Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), York Region District School Board (YRDSB or the Board) is required to make all web content accessible and “provide educational or training resources or materials in an accessible format that takes into account the accessibility needs due to a disability” (Ontario Regulation 191/11, s. 15).
All Board educators and employees who are hosting an online, remote or virtual video conferencing tool or meeting platform must ensure the virtual environment is accessible. Consider the following guidelines so that people with disabilities can access video conferencing in a meaningful way:
Proactively seek accommodation needs
Share materials in advance
Learn the accessibility features
Be an inclusive host
Request feedback from participants
A quick reference version of these guidelines are available as an Accessible Video Conferencing Checklist.
The PDF version of the Accessible Video Conferencing Guidelines are also available as an alternative format.
Seek accommodation needs without assumptions
Always ask all participants to communicate any accommodation needs before hosting an online learning or training session. Identifying accommodation needs ahead of time should be a regular practice for ensuring that your duty to accommodate can be appropriately met.
Never assume participants will not have any accommodations needs, even if you believe you know all the participants. Disabilities can be acquired, temporary or situational. It is important to remember that disabilities and the type of accommodations required for equitable participation can change over time.
Include an accommodation statement
Proactively identify accommodation needs by including an accommodation statement in any invitations, registration forms, and/or emails communications leading up to the virtual session. The following accommodation statement may be used as a template:
- "Please inform us if you have any accommodation needs regarding this [video conferencing session / virtual meeting]. We are committed to providing appropriate accommodations based on the Human Rights Code and consistent with the principles of dignity, individualization and inclusion."
Consult directly with the accommodation seeker
For any participant who makes an accommodation request, consult directly with that participant to provide the most appropriate accommodation in a way that respects their dignity, responds to their individualized need(s) and best promotes inclusion.
Follow the principles of accommodation
Throughout any accommodation process, be mindful of the three principles of the duty to accommodate:
Respect for Dignity. Accommodation must be provided in the way that best respects the dignity of the learner or participant;
Individualization. Each accommodation request must be considered based on the individual need(s), and not based on generalizing different types of disability; and
Integration and full participation. Online learning and training environments must be designed inclusively to allow the active participation of learners or participants with accommodation needs.
Distributing accessible information and materials (such as agendas or slide decks) to all participants in advance of the video conferencing session is an effective way to provide alternative formats. It is similar to providing printed work booklets or information packages at in-person sessions.
Sharing relevant materials in advance also gives participants the opportunity to:
- review session materials at their own pace,
- prepare any questions they may have in advance, and
- leave the session with take-away materials for future reference.
Under Policy/Program Memorandum No. 164 (PPM 164), synchronous learning platforms or video conferencing tools should include accessibility features.
Know and share the accessibility features
Accommodation needs can be supported by ensuring all learners and participants have access to accessibility features in your chosen video conferencing platform. Accessibility features include: live captions*, screen reader software, screen magnifications and keyboard navigation.
- *Did you know? Automatic live captions have improved in recent years, but still do not caption speech with 100% accuracy. It is a best practice to retain professional captioning services as well as sign language interpreters for video conferencing sessions.
Become familiar with the different accessibility features available when hosting a video conferencing session. Explain the key accessibility features to all participants at the beginning of each online session as a regular practice.
Offer a call-in option
A call-in phone number should be available for all participants as an alternative way to access the meeting or session. Some participants may have internet connectivity issues or may not be able to access the internet.
Explain web conferencing features and expectations for use
Accessible web conferencing requires inclusive and welcoming hosts. In addition to sharing the accessibility features, the host should clearly explain the expectations for the following general features:
Camera: Is it an expectation for participants to have their cameras turned on or off during the meeting?
Microphone (mic): Are you reminding all participants to keep their mic turned off unless they are speaking?
Chat window: Are you encouraging use of the chat feature during the session? Will you or someone else be actively monitoring the chat?
Closed captioning: Did you enable automatic live captions (for Zoom)? And notify participants that they are available as needed?
Raise hand: Do you want participants to use the “raise hand” feature?
Clarifying these features each time you host a video conferencing session is important because some participants may not be familiar with the features across different web conferencing platforms (e.g., Google Meet vs. Zoom).
Start with a visual self-introduction
Consider opening with a reflective or “visual self-introduction”. Not every participant may be able to view your screen. This can be due to vision loss, technical issues, or calling-in.
A visual self-introduction is an inclusive way to give a general idea of what is on your screen by sharing any of the following information:
- name (with personal pronouns),
- personal traits or physical features,
- social identity markers,
- attire (what is visible on screen),
- virtual background, and/or
- physical location.
A visual introduction can also be used together with a land acknowledgement to start a video conferencing event, meeting or session in a good way.
Display information purposefully and meaningfully
When sharing or presenting your screen during a video conferencing session, remember that not every participant may be able to view your screen.
Information displayed on your screen should have a clear purpose and should be accessible to all participants in a meaningful way. Describe any graphics or visual information that you share from your screen as a regular practice.
After an online learning or training session, provide the opportunity for participants to share feedback. Accessibility is a learning process, and asking for feedback is a way to evaluate your level of success with meeting accommodation needs and identify ways to improve moving forward.
Creating and asking participants to complete a Google Form is a simple way to collect and review feedback.