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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training
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ADCET moves to Zoom

In 2019 ADCET webinars will now be using the Zoom platform with the aim of providing a better user experience and greater accessibility features. Hear from Andrew Downie, one of the ADCET staff and a screen reader user, about his experience using Zoom. 

Zoom into accessible conferencing

Introduction

Web-based conferencing has become a great way of people getting together for anything from a casual chinwag to a formal conference, regardless of their proximity or otherwise to each other.  Anything from simple text to a multimedia extravaganza can be presented.  Depending on the whim of the presenter, participants may be invited to write into a chat window or present questions and ideas verbally.

This article is written by a screen reader user who has a lengthy history of both participating in and presenting webinars.  Until recently, there have been major hurdles to clear in either role

Historical accessibility issues

There has been a proliferation of conferencing tools over the past little while.  As is so often the case, accessibility has not always been a high priority.  Most popular tools provide a varied but limited degree of accessibility.  The guilty will not be shamed here by a run down on their level of access.  Suffice to say that people who have various disabilities and who may rely on assistive technology have often been severely short changed. 

The ADCET Zoom webinar experience

ADCET has switched to the Zoom conferencing software this year.  In March I participated in the first webinar for the year on reasonable adjustment presented by Rick Boffa.  Sound quality was good, although this has usually not been an issue with other systems.  The big advances for a screen reader user were in other aspects of the conference.  I was able to read other people's questions and was in fact alerted when a new comment was posted.  I could submit my own comments and could choose to send to just the presenter or to all participants.

One major limitation in the past has been access to text on slides (screen readers cannot interpret graphics).  Unlike most other systems, getting to the relevant screen in Zoom was easy.  Because the information is sent as an image, it is then necessary to use the screen reader's OCR (optical character recognition) feature to read each slide.  Generally, text was easily recognised by the screen reader.

For those for whom audio is a challenge, Zoom supports live captions.  I did not attempt to read the captions during Rick's webinar, but have done so successfully in another webinar that uses Zoom.

As best as I can tell, Zoom is fully accessible via the keyboard.  Indeed, a vast number of keyboard shortcut commands is available.

The people at Zoom have put a lot of effort into making their software accessible.  In my experience, it is leaps and bounds ahead of competitors, whether one has a disability or not.

Written by: Andrew Downie