Tips to deliver successful, accessible and functional webinars for the Deafblind community using Zoom

By: Carolina Cohoon

People all across the world have turned to virtual platforms to conduct everything from quick meetings to in-depth webinars. Virtual platforms like Zoom have meant that individuals and organizations alike have been able to reach more and more people – including members of the Deafblind community.

Before you get started on planning your accessible webinar, there are a few things to consider to ensure that you can deliver a successful, accessible and functional webinar.

Know your audience

Understanding your audience as much as possible is vital to the success of any presentation or webinar. This includes both presenters and Deafblind participants. Start out by finding out about their communication needs and any accommodations required before the webinar.

Contact guest speakers beforehand

Set up a time to contact the guest speaker(s) prior to the event to answer any questions. In some cases, you might offer coaching as some guest speakers may not be familiar with the pace of the presentation or to offer descriptions for visuals.

Schedule training in advance

Schedule training on the Zoom platform for all stakeholders (from staff to guest speakers to participants) prior to the webinar. Set up rules for forwarded invitations to make sure everyone is comfortable with the platform before the webinar.

Plan to include extra time

When interpreters are present, it is important to ensure that you schedule extra time for preparation. Presentations should be between 30 mins and 45 mins long to allow questions, as well a five to ten-minute break for staff who are interpreting.

Provide presenters with context

If you have other sessions running, it’s good practice to invite presenters to one of the sessions being delivered to provide them with an overview of how these sessions or webinars are organized.

Follow up

Don’t forget to follow up with each presenter after the session. Remember to thank them and request feedback regarding their experience for evaluations.

Remember accessible keyboard shortcuts

If a presenter is blind or Deafblind, take a few minutes before the presentation to get to know the accessible keyboard shortcuts for both mobile and desktop or laptop access. That way you’ll be already to assist with any cues or questions that might come up!

Take a roll call

When the webinar initiates, take attendance! Identify the Deafblind clients and their intervenors who are voicing their questions. Make sure to also identify Deaf Intervenors, ASL Interpreters and their roles, and any Deafblind clients if attending the event without an Intervenor. Once every communicator is identified, ensure clients “pin” the Interpreter or Presenter on Zoom.

Presenter’s tip: If you are broadcasting, the highlight feature of Zoom is a great way to watch the Interpreter or Presenter. However, make sure that all stakeholders agree on viewing one person only before you use the highlight feature.

Assign a co-host

When you create recordings, make sure to assign a Co-Host to record on the cloud server. This will ensure you obtain an audio transcript (keep in mind this might require some editing.) Remember the audio recording on the cloud only captures sounds and voice – not visuals.

To obtain ASL recordings – select record on the computer to get a custom recording of your screen view. If you pin an interpreter, you will obtain an American Sign Language (ASL) recording with the person you pin when using the gallery view. If you are using the speaker’s view on Zoom you will have an ASL recording with everyone participating including voice or sign.

Make sure to read housekeeping rules before you start. For example, you can mention that “for accessibility purposes, we are limiting the number of people on the screen to the following individuals: guest speaker + interpreter(s), unless a question or comment requires a participant to use video. There is a tool in Zoom that allows only to view participants whose video is on. This setting is located under video settings (select hide non-video participants to activate.)

Keep it natural – tips for your guest speakers

Make sure to remind guest speakers to deliver the presentation in natural tone and pitch. Smiles can be felt and heard. Invite them to limit PowerPoints and inspire participants with their tone. Remind your guest speakers of the importance of descriptive language. You should be describing all PowerPoints, objects, movements for inclusive experience.

Keep your instructions clear and concise

When creating invitations, make instructions clear and very concise. Provide participants with a direct link to the event, and common trouble shooting questions like how to pin an interpreter or guest speaker. Ensure you have documentation with clear instructions on various operating systems, including computer shortcuts.

When in doubt, moderate!

Moderators monitor the chat and signers. They should also provide any relevant preparation material and the speaker’s biographies 48 hours prior to the event.

They will also monitor breaks, speaking turns, interruptions due to technology barriers, and provide support with PowerPoint presentations. We recommend limiting the use of PowerPoints as it poses a barrier for some participants due to the various degrees of sight loss. In some cases, we advise emailing the presentations ahead of time for easier access

Bonus tips:

  • Enable the waiting room to verify the identity of the participants. This feature also allows guest speakers and interpreters to discuss accommodation needs privately
  • Intervenors who are voicing do not need to turn the video on unless they are providing face to face Intervention, or they require confirmation/ visuals of a sign
  • Turn the chat feature off as the blinking is visually distracting for Deafblind individuals. As a host, you may activate the chat feature for questions to come directly to you if preferred.
  • Ensure closed captioning is activated. You may hire a third-party captioning service or an automated service. Here is a list of for your convenience. Remember, captions are not only about increased accessibility! They improve verbal memory and behavioral intent, which both lead to increased focus and engagement.

The above tips will increase accessibility and usability of your webinars and further leverage engagement, action, and expression! When planning a session, ask yourself: “If I were… would I be able to fully participate?”