexpected background sounds don’t accidentally interrupt your online meeting
If you are using access technology, such as JAWS or ZoomText, your computer will speak, so you may want to consider using a headset microphone during online meetings.
If you use your computer or laptop’s built-in speakers and microphone, other meeting participants will hear your speech output. This is distracting and could, potentially, reveal sensitive information you do not want to share. You can purchase a good quality headset microphone which connects directly to your computer for under $40. And a bonus, the headset microphone is often better quality than the built-in microphone on your computer. Your audio will sound great to the other online meeting participants.
Attending an Online Meeting
Introducing yourself by saying your name is a good way for people to get to know you, and it also makes it clear, you have something to share with those participating. The Explore Access website even suggests including a visual description of yourself for other people who are attending the meeting and are visually impaired. It can also be a nice icebreaker unless you are in a small online meeting where everyone already knows each other.
How to interact during a meeting:
- Raise your hand to actively take part in an online meeting. If you are using Zoom on a Windows computer, you can raise or lower your hand by using the Alt Y keys.
- Remember to unmute your mic before speaking. This can be accomplished quickly using Alt A on a Windows computer or by holding down the spacebar.
- Use the chat feature which allows you to ask a question or contribute to the conversation without speaking through your microphone. You can access chat easily on a Windows computer using the Alt H keys. This can be a great way to add to the meeting without interrupting the speaker.
- Leave verbal space for other meeting participants to add to the conversation. It’s a great way to bring other participants into the conversation by saying what you want to talk about, and then leaving some space for others to take the opportunity to add to your discussion or ask questions about it.
Finally, the biggest tip: don’t be afraid to try! Denham taught himself, and as the access technology specialist, he has taught others, too.
“So much of it is trial and error,” Denham says. “I’ve also asked others to help me place my camera or figure out technical difficulties. But again, whether you want to use it professionally or personally, the accessibility of these video platforms can’t be beat.”
Grys agrees. “There isn’t much you need to do to prepare to use Zoom. Take your time. It will be a breeze. If not, don’t be afraid to have someone help you.”
And even when the idea of social distancing during meetings starts to dissolve, online video platforms will not be going away. With these tips, you can jump in and learn to use virtual options with confidence.
Zoom accessibility keyboard shortcuts:
Using Zoom on a Windows computer
Alt V to turn video on or off
Alt A to mute or unmute your mic
Alt Y to raise or lower your hand
Alt H to turn the chat feature on or off
Using Zoom on a Mac computer
Command Shift V to turn video on or off
Command Shift A to mute or unmute your mic
Option Y to raise or lower your hand
Command Shift H to turn the chat feature on or off
- Access Technology training sessions offered by the Council. Find more on the Vision Services page of the Council’s website.
- Explore Access Website. Find tips for more inclusive Zoom meetings .
- Zoom accessibility frequently asked questions. Learn more .
- Comparing online video conferencing sites. Find information about several online sites, including Zoom, .
Vision Services Training
One-on-one sessions are available for people with low vision or blindness to learn how to accomplish daily using your computer, tablet and your phone. Request an appointment by contacting Amy Wurf directly at (608) 237-8107 or by email at AWurf@WCBlind.org or make an appointment .