Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are increasing in demand and popularity as more people work from home. Employers need easy and efficient ways to stay connected to their staff including those with visual impairments. Deciding which platform to use, which one has website accessibility and how to use that platform are critical questions to answer. The goal is to maintain an inclusive work environment, not disrupt work productivity and have a successful video conference meeting. When considering interaction via videoconferencing, use the following etiquette and technical tips to ease this process.
- Remove background noise. Turn off the radio or TV or go to a quiet room if you are sharing space at home. Communicate with family your schedule so that they can be mindful of noise.
- Show up early to the meeting. This should be typical with any meeting, webinar or video. However, when you're dialing into a video conference, it's especially important. Give yourself time for technical difficulties and setup based on the website accessibility. Use this time to double-check your audio and video settings so when the meeting starts you will be on time.
- Ask everyone to mute their mics when not speaking. This reduces unwanted background noise. Mics pick up all kinds of sounds including typing on your keyboard. If you are the host or moderator, you can control this feature and unmute speakers when appropriate. You can also use the chat or raise hand feature and ask for people to speak one at a time.
- Verbally explain visual cues or slides. Read out the content of each slide or describe images. Use keywords or a phrase rather than long blocks of text. If the group is small enough, ask everyone to introduce themselves. If you are sharing video content, ideally it is best practice to have an audio described version available. If you don’t have an AD version, then give a brief description of any visual elements which aren’t explained by the audio. Screensharing and live annotation will need a careful description as this will present significant access barriers to people with visual impairments. If sharing a website, give the link in the chat so that people can access it themselves to follow along with your description. Send documents you plan to share in advance to allow viewing with assistive technology.
- Wear work-appropriate clothing. Remember you are still working, so maintain a sense of professionalism at all times, including what you wear. Choose what is appropriate if the meeting were face-to-face, rather than virtual. Remember this is a videoconference and people can see you on the other end.
- Take your video call in a well-lit environment. Otherwise, your video could be grainy and unwatchable. Try to not mix natural lighting and office lighting unless your office bulbs are daylight white. Lighting from the sides will make faces look the best. The right light will make facial expressions clearer for everyone.
- Correctly frame the camera and look toward it. Make sure you frame your camera in a way that feels natural and allows you to look at the camera. Sit at eye level to the lens and try to position yourself so that it shows midsection up. Placing it too high leaves other participants staring down at you. Putting a camera too low can lead to unflattering and awkward angles. After framing the camera, remember to look at it or at least in that direction. Otherwise, it appears as if you're looking off and not paying attention. This will make you come across as more aloof and less professional. Looking into the camera lens is the equivalent of looking into the person's eyes, so mindfully practice doing so until you're comfortable.
- Establish a good internet connection. This is important for high video and audio quality. Sit closer to the Wi-Fi router or consider purchasing a Wi-Fi extender to improve your internet connection. If possible, use mobile 4G and 5G data versus a home Wi-Fi. The service tends to be better for video conferencing, but more expensive.
- Use an external microphone if possible. The audio output is much higher than built-in microphones found on a computer or mobile. Using an external microphone will improve the sound quality for everyone else on the call.
- Headphones and headsets improve the sound quality for everyone. If all call participants can use headphones, the better the experience. Many new headphones have a built-in microphone that makes your audio output clearer.
Applying these tips will ensure everyone has a successful video conference experience. Learning about the website accessibility of different platforms, how to use them and applying best practices will allow you and your employees to actively participate in the next meeting, call, webinar or chat.