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10 steps for making your meeting accessible

How to design your meeting and include everyone

Many talented, creative clients and colleagues have physical limitations, such as blindness or vision impairment, hearing loss or limited hand use or mobility. When you schedule a meeting, do you take potential disabilities into consideration? Accessibility considerations help people with disabilities overcome barriers they may experience in participating fully in your meeting. And, these same considerations can benefit others, especially remote attendees. For example, captioning is useful for people who must attend a meeting from a noisy environment such as an airport. The following list should help you design your meeting and include everyone.

Planning the meeting

  1. E-mails and meeting notices need to be accessible so that attendees with disabilities know about the meeting in the first place. You can make meeting invitations more usable for someone using assistive technology like a screen reader or magnifier by putting the call-in information in the main body of the invitation. Most calendar invitations use the "Subject" or "Where" field to enter the phone number. Sometimes the assistive technologies see only the first line and so the user will miss any information beyond that. It's helpful to also include the meeting information in the main part of the invitation so it is easily found by assistive technology.
  2. Whether you are inviting people to an in-person meeting, web conference, or teleconference, ask if any attendee needs special accommodations. For example, an attendee who is deaf or has hearing loss will need a sign-language interpreter, amplified listening devices, or a captioning service to caption the audio portion of the meeting. An attendee who is blind may request that the handouts and/or pre-meeting materials be accessible; the IBM Documentation Accessibility Checklist will help you do this. The important part is to know your audience and be prepared.
  3. If you are using a web site to register attendees, ensure the web site registration is accessible; the IBM Web Accessibility Checklist will help you do this. If you are setting up an on-line meeting, find out the hosting service’s accessibility features. If you have a choice between hosting services, select the one with the most accessibility features.
  4. For in-person meetings, ensure the meeting room, tables, workstations, restrooms, emergency escape, etc. are wheelchair accessible. Most public spaces in the United States conform to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, while public spaces in other countries must conform to similar regulations. However, it is wise to check.
  5. Make sure that if any attendees have a personal assistant, that you’ve counted them in seating and meal arrangements.
  6. Presentation charts should follow good accessible design, such as using large enough fonts and sufficient contrast. If documentation and/or presentation materials are being sent out before or after the meeting, follow the IBM Documentation Accessibility Checklist to ensure your materials are usable.

During the meeting

  1. For web conferences, it is useful to share the minutes in a separate window as they are being taken to communicate during the meeting. This is especially helpful for attendees who have vision or hearing impairments, or speak a second language. Best practices also recommend that the last 10 minutes of the e-meeting be reserved to review the minutes that have been taken.
  2. If you are hosting a webcast event (streaming audio and video presentations), make your audience aware of the accessibility features available from the webcast service.
  3. Attendees who are blind or who have low vision will need a description of any images, animations, and/or video presented during the meeting. This can be as simple as the presenter describing the visuals and announcing the page number of the current slide as if everyone is on the phone only and can't see the charts or video (This also proves useful for participants who really are on the phone only). Attendees who are deaf or have hearing loss will be accommodated by the sign-language interpreter, amplified listening devices, or captioning service that you planned for in Step 2.
    Note: If you plan to provide an audio replay after the meeting, arrange to make the text transcript available – this is useful for both deaf and blind participants to use as meeting notes and for reference.
  4. If your pre-meeting requests for special accommodations determined that some attendees need listening devices, have the instructor/presenter use the microphone, and repeat any attendee questions in the amplified system so that the persons using the assisted listening devices will hear all the discussion.

Additional references

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