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Are Your Video Calls Accessible for People with Hearing Loss?

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Video calls have become part of the regular rhythm of work for many of us in a post covid world. But do you know how to turn on automated captions, how to change the audio output for hearing aids or cochlear implants, or how to pin a BSL interpreter on a call?

RNID has created easy to use online guides for the three most common platforms – Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet – to make accessibility common practice in all workplaces.

Whatever platform you use, video calls have become the norm for many UK workers over the last two years. Today Zoom averages 300 million daily meeting participants, and the number of daily users of Microsoft Teams has almost doubled from 2020 to 2021.

For the 1 in 8 employees who are deaf or have hearing loss, video calls can present barriers – from colleagues talking over each other, to low lighting and distracting background noise. But there are built-in accessibility features which can make a big difference.

RNID’s guides outline what video-call hosts and participants can do to make meetings accessible. This includes how to turn on automatic captions or a transcription, how to add a notetaker or BSL interpreter to a call, and how to pin interpreters and other participants so they can be seen clearly. The guides also explore how participants can adjust settings on Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet to change the audio output for hearing aids or cochlear implants, or turn on noise cancellation.

Claire Lavery, Associate Director for Employment at RNID, said:

“1 in 8 employees in the UK are deaf or have hearing loss, and it’s vital employees and employers know how to use these accessibility features for video calls so that anyone with hearing loss can thrive at work and contribute fully to meetings.

“Our user guides clearly outline the accessibility features on Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom which will make your meetings inclusive for employees who are deaf or have hearing loss.

“We also recommend employers follow RNID’s tips for making meetings deaf aware, by speaking one at a time, muting yourself when you’re not speaking, and structuring your meetings clearly.”

The charity has worked closely with Microsoft to create their user guides. Michael Vermeersch, Accessibility Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft, said:

“Our mission is to empower everyone on the planet to achieve more and that includes the 12 million people in the UK who are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus. Key to this is to ensure that our technology is accessible, and we are grateful that RNID is highlighting where our technology is removing barriers for people with hearing loss.”

Gideon Hoffman, founder of 4D and trustee at RNID, said:

“As an adviser and business founder I regularly use video calls across multiple platforms to meet with clients, businesses and partners.

“As someone with severe hearing loss, captions are hugely helpful for me.  Even when I don't hear a word (sometimes because my seven-year-old has come to tell me something), I can always follow the conversation without needing to interrupt and distract others.

“Yet I find that often captions are not turned on by the meeting host, who is unaware of how helpful they can be. RNID’s online guides are a brilliant resource for businesses to make sure they know how – in just a few seconds – they can make their video calls more accessible, so that people with hearing loss can fully participate. I really encourage everyone to change their settings so they can be turned on all the time, so there is no need for others to ask.”

Stacey, 28 who lives in Barry and is deaf, said:

“Since March 2020, all of my work meetings have been held on Microsoft Teams. For any big meetings, I will book a speech-to-text reporter to provide a live transcript of the meeting for me to follow but, if it’s a 1-1 meeting, I can rely on the automated captions and lipreading. I always tell people to make sure that their face is well lit so that I can see them clearly and to ensure that there is no distracting background noise. It really helps!”

Michael, 51, from Kilrea in Northern Ireland, uses British Sign Language. He said:

“I really like using Zoom for meetings as it's very easy to pin an interpreter so that I can follow the meeting easily and contribute to the discussion. My manager always sends an agenda to me and my interpreter beforehand which is really helpful. And they make sure everyone in the meeting speaks one at a time so I can follow. It’s great for sharing live documents too, as I can see the interpreter and speaker and follow the document at the same time”

RNID’s free online guides to using accessibility features on video conferencing apps can be found on their website, alongside tips on how to make your meetings deaf aware.