Accessibility Tips for Zoom and Other Virtual Programs

Screenshot of virtual platform of 12 screens. Request for video on for photo of all participants.
Universal Design in Virtual Programming

We have seen the world pivot to virtual events in lightning speed due to the global pandemic. From simple team meetings, to large conferences and international exchange programs, the world has gone virtual in order to stay connected and to continue moving forward. 

MIUSA has hosted many virtual events including meetings, webinars, international alumni gatherings and the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange's Joining Hands Virtual Symposium. MIUSA has reached out to virtual audiences of people with diverse disabilities to get input and feedback on improving access to full participation with virtual events. 

MIUSA is pleased to share recommendations and insights we have gained from our experiences with virtual programming, which can help make your next virtual event fully accessible to all persons, especially and including those with diverse disabilities. These recommendations are based on MIUSA's experience using the Zoom Meeting and Webinar platforms. 

Select an Accessible Virtual Platform:

  • Ensure the platform you’re using allows for computer-based audio listening/speaking and phone-based audio listening/speaking. On Zoom, this currently does not work for meetings that involve multiple spoken languages unfortunately. If users call-in by phone, they don’t have access to the interpretation.
  • Offer multiple ways for attendees to participate, including answering and submitting questions, and interacting with others.
  • Check compatibility with assistive technology (i.e. screen readers).
  • Verify the ability for attendees and others to direct chat messages to the host or to other assigned staff to request tech assistance or share comments.
  • Review any security/privacy issues. 
  • Research platform accessibility features. Share platform accessibility information with virtual attendees. (For example Zoom has a page which describes platform accessibility and key commands.)

Budget for these Common Disability-Related Accommodations.

Disability-Specific considerations.

Visual Disabilities:

  • Verbally describe visuals such as images/photos, videos, and what is occurring on screen. 
  • Enable audio description when showing videos on Netflix, YouTube or other services.
  • Plan for engagement, but limit overlapping activities such as allowing people to send chat messages during the presentation. Sometimes text to voice screen readers automatically read the messages in the chat box, which can create a distraction for attendees with visual disabilities.
  • Make sure all participants understand how to and can access the process for call-outs, polling, and other engagement activities.
  • Read out all chats or polling, such as "Looks like we have 40% no's and 60% yes's from the poll."
  • Ask people speaking to say their name every time they speak so captioners and attendees understand who is talking.
  • Provide alternative formats if needed (Word, accessible pdf, electronic format, send materials ahead of time, etc.).
  • Use a webinar platform that works with screen readers and allows attendees to control the interface with keyboard commands.

Hearing Disabilities:

  • Make sure audio is clear. Reduce background noise.
  • Have presenters/discussion leaders use a headset (if available).
  • Mute people who are not speaking.
  • Limit the number of people on screen at a time in order to make interpreters more visible.
  • Ask people speaking to say their name every time they speak, so captioners and attendees know who is talking. 
  • Organize a pre-event meeting with interpreters for preparation, event agenda review and test-run.
  • Ensure interpreters and deaf participants are visible to each other.
  • Ensure deaf attendees, deaf presenters, ASL interpreters, and the captioner can directly message event planners for any technology issues, such as not seeing the interpreter/deaf presenter.

Mobility Disabilities:     

  • Offer key command options for engagement.
  • Schedule breaks for longer meetings to enable movement and to lessen fatigue.
  • Be flexible with screen time. Do not require "video on" at all times.

Other Disabilities:

  • Use accessible plain language; avoid using jargon.
  • Provide a glossary of terms.
  • Leave time for information processing and sharing of questions.
  • Offer the option to have messages read aloud by the host or other support staff.
  • Do not use flashing or strobing animations such as virtual backgrounds.

This list is not all-encompassing, especially as virtual webinar platforms and our use of them continue to evolve. It is MIUSA’s strong recommendation that direct communication should be made with individual participants with disabilities to better understand any access needs they might have to fully participate. Below are a few recommendations for messaging and questions to ask in the registration process:

  • “We welcome people with disabilities. For questions about accessibility or to request a disability-related accommodation, please contact…”
  • “Disability-related accommodations available upon request. Please place your request by [date] to allow us time to arrange. We will make our best effort to accommodate requests made after this window.”

MIUSA will continue to add information and resources to this page.  In addition, MIUSA encourages people with disabilities to share feedback and/or additional recommendations for accessing virtual programming through contacting the clearinghouse [at] miusa.org (subject: Virtual%20events%20feedback) (National Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Exchange (NCDE))

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange is a project of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, designed to increase the participation of people with disabilities in international exchange between the United States and other countries, and is supported in its implementation by Mobility International USA.