Whether you love them or hate them, the online meeting is the new normal for business, educational, and personal meetups. Zoom, Google Meet, Blackboard Collaborate, and social media video chats have helped us all survive the pandemic.
It doesn’t matter if you want to video chat with grandma over the holidays, you’ve been thrust into online teaching, you’re an executive of a large corporation, or you own a small business. If you’re the one running an online meeting or creating a webinar, it’s important to consider your audience.
Hearing loss is a common condition among older adults. Approximately 1 in 3 people between ages 65 and 74 have some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Aging. But hearing loss can also impact working-age adults, especially veterans; and some people are hesitant to reveal they are hard of hearing.
There are various signs of hearing loss, which can be amplified during online meetings:
- Often ask people to repeat what they are saying
- Struggle to follow conversations when two or more people are talking
- Have trouble hearing over the telephone
- Need to turn up the volume on phones or computer monitors
- Have a problem hearing because of background noise
- Think that others seem to mumble
- Appear confused, distracted, or lost by the conversation
- Reluctant to participate or speak up
Do you personally know everyone in attendance? If so, it will be easier to address any tech issues or special accommodations in advance. If not, you need to factor in various circumstances, including hearing loss, vision impairments, age, and cognitive function.
Online meetings are likely here to stay. Mastering technology is only the first step. It goes without saying that the online meeting should be password-protected, and you have security measures in place to prevent hackers and other unwanted disruptions.
Follow these tips to ensure your next online meeting runs smoothly and remains stress-free for you and the attendees.
- Make sure you meet accessibility requirements for your organization and audience. If possible, ask your attendees in advance if they need special accommodations. Or better yet, include accommodations without having attendees self-disclose.
- Be sure to check audio and video before and during the meeting.
- Have good lighting on your face, and encourage participants to do the same.
- Use a microphone. Headsets are best!
- Speak slowly and clearly!
- Sit close enough to the camera so someone could read your lips if needed.
- Make sure your background is quiet and ask attendees to mute their own microphones unless speaking.
- Establish participation guidelines so people aren’t interrupting or all talking at once.
- Ensure supporting visuals or slides are large enough to see and easy to read.
- Hire a captioner to deliver accurate, professional speech-to-text translation in real-time and for replay later.
Enhance Accessibility in an Online Meeting with Captions
People with hearing loss should not have to miss out on web-based trainings, conferences, or meetings. Captioning is another tool to enhance accessibility and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Work with your captioning service provider prior to the event to ensure the technology works. Every platform is different.
If you work for a large company or educational institution, or your business has funds to pay for a professional captioner, you can arrange for CART services if it’s requested. Even if it’s not requested, you will model good business practices around equity and inclusion.
As the moderator, you should make sure your participants feel comfortable. Be responsive to their needs before, during, and after the meeting. Encourage attendees to participate and speak up, especially if they didn’t hear something or need it repeated. Monitor any chat box requests or questions sent to the moderator. Some participants may be shy or embarrassed by their hearing loss.
Let your attendees know Speaker View is the best mode for speechreading. Hosts may spotlight speakers as well so attendees can see their faces up close and personal. Gallery View shows all participants, which still allows for good speechreading in small groups. As well, this is the easiest way to see if someone is using American Sign Language.
Finally, as the moderator, try to lead the conversation and participation by identifying who can speak next – or in what order. Just as you would in a face-to-face setting, encourage attendees to raise their hand, or create some other signal that they want to speak next.