Accessibility of Remote Meetings

W3C Editor's Draft

More details about this document
This version:
https://w3c.github.io/remote-meetings/
Latest published version:
https://www.w3.org/TR/remote-meetings/
Latest editor's draft:
https://w3c.github.io/remote-meetings/
History:
https://www.w3.org/standards/history/remote-meetings
Commit history
Editors:
Judy Brewer (W3C)
(Educational Testing Service)
Janina Sajka
(Pearson)
Feedback:
GitHub w3c/remote-meetings (pull requests, new issue, open issues)

Abstract

This document summarizes considerations of accessibility that arise in the conduct of remote and hybrid meetings. Such meetings are mediated, for some or all participants, by real-time communication software typically built upon Web technologies. Issues of software selection, and the roles of meeting hosts and participants in providing access are explained. Relevant W3C documents are referred to, where applicable, as sources of more detailed and in some instances normative guidance.

Whereas the RTC Accessibility User Requirements [raur] address the design of the underlying technologies and software, the present document examines the accessibility of remote and hybrid meetings from a larger perspective. It is recognized that the accessibility of a meeting experience to participants with disabilities depends on a variety of conditions, only some of which are ensured by the design of the software used. Further conditions need to be put in place as part of the process of organizing and conducting the meeting itself, including the appropriate application of features offered by the meeting software as well as the preparation and advance distribution of accessible supporting documents.

Status of This Document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at https://www.w3.org/TR/.

This is a draft document that provides accessibility guidance on the use of remote meeting platforms in particular scenarios. Given increased reliance on different forms of remote interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to ensure accessibility of all kinds of remote interactions for people with disabilities, and to rapidly work to improve accessibility support in these technologies.

This document looks at the different processes and audiences associated with remote and hybrid meetings. This includes procurement considerations, platform development considerations, the accessibility of materials used during meetings and the use of accessibility features during meetings by hosts and participants.

This document was published by the Accessible Platform Architectures Working Group as an Editor's Draft.

Publication as an Editor's Draft does not imply endorsement by W3C and its Members.

This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite this document as other than work in progress.

This document was produced by a group operating under the W3C Patent Policy. W3C maintains a public list of any patent disclosures made in connection with the deliverables of the group; that page also includes instructions for disclosing a patent. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) must disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

This document is governed by the 2 November 2021 W3C Process Document.

1. Definitions

For consistency and clarity, the following terms are used throughout this document, as defined here.

1.1 Remote meeting

Remote meeting is an umbrella term used to describe real-time discussions or presentations held between two or more parties online. Other related terms often used include virtual meetings, online meetings, online presentations, and video conferencing. Webinars can also be considered remote meetings, however the interaction between presenter and attendee may be restricted.

A remote meeting generally requires the use of an online meeting platform on an online device such as a computer, smartphone or digital assistant that allows participants to interact with each other. Typical features of remote meeting platforms include the use of audio communication via an online microphone or traditional telephone, video communication via an online camera, a chat feature for text-based communication and the ability to share content. This can include the sharing of a participant’s computer screen, the sharing of an on-screen presentation with media-rich content such as slides and videos, and the transferring of files. In addition, remote meeting platforms generally have the ability for participants to allocate a meeting host who controls the features that are available to other participants.

1.2 Types of remote meeting platforms

There are a number of different platform delivery types. These include, but are not limited to

Standalone client
This includes a specific web portal or app where the primary purpose is to provide a remote meeting. Examples include Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Cisco WebEx.
Conference or event platform
This platform provides remote meeting functionality alongside additional content such as the ability to register for a conference, view exhibitors and follow social media feeds.
Educational platform
This provides remote meeting functionality within a Learning Management System (LMS) for educational purposes such as the addition of a discussion board and learning materials. In these instances the standard remote meeting features are available for the real-time presentation aspects, with the extended functionality providing additional features designed to be an equivalent to a real-world experience.
Medical platform
The delivery of remote meeting functionality within a medical platform such as telehealth facilities or to assist with medical procedures.
XR platform
This is an immersive remote meeting platform where immersive XR environments are used as real-time, virtual meeting places.
Hybrid meeting
Hybrid meetings feature a combination of participants using remote meeting software combined with two or more people physically located in a meeting room.

2. Accessibility context

In broad terms, the accessibility requirements of standard remote meeting delivery rely on three distinct elements:

The accessibility challenges faced by people with disabilities participating in remote meetings will depend on how these three elements interact. An example that highlights the challenges across these three areas is the provision of captioned video. Suppose that a prerecorded video is to be played to meeting participants as part of a live presentation. In the case of the remote meeting platform, if captioned video playback is not implemented in the software then the tool fails the WCAG requirement. If the tool can support the playback of captioned video but the video itself does not have captions, the same accessibility issue occurs but for a different reason. Additionally, if both the meeting platform can support the display of captions, and the content contains captions, there is still the possibility that the host does not know how to enable the captions for viewing by all participants, leading to the accessibility issue occurring through yet another mechanism.

While the playback of captioned video highlights a consistent issue across all three elements, the barriers faced by people with disabilities will vary depending on the implementation of accessibility requirements and current limitations of remote meeting software. For example, interface elements for a remote meeting platform can be made operable for screen reader users, but content presented by screen sharing is unlikely to be available due to the way in which visual content is typically transferred as graphical data rather than in a form that can be readily processed by assistive technology. As such, specific guidance is needed for software developers, content producers and users respectively to ensure that best practice in remote meeting delivery is achieved. Hybrid meetings add another layer of complexity whereby audio, video and the distribution of meeting materials need to be accessible to all participants regardless of whether they are physically or remotely attending the meeting.

While W3C has applicable guidance across several standards and Notes relating to real-time communication and XR, it is this level of complexity that this document endeavours to address. In each instance, the level of responsibility for accessibility is different: for the remote meeting tool, guidance is required for developers of the platform. For presentation materials used during a remote meeting, the responsibility is with the content producer. If both of these elements cater effectively for people with disabilities, the final responsibility is with the host to ensure the accessibility features are enabled, or best efforts are made to ensure current limitations of the medium are overcome. In the case of hybrid meetings, there may be a shared responsibility between the online meeting host and the host of the physical meeting attendees.

For organisations considering these factors, there is also a need to explore appropriate procurement solutions. With the accessibility of remote meeting platforms varying considerably, it is an important consideration that accessibility criteria are prioritized when selecting a platform.

3. Meeting Platform Selection and Development

This section summarizes W3C guidance relevant to the selection and development of remote meeting software (i.e., meeting platforms) supporting users' access needs. Additional suggestions that extend beyond existing W3C guidance are also included.

3.1 Selecting an accessible remote meeting platform

Organizational roles associated with procurement will need carefully to examine the accessibility support and features in remote meeting software before committing to its purchase. The following guidance can help to identify which remote meeting platforms support accessibility requirements.

Persons responsible for procuring or selecting a platform on which to conduct remote meetings should

More generally, selecting an appropriate platform can be accomplished by reviewing the extent to which each of the available options supports the applicable standards identified in this document. The commitment of the chosen platform's developers to maintaining and enhancing accessibility-related aspects of the software is an important consideration in making a suitable choice.

The developers of remote meeting products may publish, or provide on request, an Accessibility Conformance Report based on the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) [vpat]. This report assesses the software with respect to public-sector procurement standards established in the European Union (EN 301 549 [en-301-549]) and in the United States (36 CFR Part 1194 [36-cfr-1194]), which in turn incorporate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, together with other accessibility requirements. Such information, if verified as accurate, provides an important basis for assessing the extent to which a remote meeting platform is likely to meet the accessibility-related needs of its users. Nevertheless, as noted elsewhere in this document, current technical accessibility standards do not fully address user needs associated with remote meeting applications. Therefore, additional evaluations are desirable to identify relevant features provided by remote meeting platforms that extend beyond what is required for conformance to technical accessibility standards, and which may not be documented in an Accessibility Conformance Report.

3.2 Creating accessible remote meeting software platforms

Software developers who create and maintain remote meeting software should ensure that accessibility features and support for accessible user interface elements are included in their products. W3C provides a number of accessibility resources that can assist along with other guidance in this section.

3.3 W3C guidance relevant to platform development and selection

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative contains three guidelines and two Notes that provide assistance to the creation of accessible remote meeting platforms. Such guidance can also serve as a basis for criteria with which to evaluate the accessibility of remote meeting platforms, thus facilitating platform selection as well as development. These W3C resources include standards relating to web content, user agents and authoring tools along with non-normative notes relating to real-time communication and XR accessibility

3.3.1 Relevance of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Guidance in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 [wcag21] standard applies to user interface elements in remote meeting software.

Live audio and video communications that take place among meeting participants are also subject to the Web content Accessibility Guidelines. These are the real-time communication components of the meeting. The following WCAG 2.1 success criteria provide support for accessibility of live audio and video:

  • Success Criterion 1.2.4: Captions (Live). This is applicable to real-time communication by meeting participants. The quality of captions is essential to effective communication. It should be noted that, at the time of writing, the use of automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology to generate captions typically does not yield sufficiently high quality without manual intervention to correct errors. Moreover, such correction is difficult to perform effectively in real time. In addition, live captioning can help people with cognitive disabilities by providing a transcript that can be reviewed as needed. Participants should be asked prior to the meeting if manual captioning is required.
  • Success criterion 1.2.9: Audio-only (Live). This success criterion specifies that a text transcript of live, audio-only content be provided. In a meeting. This could be achieved by transcribing the dialogue in real time. As with captions of videoconferences, automatic speech recognition will not yield sufficiently high quality captions for most settings.
  • For user interfaces presented live in a meeting via screen sharing: success criteria 1.4.1 (Use of color), 1.4.3 (text contrast), 1.4.6 (contrast - enhanced), 2.3.1 (three flashes or below threshold), 2.3.2 (three flashes) are applicable.
Note

Sign language interpretation greatly facilitates accessibility of meetings for sign language users. Sign language interpretation is a Level AAA requirement of WCAG 2.1 for prerecorded audio content only. However, sign language can be streamed into a videoconference window during a live videoconferencing session; this may need clarification in future versions of the Guidelines.

3.3.2 Relevance of the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines

The following success criteria are relevant to the design and implementation of meeting platforms.

  • 1.1.4 Facilitate Clear Display of Alternative Content for Time-based Media:

For recognized on-screen alternative content for time-based media (e.g. captions, sign language video), the following are all true: (Level A)

Don't obscure controls: Displaying time-based media alternatives doesn't obscure recognized controls for the primary time-based media.

Don't obscure primary media: The user can specify that displaying time-based media alternatives doesn't obscure the primary time-based media.

Note: Depending on the screen area available, the display of the primary time-based media (slides, documents, etc.) may need to be reduced in size to meet this requirement.

  • 1.1.5 Provide Configurable Alternative Content Defaults:

The user can specify which type(s) of alternative content to render by default for each type of non-text content, including time based media. (Level AA)

  • 1.1.6 Use Configurable Text for Time-based Media Captions:

For recognized on-screen alternative content for time-based media (e.g. captions, sign language video), the user can configure recognized text within time-based media alternatives (e.g. captions) in conformance with 1.4.1. (Level AA)

  • 1.1.7 Allow Resize and Reposition of Time-based Media Alternatives:

The user can configure recognized alternative content for time-based media (e.g. captions, sign language video) as follows: (Level AAA)

Resize: The user can resize alternative content for time-based media to at least 50% of the size of the top-level viewports.

Reposition: The user can reposition alternative content for time-based media to two or more of the following: above, below, to the right, to the left, and overlapping the primary time-based media.

Note 1: Depending on the screen area available, the display of the primary time-based media can need to be reduced in size or hidden to meet this requirement.

Note 2: Implementation can involve displaying alternative content for time-based media in a separate viewport, but this is not required.

Reference for 1.1.7

3.3.3 Relevance of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines

The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0 [atag20] offers normative guidance concerning the development of authoring tools that support the creation of content. This is relevant in the context of extended remote meeting platforms such as conference hubs and LMS platforms where remote functionality is an embedded function. People with disabilities will therefore need to be able to use the frontend and backend processes of these platforms (ATAG 2.0 Part A).

3.3.4 Relevance of the Real-Time Communication Accessibility User Requirements

Important considerations relating to the real-time communication development aspects of remote meeting platforms are addressed in greater detail in RTC Accessibility User Requirements [raur] (W3C Working Group Note). Notably, meeting platforms should include

  • Real-time Text (RTT) support, in which characters are sent to the other party to the communication almost as soon as they are entered, instead of waiting for an entire message to be composed before it is transmitted. This allows for a more immediate conversational exchange (e.g., participants can interrupt each other), and often proves to be a more effective communication method for people who are deaf or hard of hearing than an "instant message" style of textual communication.
  • Interoperability with relay services (allowing them to be brought into a conversation, as needed, to support communication, including provision of sign language interpretation).
  • Support for enabling the user to switch seamlessly between modes of interaction (voice, video, real-time text, sign language interpreting).
  • Support for an "instant message" style of communication in which the entire message is transmitted as a unit, rather than character-by-character. (This may be preferred, for example, by screen reader users.)
  • Minimum audio and video quality requirements. Such requirements, addressing issues of video frame rates, audio clarity, and synchronization of audio and video are identified in RTC Accessibility User Requirements [raur], with reference to applicable standards.

3.3.5 Relevance of the XR Accessibility User Requirements (XAUR)

Important considerations relating to the development of remote meeting platforms that make use of immersive environments are addressed in greater detail in the XR Accessibility User Requirements [xaur].

An example of where this guidance may be helpful is if a meeting were to take place entirely in virtual reality. XAUR can assist developers creating remote meeting platforms for this purpose to ensure people with disabilities can effectively participate.

3.4 Additional guidance for creating remote meeting platforms

In addition to existing W3C WAI guidance, meeting platform developers should

4. Creating accessible content for remote meetings

In order for remote meetings to be accessible, the content used within a meeting, such as presentation slides and reference documents, also need to be made accessible. Limitations of the remote meeting software may make it necessary to distribute these documents separately. The following sections provide W3C guidance on content preparation and other practical guidance.

4.1 W3C guidance relevant for accessible remote meetings

4.1.1 Relevance of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Any prepared content (e.g., documents, presentation slides, prerecorded multimedia) that is shared with or shown to meeting participants is subject to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Policies typically specify that documents, presentations and related materials should conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA.

Note

By ensuring that content intended to be presented during a meeting conforms to WCAG, the files can be made available directly to people with disabilities who use assistive technologies such as screen readers. It should be noted that screen sharing techniques, which transfer rasterized images of documents, do not support accessibility by screen reader users. Therefore, content intended for use or presentation at a meeting should be offered to meeting participants in its original file format or via a delivery mechanism that preserves its document structure and relationships in a way that is compatible with assistive technologies.

4.1.2 Relevance of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)

Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0 [atag20] offers normative guidance concerning the development of authoring tools that support the creation of content that meets WCAG accessibility requirements. ATAG 2.0 also specifies requirements for accessibility of the user interface of an authoring tool.

Although a meeting platform is not, in itself, an authoring tool, authoring tools are used to prepare materials such as presentations and documents for dissemination in remote meetings. These tools include document editing and file format conversion software. In addition, a meeting platform may be integrated with an authoring tool to enable the real-time, collaborative writing or editing of documents or other content during a meeting.

In summary, ATAG 2.0 is applicable as follows.

  • Authoring tools that partly or fully conform to ATAG 2.0 at any level of conformance are the preferred environment in which to create documents, presentations, multimedia and other materials disseminated to participants in remote meetings.
  • Authoring tools included in or associated with platforms used for remote meetings, such as real-time document editing environments that allow content to be created and edited collaboratively during a meeting, should conform to ATAG 2.0.
Note

Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 does not address the full range of accessibility issues associated with collaborative, real-time editing systems. Until appropriate guidance is developed, implementers of such tools should refer to the research literature on the accessibility of collaborative editors.

4.2 Additional guidance for preparing remote meeting content

5. Holding accessible remote meetings

The successful delivery of a remote meeting will require an awareness from the meeting host and participants as to what accessibility features are available and how to ensure they are available to all participants. Guidance for hosts and participants is provided as best practice.

In addition, the following Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) resources should be consulted as complements to this document.

5.1 Hosting accessible remote meetings

Hosts in remote meetings should

A more detailed elaboration of users' accessibility needs in these scenarios may be found in the RTC Accessibility User Requirements [raur], the main points of which are summarized in section 3.3.4 Relevance of the Real-Time Communication Accessibility User Requirements.

5.2 Participating in accessible remote meetings

Participants in remote meetings should

6. Holding accessible hybrid meetings

Hosts for hybrid meetings need to ensure that all participants can access all aspects of a meeting, regardless of whether they are physically present or joining remotely. Issues may include audio, video or content being only available to people attending in person or exclusively for people joining in remotely. The following guidance can help you ensure that your meeting is accessible to all.

Note

Accessible hybrid meetings have aspects in common with accessible in-person presentations. See [accessible-presentations] for an overview of the latter.

A. Resources

B. References

B.1 Informative references

[36-cfr-1194]
36 CFR Appendix C to Part 1194, Functional Performance Criteria and Technical Requirements. Legal Information Institute. URL: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/36/appendix-C_to_part_1194
[accessible-presentations]
How to Make Your Presentations Accessible to All. W3C Web accessibility Initiative (WAI). February 2021. URL: https://www.w3.org/WAI/teach-advocate/accessible-presentations/
[atag20]
Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0. Jan Richards; Jeanne F Spellman; Jutta Treviranus. W3C. 24 September 2015. W3C Recommendation. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/ATAG20/
[en-301-549]
EN 301 549 v3.2.1: Harmonised European Standard - Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services. CEN/CENELEC/ETSI. 2021-03. URL: https://www.etsi.org/deliver/etsi_en/301500_301599/301549/03.02.01_60/en_301549v030201p.pdf
[media-av]
Making Audio and Video Media Accessible. W3C web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). January 2021. URL: https://www.w3.org/WAI/media/av/
[raur]
RTC Accessibility User Requirements. Joshue O'Connor; Janina Sajka; Jason White; Michael Cooper. W3C. 25 May 2021. W3C Working Group Note. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/raur/
[saur]
Synchronization Accessibility User Requirements. Steve Noble; Jason White; Scott Hollier; Janina Sajka; Joshue O'Connor. W3C. 13 April 2022. W3C Working Group Note. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/saur/
[uaag20]
User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) 2.0. James Allan; Greg Lowney; Kimberly Patch; Jeanne F Spellman. W3C. 15 December 2015. W3C Working Group Note. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/UAAG20/
[vpat]
VPAT. Information Technology Industry Council. URL: https://www.itic.org/policy/accessibility/vpat
[wcag21]
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. Andrew Kirkpatrick; Joshue O'Connor; Alastair Campbell; Michael Cooper. W3C. 5 June 2018. W3C Recommendation. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/
[xaur]
XR Accessibility User Requirements. W3C. 16 Sept 2020. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/xaur/