Accessible Online Meeting Guidelines
Creating an accessible online meeting environment is essential for ensuring that everyone can participate fully and contribute to the conversation. In this guide, we will provide tips and best practices for creating an accessible online meeting experience that benefits all participants.
Before the meeting:
- Ask everyone about their access needs when inviting them to meetings. This will allow for necessary accommodations such as interpreters or captioning.
- Send the meeting agenda and papers in advance in an accessible format. This helps everyone understand what the meeting is about and they could prepare for it.
- Some neurodivergent colleagues may have different communication styles, such as preferring to communicate in writing or using visual aids. Encourage participants to use alternative communication styles and provide support and accommodations, such as allowing participants to submit questions or comments in writing before or after the meeting.
- Recognise that some neurodivergent colleagues may need to move or fidget during meetings to stay focused or reduce anxiety. Be flexible and allow for breaks during meetings if a neurodivergent colleague needs to stretch or take a walk. This can help them stay focused and engaged.
The role of the chair is paramount.
The chair should:
- Debrief every attendee on the recommended rules of the meeting at the start of the meeting.
- Explain what the meeting is for and make sure everyone has the agenda.
- Everyone should introduce themselves at the start (name and role).
- For participants with hearing impairment, this helps their support workers to communicate who said what.
- When having a meeting with external participants (outside of St Giles), this helps introduce the work that we do and our responsibilities.
- Give cues to manage speakers during the meeting, to avoid people talking over each other. Encourage participants to raise their virtual 'hand' when they would like to share something.
- Add a break of at least 10 minutes for long meetings. One break for every hour.
- Explain when you are moving from one agenda item to another. It helps if you can display the current item on a screen.
Recommended rules for all attendees, including the chair:
- Don't use the chat function on Microsoft Teams unless absolutely necessary. Especially, avoid having parallel conversations in the chat as it is distracting and makes it very difficult to follow what the speaker is saying. Use chat only to share documents or links.
- Some participants might feel more comfortable asking something in writing instead of verbalising it in a meeting. In this instance, they should be encouraged to use the chat function to ask their question/share their views. When this happens, the chair should read out loud what is posted in the chat so everyone in the meeting can follow the conversation.
- Mute your microphone when not speaking.
- Turn the sound OFF from your Microsoft Teams notifications when in a meeting and especially when taking a turn to speak.
- Speak slowly and clearly, repeating as needed.
- Give people time to respond when asking a question.
- Verbalise or indicate when you have finished talking.
- Verbalise or indicate when the call is finished.
- Verbalise or indicate when you cannot hear/understand others.
- Always use clear and concise language that is more likely to be understood by all attendees, regardless of their background or expertise in the subject matter. Avoid jargon and acronyms.
After the meeting:
- As soon as the meeting finishes, ask for feedback on how to improve meetings for everybody.
- Follow up with attendees who may have missed information or require further assistance.
Why do we need these accommodations?
- An overload of information (video, chat and audio) makes it difficult to understand what people are saying, leading to overwhelm and fatigue. Let's avoid that.
- For colleagues who are differently-abled, this might also pose a challenge for them to follow all the different types of information coming at them. For example, colleagues who need to lipread can't follow the conversation on chat while also paying attention to the speaker.
- Lack of an agenda or a chair not enforcing rules means that we do not know when to talk. This is especially difficult for neurodivergent participants who might feel anxious about contributing to the conversation or sudden changes in the meeting.