Videoconferencing and Digital Accessibility at the University of Michigan

Updated: October 13, 2020

Comments, questions, or changes? Please contact accessibility@umich.edu.

Summary

Digital accessibility is the practice of ensuring that technologies that we use to work, teach, and learn are accessible for people with disabilities. People with disabilities may have different interaction strategies for engaging with different technology, and some people use assistive technology to interact with content. It is important that technologies we use can be used by people with and without disabilities, and that it is compatible with assistive technology.

Digital accessibility plays an important role in creating accessible events, meetings, classrooms, and conversations in videoconferencing tools, and in deciding which videoconferencing tool to use. This article discusses accessibility status and features in the various videoconferencing platforms to which U-M community members have access.

If you wish to provide the best accessibility available at this time, we recommend the following:

  • Zoom or Google Meet if auto captioning is desirable
    • Google Meet if auto captioning is desirable and live captioning (CART) is not needed, and you do not want a copy of the transcript
  • Zoom if CART or ASL is needed to accommodate D/deaf or hard of hearing individuals, individuals with auditory processing disabilities, or similar needs

To enable automated captioning in Zoom as a host, select Closed Caption, then choose "Enable Auto-Transcription". To view captions in Zoom, select the Closed Captioning button then select "Show Subtitle". You may also view "Full Transcript", which provides a version of the transcript which does automated speaker identification, and which can be scrolled through. "Subtitle settings" can be selected to adjust font size, chat font size, etc. Chat font size can be updated with by pressing Ctrl and + or Ctrl and -. If you have your window in a smaller format, you may need to select "More" to find the "Closed Caption" options. For more information on setting up automated captioning in Zoom, view the Zoom Live Transcription Guide. Please note: if you hire professional human-provided CART services to stream captioning in Zoom, you will need to disable automated live transcription and set the captioner as the caption provider (assign them to type captions). You cannot have automated captioning and professional captioning running at the same time. Enabling automated live transcription will overwrite a professional CART service provider's capability to caption the event, if you paid for a provider for your event.

To enable automated captioning in Google Meet, any user may select the "Turn on Captions" button. There is no way to save a copy of the transcript without third party add ons which have not been vetted for security or privacy.

The University of Michigan's Information Technology Services (ITS) has put together this Videoconferencing Tools Comparison Chart which includes information about autocaptioning, CART services, ASL support, and screen reader accessibility. The Live Captioning Matrix provides further comparison among the captioning options

Legal Compliance

Providing reasonable accommodations to faculty, staff, and students with disabilities is critical to the University’s mission of ensuring that all members of the University have an equitable opportunity to participate in, benefit from, and have access to the programs, services, and opportunities provided. The university has a legal responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. In addition, ensuring accessibility and providing reasonable accommodations helps to foster an environment of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

In order to ensure individuals are provided an opportunity to request accommodations, event organizers are encouraged to include appropriate language in all communications regarding the event. Some possible language includes: “Please let us know how we can ensure that this event is inclusive to you. What accommodations or access needs can we help facilitate?” Event organizers can then work with the individual to ensure any accommodations provided are individually tailored so to be effective. Also, it is important to note that, typically, cost alone is not an appropriate reason to deny an individual an accommodation. In other words, cutting costs by not providing accommodations is not appropriate.

If you have additional questions on the University’s legal responsibilities, please contact the University’s ADA Coordinator at institutional.equity@umich.edu.

Please note that while automated captions are a great way to increase accessibility of a meeting, they are not a substitute for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or live captioning (CART) provided by a live captioning provider. If an employee (faculty, staff, instructor, GSI), student, or guest with a disability requests live captioning or ASL for events, the unit leading the event is responsible for providing these services as a reasonable accommodation. Auto captioning is insufficient to meet this need, unless an individual specifically requests auto captions. However, units should make it clear to individuals with disabilities that they may request CART or ASL services if needed.

Accessibility Terminology for Videoconferencing

  • CART (Communication Access Realtime Transcription) involves a human typing a transcript in real time while someone is speaking or while a video is playing. Most Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and some individuals with visual processing disorders, require the level of accuracy that CART provides. The CART text usually appears in its own window.
  • Video captioning involves adding captions after a video has been completed. Although auto captioning can be an option, it usually needs to be cleaned up by hand to address any errors or missed material.
    • The term “closed captioning” is often used to refer to any type of video captioning. In practice, “closed captioning” refers to captioning that requires an opt-in, usually by clicking on a “CC” button, while “open captioning” is always visible.
  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation is required by some Deaf individuals for whom captioning is not an effective accommodation. As with CART, a separate window is used where an ASL interpreter signs what is being said in real time.
  • Auto captioning can be useful to hearing individuals who benefit from audio prompts, such as some people with learning disabilities and some people who speak English as an additional language. It can also be useful in situations where audio quality is not optimal. Depending on a number of factors, the accuracy may range from impressive to hilarious. Microphones can greatly improve audio quality and all speakers should be encouraged to use them.
  • Transcripts provide an asynchronous text version of audio. They are seldom a first choice, but may be useful when synchronous captioning is not available.
  • Keyboard accessibility is the capability for an application, system, or content to be navigated through and interacted with via keyboard alone. If the features of a videoconferencing system are keyboard accessible, they are also more likely to work with the touchscreens on mobile devices.
  • Screen reader accessible means that blind individuals can interact with the system to retrieve information and navigate all features--chat, buttons, hand raising, etc.

CART Implementation

If you enlist a third party CART provider, here are some common requests they may have in preparation for your meeting/event. This guide is not comprehensive, but is designed to provide assistance in meeting planning.

Many departments at the University of Michigan use Screenline Captioning LLC (reachable at lettyfox@wowway.com) for providing CART services. The U-M National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) has created a Shared ASL/CART Services spreadsheet which can be helpful for selecting a provider if Screenline is unable to meet your needs. Please note: if you hire professional human-provided CART services to stream captioning in Zoom, you will need to disable automated live transcription and set the captioner as the caption provider (assign them to type captions). You cannot have automated captioning and professional captioning running at the same time.

The following two links describe CART services.

To provide CART for your event:

  1. Find a CART service provider available at the time, and work with the provider to book the service. Try to provide at least a week’s notice; more if possible.
  2. Discuss technical requirements and event resources with the provider.
  3. Send the provider a document with as many details as possible ahead of the event, to help them pre-store unusual words or names in their typing vocabulary and to forecast any potential issues. This document should include:
    1. Event information (location, URL/password, date, time/time zone). If possible, link to the event website or provide other information describing or included in the event (e.g., flyer, emails, agenda, PowerPoints, videos)
      1. Note: when videos are used in a presentation, provide captions for the video in advance. It is best practice for a CART provider to let captions play, unless the captions are inaccurate.
    2. Names, titles, and additional information (e.g., speaker bio, organizer bio,title of presentation, etc.) of the hosts of the event
    3. information they will need to type--participant names (if known), technical terms, acronyms, terms of art, industry terms, group terms, jargon, etc.
    4. A description of how participation happens at the event (e.g., it is a meeting where anyone can talk, it is a meeting where people can raise their hand to talk, it is a panel, etc.)
    5. Any questions that are likely to be asked
    6. Any information about parts of the event that will be conducted in a language other than English.
  4. Consider asking the person requesting captions if they would be okay with sharing their name and email with the CART service provider. This can be helpful for checking for personal preferences in how to receive captions.
  5. You may need to set up a trial run-through with your CART service provider to debug any technical glitches. This is highly recommended if it is your first time setting up CART services for an event or if it is your first time using a specific service provider.
  6. Double-check/confirm event time with meeting hosts, support staff, and the CART provider.
  7. Always provide at least fifteen minutes before the event for CART set up. A CART service provider may request more time if it is the first time using a specific videoconferencing platform. A host of the event should be present to work with the CART provider.
  8. In the event of a no-show from CART or ASL provider, you may want to have an automated captioning tool available as a back-up.
  9. In Zoom, you will need to set a Participant to Type or provide a Third Party API key to your professional CART service provider. Please note: if you hire professional human-provided CART services to stream captioning in Zoom, you will need to disable automated live transcription and set the captioner as the caption provider (assign them to type captions). You cannot have automated captioning and professional captioning running at the same time. Enabling automated live transcription will overwrite a professional CART service provider's capability to caption the event, if you paid for a provider for your event.

Accessibility for individuals with physical or visual disabilities

U-M has provided write-ups on the current status of videoconferencing accessibility in various platforms, including workarounds for known issues. If you have any questions or comments about these documents, please contact accessibility@umich.edu.

Providing resources (e.g., speaker notes, copies of slide presentations) to participants in advance may be useful as an accommodation. Please consult this page on Alternate Formats and Access Copies.

We have found that Google Meet and Zoom offer the most competitive level of accessibility and the best accessibility features. While no videoconferencing tool is perfectly accessible, and it is important to take feedback from people with disabilities seriously, these two tools can be used to offer increased accessibility.

BlueJeans is a U-M supported videoconferencing tool, but at this time it has lower screen reader and keyboard accessibility and does not at this time support any auto captioning, CART, or ASL options.

If you must use a videoconferencing system other than Meet or Zoom and have accessibility concerns, please contact accessibility@umich.edu to discuss.

Meets

Pros

  • Works well with screen readers on all platforms.
  • Offers a mobile app for iOS and Android as well as a browser client for desktop which allows users to use their assistive technology and browser of choice.
  • Integrates well with Google Calendar, the primary scheduling application used and promoted at the university.

Cons

  • There is no option for real-time CART interpreting.
  • There is currently no way to save captions after a meeting.
  • There is no ASL interpreter support.

Zoom

Pros

  • Provisions are available for a CART transcriber to add captions as the meeting progresses.
  • Not tied to any calendar software. Zoom can interface with Google or Outlook as well as provide generic invite that can be copied to the clipboard and distributed in a manner most convenient.
  • Software usable by screen reader users with a few caveats in mind.
  • Allows the most number of users in a meeting of all the services.
  • U-M is testing an automated captioning feature in Zoom now that hosts of meetings may activate.

Cons

  • There are a few accessibility bugs with the Zoom desktop client such as screen reader users not being able to read the contents of the chat input box. The linked page provides work-arounds for all listed functions.
  • The Zoom client on Mac currently does not function properly if a Bluetooth braille display is added to VoiceOver’s preferences. Workarounds are to use the Zoom web client or remove the display from VoiceOver’s preferences during the meeting.

BlueJeans

Pros

  • Approved for HIPAA data.
  • Has been the supported videoconferencing client at the university for the longest, and is therefore likely best known and supported.
  • Has a web client that works very well for screen reader users.

Cons

  • All desktop and mobile versions currently have major accessibility bugs that would hamper or prevent individuals with disabilities from operating the software.
  • Has no captioning services.

Remember that accessibility is about being able to enter into and participate in a space. This section provides ideas on how to further improve the accessibility of your meetings.

  • It is a best practice to let attendees of meetings know what accessibility considerations you have taken to make a meeting accessible when sending out an invitation to a meeting. It is also a good practice to describe, in the opening of a videoconference, your accessibility features and how attendees can send feedback on the accessibility of a meeting.
  • Self-identification (stating your name every time you speak, e.g., “This is Phil speaking, and I think…”) allows CART services and some automated captioning tools to announce who is speaking each contribution, which makes it possible for individuals to follow the discussion. (Note that Meet automatically identifies the speakers in its auto captioning feature.)
  • The following practices are from our Remote Instruction guide. These individual practices help with accessibility participating in or hosting a meeting, discussion, or course.
  • Test your camera and microphone in advance.
  • Mute your microphone when you are not speaking in a remote meeting. This limits noise from typing or other background noise. Noise can also be eliminated and clarity greatly improved via the use of a headset microphone instead of a desktop model.
  • Limit cross talk during agenda items. It is important to speak one at a time so that individuals in the class can follow along.
  • Try to wait a few seconds after each speaker’s contribution before speaking again. This is particularly important in scenarios where live-captioning is used.
  • Speak clearly and slowly, as this will help those for which English is an additional language, those with hearing disabilities, and everyone else
  • Hold each other accountable to this standard.
  • Jill Rice (jillric) in the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) can provide information on services to Deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
  • Adrianna Andre (akandre), also in the SSD office, can help with provision and consultation on video captioning for students.
  • Melinda Kraft (makraft) oversees captioning for MiVideo.
  • Cindy Zielinski (czi) in MHealthy is responsible for arranging accommodations for faculty and staff, including accommodations for functions other than teaching (e.g., staff meetings, job interviews).
  • Stephanie Rosen (ssrosen) from the University Libraries has created a wonderful U-M Ann Arbor Library Live Captions in Online Meetings document.
  • The Accessibility Team (accessibility) is available to consult on possible work-arounds for accessibility issues not addressed in this document.
  • The University’s ADA and Digital Accessibility Coordinators are in the Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) and can be contacted at institutional.equity@umich.edu.

It is important to be aware of HIPAA requirements and methods of securing meetings when selecting a videoconferencing tool. ITS provides a videoconferencing page for the U-M community that includes a Videoconferencing Tool Comparison.

To learn more about securing meetings to select participants or against harmful trolls, please use the How to secure Zoom meetings guide from ITS. Using some of these practices is extremely important to provide a safe and secure experience to you and others. We do not recommend deactivating in-meeting chat as this decreases the accessibility of the experience and also impacts individuals who are experiencing connection issues.