Understanding disability and how to make daily experiences accessible are two things I strive to do. Fifteen percent of people around the world have a disability. At Cisco, some of our teammates are blind or partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing, have motor issues, or work around a cognitive disability like dyslexia or attention deficit. To make sure Cisco employees with disabilities can collaborate on equal footing with their coworkers, the Collaboration business unit design products like Webex and our IP phones with accessibility in mind.
I’m part of the regional IT User Experience/Client Experience team in Bangalore. I’m fully blind myself, and I work with the team of volunteers who beta test new releases of Webex to identify accessibility issues so they can be fixed before customers start using the software.
Tips for hosting more inclusive Webex meetings
We’ve come up with some practices for employees to make Webex meetings inclusive, sharing them on online forums. Some examples:
- Turn on Webex Assistant when hosting meetings. This allows attendees who want to turn on captioning to select that option or say out loud, “Okay Webex, turn on captions.” Webex translates speech to a different language in real-time. Language translation is helpful when a meeting is conducted in a language other than your native language. Participants can turn on captioning even if the host hasn’t turned on Webex Assistant.
- A major challenge for people with low vision or blindness is not being able to access content shared during a meeting. As a meeting host, you can send files directly to attendees by choosing ‘Transfer’ from the Webex File menu. After accepting the file transfer, the user can download and view the content while it is being shared.
- When you share your screen, describe images out loud. You might say, “This graph shows trends in Webex usage over three years, both in number of sessions and total minutes.” Then explain the main takeaways.
- To better engage with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, consider providing sign language interpreters if you’re hosting a large Webex meeting. But keep in mind that some deaf people don’t understand sign language or prefer captioning. Refer to this guide to understand more.
- Avoid flashing visual content especially if it blinks for 3 times per second. “Flashing” refers to content that can trigger a seizure.
- Inclusion goes both ways. We suggest that people with disabilities include themselves in the meeting as much as possible. For example, my Webex experience is the same whether or not I turn on video—but turning it on makes other participants feel more connected to me.
Everyone’s vote counts: inclusive interactive polls
Slido is a new Webex feature hosts can use to conduct interactive polls during Webex sessions. Participants might vote on a name for a marketing campaign, for example, or on how often team meetings should be held. Here are some tips for fully including people with disabilities in Slido polls:
- Give Webex participants the Slido alphanumeric session code, not just the QR code. Scanning a QR code with a smartphone is difficult for people with visual or motor disabilities.
- Design the poll so that people can select an answer instead of typing.
- Allow enough time to answer questions. Take a break from your presentation while people are answering the poll. Trying to focus on two activities at once is difficult for many people, especially those with certain cognitive disabilities.
- Use simple phrases for polling questions and answers.
Making people aware of accessibility features
When new employees with disabilities join Cisco, they’re given special hardware or software they might need, such as screen-reading software. (I use Jaws.) We teach them about Webex accessibility features during onboarding. For example, people with visual and motor disabilities can use Webex keyboard commands in place of menu commands, such as Control-M to mute and unmute and Ctrl-Alt-D to start and stop screen sharing. (Complete list of Webex keyboard shortcuts here.) People who are deaf or have hearing loss are shown how to turn on captioning and get a meeting transcription. Transcriptions also appeal to people with certain learning disabilities.
“I’d like to give a shout out to our team of volunteers for testing Webex to make sure it’s accessible to everyone,” says Willette Harris, Webex accessibility project manager. “They test on their own time, going beyond what’s required for their jobs. More inclusive meetings not only lead to better teamwork, but they also help our company design better products for our diverse customers.”
Virtual platforms have opened a lot of opportunities for everyone, but inclusion is the only way to reap the benefits of such powerful technology.
Karthik was one of 10 Cisco employees who received a Bridge Award, presented annually to employees who make a positive impact on people, society, and the planet.