Online meetings for the visually impaired

We talk about usability a lot, but what if you have trouble seeing what’s on the screen or can’t see it at all? Some vendors state that their solutions offer optimized usability for the visually impaired. That is all good and nice, but before verifying those claims, we took a step back to have a look at the big picture.

First of all we checked for how many potential users this issue poses a difficulty. According to USA today and the AFB (American Foundation for the Blind) there are 10 million visually impaired people living in the US, 1.3 million of whom are legally blind. Within that group you can further discern those who are most likely to ever use a web conferencing solution, i.e. the 2-3 million people who are working age. That makes 0,7% of the total US population.

Naturally, no matter how small that group is, they may not be disregarded. Accessibility policies vary from country to country, but most countries – including EU-countries – have adopted standards in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to establish a minimum level of accessibility.

Our testing team sees two options of making an online meeting accessible to the visually impaired. One option are screen readers or magnification devices. Regarding the screen readers we are not too sure how vendors would implement them, considering that during an online meeting screens are shared, and the reader would thus have to be able to recognize the content on another attendee’s desktop. The user interface could also be optimized as far as font and button size is concerned, or the arrangement of items together with colors.

So there really are many questions attached to this topic. It would be interesting for us to hear about experiences and usage scenarios. So if you have any info for us please let us know, since we are anxious to learn more on this topic.

2 comments

  1. We have developed a unique online discussion and decision making application which simulates a meeting without physically attending a meeting.

    The meeting can be progressively completed over a period of time. Invited attendees log in and participate as often as they wish, at their convenience.

    All communication associated with the meeting is emailed to all members which will allow the visually impaired to participate equally.

    We welcome any feedback or comments.

    Thanks, Bob Lorriman

  2. Hi Bob,

    thanks for submitting your feedback. Lorros isn't exactly what we define as an online meeting solution. For starters, a 'meeting' in Lorros could take place without any of the participants being online at the same time. This makes a direct exchange of ideas and feedback a bit difficult. The fact that every submittal is forwarded to everyone by email we find a bit overwhelming.

    Naturally, the fact that communication happens via email is beneficial to the visually impaired. The rest of the process, however, does not really have a meeting character but rather collects information submitted over a period of time.

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