As we are all now having virtual meetings/conferences, it is imperative that it is accessible and inclusive to all including people with disabilities. If these are not accessible, one will end of excluding 15 % population comprising of people with disabilities who could be students, potential candidates, employees, customers, clients for various services or even participant is a social and informal gathering, like a cousins meet/ reunion and so on.
Moreover, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 mandates non-discrimination and accessible and inclusive education for people with disabilities. The standards for ICT as given in the Act are as follows:
- website standards: Guidelines for Indian Government Websites (GIGW)
- documents to be placed on websites shall be in Electronic Publication (ePUB) or Optical Character Reader (OCR) based PDF format.
Given below are some recommendations for making these virtual interactions inclusive.
- Meetings/trainings conducted using online/video conferencing tools should be made accessible and inclusive keeping the following points in mind:
- Use an accessible web/video conferencing platform, which is accessible using assistive technologies like screen reader, magnifier and speech recognition software. Some of the features include accessibility of controls using the keyboard, switch, mouse and voice commands, possibility of magnification of text size in chat pane and the availability of the option of high contrast user elements to distinguish between options etc. Some platforms have provisions for auto live captions/transcriptions (which are about 80% accurate) which should be used. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams are platforms that are reasonably accessible with the option for auto captioning being present. Many other web conferencing products are also accessible. It is recommended that their accessibility features are checked before procuring the platform. There are also companies that provide remote live transcription services which can be hired for more accurate captioning based on the need and preference of the individual.
- Check in advance with all participants if they have any accessibility needs and provide these accordingly.
- A sign language interpreter should be provided if there is a deaf student who is a sign language user. It should be ensured that the window for the interpreter is not small and that there is enough light on the interpreter to ensure good visibility. Check with the deaf person if the signs are visible before starting the session. The Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) has made a Directory of ISL interpreters
- PPTs should be shared in advance with people with print disabilities (those with difficulty reading printed materials). The presenter should ensure that the information on the PPT be read aloud and the images/diagrams be described. Microsoft PPT (Office 365) has the option of subtitling/captions while presenting which can be used to make it accessible for people with hearing disabilities.
- Provide instructions pertaining to how participants can interact prior to the session. For example, one can insist that participants should be on mute when not speaking, only one person should speak at a time, questions can be asked by, say, raising one’s hand or posting it on chat box for all to see, and so on. There should also be an option to speak up/unmute for participants who may not be able to type in the chat box.
- Speakers should speak slowly and clearly to enable more accurate captioning. There should be adequate light on the speakers.
- Videos should have captions and audio descriptions. Transcripts should also be provided, which would help deafblind people.
- Assigning a person to add notes in simple text in chat box also helps people with deaf blindness and others who may have difficulty understanding complex language.
- Ensure adequate breaks between classes (get feedback from students regarding the breaks needed and plan the schedule accordingly).
- Allow people to keep their videos off, if they want to.
- Follow some good practices, such as state the topics that are going to be covered, highlight key points at regular intervals and also summarize at the end.
- Make the sessions as interactive as possible (for example, asking participants to share their views/comments on chat box, having sufficient time for discussions, doing a poll survey and displaying the result and so on).
- There should be recording of all lectures and it should be made available to students with captioning and transcripts.
- Take regular feedback from participants and improve accessibility of the sessions.
- All mailers/documents/worksheets should be made accessible as per standards and to this end, the following points should be kept in mind:
- Avoid scanned images. If there is no source text available, the images can be converted to searchable text using OCR. Adobe Acrobat Pro can be used to create accessible text and for fixing accessibility issues if any.
- Make documents accessible by using proper heading levels, alt text for images/diagrams/tables, meaningful hyperlinks, simple table structure, using numbered or bulleted lists, good color contrast, etc. Refer to the link which has information about making documents in Word, PPT and PDF accessible.
- Care should be taken to see that the file sizes are not too large so that downloads can happen quickly.
- All information regarding timetables/schedules, etc. should be sent through mail/WhatsApp/ SMS/voice, based on individual need. If any images are being shared, please add a description.
Extract from the Note developed by DEOC and JAF