A11y and Open are political – webinars & online events are too! – Ghizzi Dunlop
Robin Wall Kimmerer said,
‘Western science is knowledge for knowledge’s sake; Traditional Ecological Knowledge is knowledge coupled with responsibility for that knowledge.”
Substitute “Open” for “western science” and replace “Traditional Ecological” with “Accessible and Inclusive Open”. Accessibility is our collective responsibility for all Open praxis. To make Open innately open, accessible to all. This is my focus to practice, learn, collaborate and teach accessibility, inclusive design, universal design for learning. Open is essential to a socially just, inclusive and accessible pedagogy and research. By the nature of our current lived realities both Open and Accessibility are deeply political. Open cannot truly be Open without also being accessible for all humans. Humans are as diverse as they are numerous, so this is incredibly challenging. The challenges should not stop us trying though. So Open practice means by default accessible and fully Open to re-use, re-purpose and re-design. Processes by which we’ve built the vast human complex of knowledge, culture and questions. This is how I feel my way through the daily life of work, culture and home experiences. Hoping that what I receive, what I discover and what I create will be open to me as a deaf, neurodiverse, teacher, learning technologist, human. My working life and my personal interests have been massively benefitted by the progress of our Open and Accessibility drives. Yet it has taken a global pandemic to benefit from real change in behaviours, practices and technologies at scale. To participate in webinars and online meetings prior to COVID, usually for self-interest and CPD, was always a challenge. These were rarely captioned, even the recordings. At most there was some Chat functionality. I had to exploit this to attempt to follow and capture missed content. Sneakily using the Chat by raising questions to tease out what I’d missed. (FYI I still do that even with the ASR captions, as they’re often erroneous or I miss stuff because I’m looking at slide content!). Now our world has changed. We are dependent on technologies for learning and teaching, for webinars, asynchronous and hybrid collaborations and constant web meetings. We collaborate on documents in real time editing, whilst talking in a web chat and exhausting our poor technologies. We are constantly multi-tasking, firing all our neural cylinders simultaneously.
“For all the advances that have been made in recent decades, disabled people cannot yet participate in society ‘on an equal basis’ with others – and the pandemic has led to many protections being cruelly eroded.”
I am just one in nearly 8 billion people on this planet. I cannot fairly represent all disabled humans. Nor can I represent all deaf, neuro diverse or physically disabled. We are all different, with complex mixes of disabilities, capabilities and situations. Just know that people work a lot harder to access the same experiences, or to access in the same way or to contribute. It is all part of the invisible work. This is then magnified by intersectional challenges and barriers.
“In many ways, Daniels’ argument (re the invisible work of women 1987, A.K.Daniels) applies directly to the invisible work imposed on disabled people by an inaccessible world.” (ibid)
I do not miss the incessant, repeated, poorly organised and managed, in person meetings at work. Meetings I could not follow, had no confidence to contribute to. Because I could not be sure I had heard, or read the lips, face, body language right. Or could not get line of sight of the various speakers. All while trying to screen out the conversation in the hallway. The fan in the projector. The noise from the labs above or below and the lawnmowers grinding outside. I do not miss teaching in those rooms for the same reasons. When I was a student, lecture theatres were a torment and a trial. I know I was not alone in feeling that way. Online webinars, online learning courses and online meetings have been much better experiences. My workflows and productivity have improved tremendously. More importantly my confidence in engaging has increased and helped to manage the stress and anxiety. Not hearing what is said clearly when your work depends on it can be incredibly frustrating. It is why live captions and transcripts are so important for us all. You do not have to be deaf or neuro diverse to miss things. My partner has reported that many of his colleagues have found the return to office, aurally and cognitively challenging. They cannot focus, are easily distracted, finding noise levels painful and are socially awkward. They would rather be online for meetings because they are more productive, shorter and more efficient. They do not have to find a space or room to book and can wear their noise cancelling headsets. They are temporarily experiencing some of the features of Audio Processing Disorder, ADHD and Autism. I have had similar feedback from others. Hopefully this wide experience will improve awareness and help us all understand better how to work together in a diverse world. Also maybe decide to stick with things we have discovered work better. Rather than try to recreate an idealised past situation that suited far too few. Speaking on my own experience and thoughts about webinars in practice, they have benefits and challenges.
Benefits can include:
- CART captions and transcripts
- Pinning videos, shared screen
- Chat with live hyperlinks, emoji’s, @people, Channels or Teams
- Recordings saved in Meetings / Channels / Chats of Teams sessions or the OneDrive of recordee.
- Meeting Notes bundled with Recording & Transcript in one place post session. So much easier to find and keep track of,
- Sharing and collaborating
- Break out rooms
However, there are challenges.
- Autocraptions! Meryl Evans Deaf FAQs
- No two-way double pinning standard across tools yet for British Sign Language communications.
- No Audio description choice for captions
- Limited user control of their captions setting, where available
- Host and presenter errors in set up of sessions can cause serious access issues
- Hosts and presenters failing to introduce themselves and include a Visual description
- Limited to no keyboard navigation access, poor button/menu designs for motor skills
- Sharing and collaborating
- Break out rooms
Individual user choice and control over what and how we share or experience the sharing has been a massive boon. Sadly, sometimes this advantageous situation is denied by host choices over settings and sharing. I get terribly frustrated when Chat is not available. Though I recognise that Zoom Chat is a problem for Screen reader navigators, and this can be addressed by using the Q & A instead. But it’s not the same and I don’t understand why Zoom haven’t fixed it yet. Grrr! Microsoft Teams have just added the Q & A function to all meetings. I have not had it long enough to test with screen reader.As a regular attendee and very occasional presenter in Zoom I have to say I’m constantly frustrated by it. Possibly because we’re not institutional users of it at UWE. It crashes all the time when I try to use the captions and transcript, which is incredibly irritating! I angrily press report every time, but nothing changes! I also prefer the Teams Chat experience to the Zoom one, it seems to be better integrated in with the video, screen share, chat and overall GUI. Zoom also insists on saving all recordings on my computer, the poor thing grinds to halt! Until I go and find them and clear it out. I have not found a way to force it to default save them to my OneDrive instead. I am curious to know what it does with them when you access zoom on a mobile device? Is it not set to save? Thanks to all in the FutureTeacher live sessions Chat, who gave me guidance on how to do this! I was aware there would be a way to do this. I just had not had the time to find it! However, the point I am making is, I am not a daily user of this tool. As a learning technologist, yes, it is my job to learn new technologies. However, few of us now have the luxury to learn ‘All’ the available systems and tools to the depth that may once have been the case. If I cannot or do not have the time to access the full suite of Zoom functions and ‘how to’ guidance simply and easily, then neither will many other participants in your sessions. This is an issue for all of us with all the tools, in the new ways we work and share.
My personal top 7 tips for doing accessible webinars:
1. Prep and share a doc with all your links and references before, during and after session. My computer cannot cope with more than just Zoom open at once and I want to save all the links and references as I go. It is a feature of how I work and think, chaotic magpie. I use OneTab (extension Chrome, FireFox, Edge) to create browser list collections of related resources. These eventually get sorted and refined down for OneDrive folders by topics of interest or use.
2. Do not limit or restrict what participants can do to engage. Make your webinars open and interactive. Allow participants to set their own preferences about how they engage. Whether to share video, use audio, use Chat and emoji’s etc. Help them to do this by giving clear ‘how to’ guidance before and during session. E.g. How to pin video, shared protocols for Chat such as @naming, Q before a question, sharing links practice over text rather than full urls etc, using emoji’s at the end of text not the start and so on.
3. Keep it simple. We are all doing so much online all the time, Zoom fatigue is a real challenge. Cognitive load of busy, time pressured webinar content and processes can be overwhelming.
4. Mono vs Stereo audio output settings. Although some webinar tools allow you to set Stereo audio output for a session, Zoom for example, unless you are sharing music and know your audience have no hearing impairments or cognitive processing issues, please don’t do this. Not without checking with your audience. Mono audio is more accessible for those of us with challenges capturing and processing speech.
5. Occam’s razor. Using Breakout rooms. Ah breakout rooms. In theory a brilliant collaborative experience, in practice all too often a challenging, time pressured, confusing waste of time for all involved. These need to be well planned for, tested beforehand, your participants need clear, simple guidance before, once in the space and to avoid the introductions using up all their time! Granted the last is less of an issue in regular teaching classes. Some of the practices we use for Face-to-Face classes work even better in an online context a can be well adapted for hybrid too. Think Liberating Structures and Liberated virtual meetings. So, ask yourself when planning, what am I using these for, what do I hope participants will generate or get from it, how will they contribute to it and after it, is this the way to achieve that.
6. Bandwidth and hardware. Many of us have struggled through webinars where the demands on our technology have outstripped its capabilities. If you can, switch off unnecessary video streams, make sure you have closed all other programs on your device. If you have multi screens and are neurodiverse, like me, I find disconnecting extra monitors can help me focus on the session and the more complex webinar tools (Zoom). Try to use a computer rather than a smart device for ease of access and to facilitate using your assistive tech if you have any. I use Google’s free Chrome based captioning tool to access autocraptions for Collaborate for instance. You can find these by going to Chrome, select 3 dot menu top right > Settings > Advanced > Accessibility > Live caption. This will work for all browser-based audio/video content you access through Chrome, and you can customise the captions to suit your preference. You only need to set this once! It should then pop up whenever you open a browser tab containing video/audio content.
7. Is a webinar a standalone event? Webinars are often a focal point in a matrix of experiences for learning, sharing, collaborating. This needs serious consideration when planning your session. When does the webinar start and stop? For me a good webinar starts well before I hit Join session and continues long past Leave session. This can take the form of formal structures in institutional and programme provision. e.g.Teams, Blackboard etc. And or social media discourse and conversations hashtag’s, Twitter or Teams communities like the JISC accessibility community. There are other tips on webinars and meeting practices, these are the most important to me. I do recommend reading Meryl Evans 6 ways to make your Online Video Meetings Accessible.
I do have a wish list for more accessible webinars and would love to know what others wish for!
1. I want individual user control over caption formatting (text font, size and colour, number of lines, position, scroll up or ticker tape and background). Teams at least allows me to have both captions and Transcript and Chat open all in same ‘Window’ as videos/screenshare. This makes it much easier to follow everything for me. Zoom opens them all in separate windows. As I work with three computer screens this makes managing them all, horribly messy and I regularly lose a critical window. It also means the one window with captions fixed to it, often disappears and I then have no clue what is going on. If it’s going to have multiple windows the captions should display on all of them when CC’s on.
2. I want the same individual control over Chat text. Text Chat in different tools is a varied experience. But contrast, font size and colour can be a real readability issue for many of us.
3. Access to text Chat is not equitable in most webinar tools when you’re not a member of the host institution. In some circumstances with some webinar tools all participants are not equal in access to Chat! This really needs sorting out asap!
4. It is shaping up, but full two-way access to video streaming. With pinning for non-speaking audio sign interpretation and presenting, Makaton etc. I would really like to see better support for sign first language presenters and participant communities and mixed presentation opportunities.
5. I want equal experience across Operating System and device types. How, when and where we engage with whatever device or operating system, the experience should be equal. With the ability to personalise and customise to preference, being universal.
6. Disabled representation in development, design and use of the technology. To have a hope of achieving much of this, I want to see more Disabled representation in development, design and use of the tech.
Whilst we consider how the technologies and changing practices have benefitted us all (some more than others of course). We should also consider the risks of further disabling people by requiring their use. Bringing us back full circle to the problems of diverse needs and processes.I wonder how many more injured spines, carpal tunnel, hearing, speech and visual impairments, ND stimming, meltdown events or anxiety, stress and mental crises will we create. Are we creating a more disabling environment? More technological capabilities introduce more potential barriers and exclusion of diverse groups. Whether economic inequality, disability, education, cultural, age etc. Think XR and Ais are we simply developing the next plague of inaccessible, exclusionary technologies for working and learning? Or will it be a tech accessibility utopia?I would settle for ordinary everyday equality of access, experience and opportunity.
Patience in the face of inaccessibility is a waste of time.
Patience in the face of a denial of accommodation is a waste of time.
Patience in the face of ableism is a waste of time.
A disabled person’s time is as precious as the time of nondisabled people.
— Gregory Mansfield (@GHMansfield) October 9, 2021
Thank you Gregory Mansfield on Twitter, this shouldn’t need to be a political statement.
This post is adapted from a Future Teacher Talks session on The Wonderful World of Webinars – Inclusive Webinars. Which I ran out of time for giving in full. One, because I didn’t organise and plan well enough. Two because I forgot I wouldn’t be able to hear the warning bells and voices as I spoke! 😉 Lessons learned until the next time! So, these link to the full recording (Closed Captioned), slides and transcript. The recording is open shared from YouTube and is set for re use as samples.