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Zoom video conferencing and accessibility

Published: December 7, 2021

Zoom was created in 2011 but it didn’t take off until its use during the pandemic – when it became the de facto video chat tool. There can be no doubt that it’s a powerful and valuable communication tool, however, it also has some major accessibility issues. In this short article I set out what some of those issues are and suggest ways to get around them – where possible.
For example, Zoom doesn’t always work well with screen reading software.

  • Users are not alerted to new chat activity. It can be difficult to copy and paste URLs from the chat. And the audio can cut out if the screen reader user switches between chat and video.
  • There are issues with screen sharing. The Share Screen function in Zoom is only screen-reader-accessible to the individual sharing their screen.
  • There are issues with closed captioning.
  • The Whiteboard function in Zoom is not accessible. Using the whiteboard is equivalent to posting an image to the screen – however, the image does not have a text description.

Chat functionality

If you are going to be using the chat function you can use a ‘chat wrangler’, i.e., a person who monitors the chat, tells the group of new messages, and reads them out. Or you can separate out the chat and use an accessible chat application instead of the one built-in to Zoom.

Any important information, such as links should be sent to participants by email after conclusion of the session.

Accessible chat applications :

Keyboard navigation issues with Zoom desktop application

The Whiteboard function in Zoom is not accessible to screen reader uses – as it is the equivalent to posting an image to the screen – but it is an image without a text description.

If you intend to use the whiteboard – be sure to make the whiteboard content available in an alternative accessible format.

If you are using the whiteboard – ensure you are keeping screen reader users up to speed with what you are doing and what you are writing on the board.

Share screen functionality

The Share Screen function in Zoom is only screen-reader-accessible to the individual sharing their screen. If the session is going to involved screen sharing then seek out an alternative to Zoom for the session. There is a list of the most accessible video chat software at, the Big Hack website.

The Polling tool

The Zoom polling tool also has accessibility issues for presenters and participants with some impairments (as reported on Yale University accessibility page). As with the chat example above, you could look at using a third-party tool instead. For example, Mentimeter have a polling tool; they write about inclusivity in their accessibility statement – which suggests that it’s accessible. However, I’ve never used it, so check it out first.

Survey tools are necessarily the same as online poll tools but they might be worth checking out to see if they suit your purposes. The University Of Washington’s has a review of online survey tools. And I see SurveyMonkey has information about how you can make their surveys accessible – so that may also be worth investigating.

Resources

COCo (the Centre for Community Organizations) – about the accessibility of Zoom
DLF Wiki page for access issues with zoom

Jim Byrne December 2021

Give me a phone if you would like me to test the accessibility of your website:

I provided feedback on the WCAG 2, have two decades of experience and worked with hundreds of organisations.

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