Accessibility Strategies for Deaf / Hard of Hearing People in Remote Meetings

Catharine McNally
Mar 17, 2020 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post
The Brady Bunch Promo Screen

Like many of us in response to COVID-19, your home is now your office and/or classroom. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing like me, you may be scrambling to figure out the best way to communicate in this virtual space.

  • Will you be able to hear the speaker?
  • Follow along in a group meeting?
  • Present to your client with confidence?

Thankfully my colleagues at Phase2 and I already have a few years of remote-working under our belts. (We have a flexible work environment — some stay home, come into the office, or do a mix of both.) This means that we’ve had to balance a combination of virtual and in-person meetings — and I’ve had to advocate for strategies to ensure that my experience is accessible. Fortunately everyone was willing to collaborate and work with me. In the end, it became communication practices that we all can benefit from:

Turn your camera on

I’ve had cameras turned on in conference rooms with the main speakers at the farthest end of the room. I usually ask them to move up to the front so that I can see their face more easily. Don’t be shy about it, they usually are happy to do so! It shows that you’re engaged and interested in what they have to say.

Keeping your camera off is analogous to having your back to the group. However if you cannot turn on your camera, explain that up front. All will be forgiven (I promise!) and I won’t feel excluded. Rather, I’ll be appreciative that you thought to reach out.

Quality Acoustics

  • Use a quality headset with a microphone.
  • If your environment is prone to noise (such as from home-schooled kids), consider installing an app like Krisp that helps cancel out some of the background noise.
  • Know how to (quickly) hit the mute button. One bark from a dog is okay, a solid minute of barking is not.
  • If multiple people are in a conference room, ensure that the microphone has a good range to catch all speakers well. No speaker should sound too far away.

A noisy meeting environment increases listening processing (and fatigue) for us all, especially those with hearing loss, so let’s look out for each other and mute ourselves when we’re not talking. We’ll be less exhausted in the end.

Have an Agenda! Even if it’s 1 sentence.

Including the guest list of all who is invited to the meeting is important, so that I know who I can expect to hear from. Even if they are all in a room with one lead presenter, listing out who will be there is important to help prepare me for who else I can expect to hear from.

Clarifications

This really breaks the ice and creates the space to collaborate. The team gets comfortable with the candidness and understands this is a supportive space for everyone, not just me. They, too, feel welcome to raise any issues they may anticipate, such as a kid potentially running into the room during the call.

gif of the BBC News Video-Conference Interview with a child opening the door and marching into the room.
gif of the BBC News Video-Conference Interview with a child opening the door and marching into the room.
BBC News Interview 2017

Action Items

This is also my opportunity to state my responsibilities as I understood them, or to bring up those clarifying points if I didn’t have an opportunity to do so.

When we all do a round-robin of our action items, including mine, that gives me the confidence that I’ve captured everything appropriately.

Follow-Up: Written Action Items & Next Steps

To me this is a double-up on making sure I understood everything, am in the clear on my expected tasks, and have awareness of what others are responsible for as well.

Having confidence that these text notes or action items will be available frees me up to listen and pay attention to everyone on the call vs. trying to listen and write down notes at the same time which can be especially challenging for me as listening is not natural for me.

Have a #Slack Buddy

In advance of the meeting, I would reach out to this “buddy” to see if they’re able to support me in this way — and I usually go for someone who isn’t the leader of the meeting since their full focus is paramount. Just as their attention is equally important, I use this “help” tactic very sparingly to minimize distraction.

There are a host of collaboration tools that organizations use, but if your organization isn’t on one of those tools, you can use a Chat app like Google Chat, Skype Chat, or Apple Messages.

Use a #slack channel for Questions

  • The main speakers are in front of the room / camera
  • The microphone is not only on the key speaker, but also of adequate range to pick up other speakers
  • Seldom do people ask questions ‘during’ the presentations. Instead, they put their questions in the Slack channel, leading with the ? icon, for ease of visibility.
  • Then when it comes to Q&A, the questions are read aloud by one speaker, and then the answer follows. This is great because I can ‘see’ the question ahead of time and have the adequate context to follow the response. It would be incredibly difficult to field questions if asked verbally across multiple conference rooms and individuals video-conferencing in.

And it goes without saying, keep side conversations in that channel to a minimum. Because chatter can be really distracting for those trying to pay attention to the speaker(s).

Captioning

Any other tips?

Watch this space: I’ll be posting about the best ways to use the Wireless Accessories such as MiniMic+, TV Streamer, Roger Select, or Phone Clip (or similar) to ensure the best sound quality in meetings.

cmcnally

Catharine McNally ideas, insights, and analysis on tech and…

Catharine McNally

Written by

Accessibility Lead at Phase2 Technology. Cochlear implant recipient. Focused on mainstream digital experiences for all. www.phase2technology.com @cmcnally

cmcnally

cmcnally

Catharine McNally ideas, insights, and analysis on tech and accessibility.

Catharine McNally

Written by

Accessibility Lead at Phase2 Technology. Cochlear implant recipient. Focused on mainstream digital experiences for all. www.phase2technology.com @cmcnally

cmcnally

cmcnally

Catharine McNally ideas, insights, and analysis on tech and accessibility.

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