Are Your Virtual Meetings Accessible for People with Disabilities? Start with This Checklist

Disabled person smiling

Disabled person smiling

By Judith Hellerstein

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way humans interact with one another. With an emphasis on less physical interaction and more social distancing, institutions and organizations are moving their work and meetings online.

People with disabilities form about 15 percent of world population, so it is all the more important these online meetings are made accessible.

The Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (Accessibility SIG) aims to make the Internet and its attendant technologies accessible to the largest audience possible, regardless of disabilities. The digital divide is not just about having the access to digital technology, it could also be about having the access to technology and not being able to use it. Our digital products must be usable by all. Many laws and the Internet Society’s vision – the Internet is for everyone – demand that we provide everyone with an equal experience.

The Accessibility SIG is planning a series of seven webinars discussing this very topic. Our first one was titled When Rhetoric Meets Reality: Digital Accessibility, Persons With Disabilities and COVID-19 and was held on May 28.

The way we design and build can make it hard – and sometimes impossible – for people with disabilities to access services and information delivered by our digital products. Accessibility is the practice of designing so that all people, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, can use products successfully.

There are many different kinds of disabilities, but for the purposes of web accessibility, the most relevant types are those that affect the eyes, ears, hands, and brain. (Some examples include visual disabilities, deafness, visual disabilities and deafness, physical disabilities, and cognitive disabilities.)

All of these disabilities affect interactions with digital products and services in different ways. People need to consider accessibility any time they communicate information digitally. Accessibility is not just a concern for websites, apps, and social media. It needs to be front and center for all digital products, whether they are PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, or even virtual events. For virtual meetings and webcasts, it is important to choose a platform that supports accessibility for people that have mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive disabilities.

Before you host your meeting, you should think about the following:

Is the platform accessible? Some remote participation tools present accessibility barriers that make them unusable by people with disabilities and incompatible with assistive technologies.

Do you have text captioning or sign language interpretations available?

Is the material being shown accessible to all? People with vision impairments use a screen reader and cannot see a shared screen or a video. Make all materials available beforehand or provide a link to them in the chat.

Have you asked invited participants which type of accessibility they need? You can include this question on the registration form.

Will speakers have their cameras on? This enables people who are lip readers follow along.

Is their adequate lighting on the person speaking? People who read lips need to be able to see the person’s lips.

Are presenters using virtual backgrounds? When people use pictures as a virtual background, it can wash away their face.

Are presenters wearing dark colors? Suggest that speakers wear dark-colored clothes so the contrast will be high. Otherwise the lighting on light colors washes out people’s faces.

The Accessibility SIG advocates for an accessibility-first approach to design and development. This means accessibility is not something that should be tacked on just before you launch. It should be a key consideration from the very start.

The first step is adopting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG. These guidelines, put together by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), outline the development, design, and content standards products must satisfy in order to be fully accessible. The WCAG guidelines have three levels: A, AA, and AAA. A has the fewest requirements to satisfy, while AAA has the most. The Internet Society is looking to meet the level AA standards, which means that it must also meet the level A standards.

The following guides and checklists were created by NYC Government as an aid to other NYC agencies in creating accessible content. We thought they were extremely helpful and recommend using them:

Web Accessibility Checklist
Accessible Social Media Guide
Accessible Slidedecks Guide
Accessible Documents Guide
Accessible Virtual Meetings Guide
Audio Description and Captioning Guide

Among other factors in the domain of Internet and digital accessibility, a lot depends upon the technical community and developers. So, if you are a developer, and developing a device or a website, you need to ensure that your digital product doesn’t prevent over one billion of world’s population to access or use it. We encourage everyone to adopt accessibility practices when creating any digital content. This includes websites, electronic documents, presentations, videos, social media posts, or online meetings!

Making physical meetings accessible for everyone has always been a challenge due to budgetary and other constraints. Nonetheless, we never shy away from the challenge.

Making an online meeting accessible for people with disabilities costs a lot less than making a physical meeting accessible. It just requires a little will and consideration!

Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how you can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Image ©Thiago Barletta via Unsplash

REPORT: Accessibility SIG Global Accessibility Awareness Day Webinar

Register on Zoom

On Thursday May 28 2020, the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) hosted a webinar “When rhetoric meets reality: Digital Accessibility, Persons With Disabilities and COVID-19”. This webinar brought together digital accessibility experts and people with disabilities to discuss the digital accessibility outlook beyond COVID-19.


It was our hope that this webinar would share and offer a variety of ideas from different disabilities and different parts of the world. Below are a couple of perspectives that relate to North America and elsewhere.

David Berman gave the keynote focusing on how governments can integrate accessibility into their web presence. He talked about the efforts that Canada and others are doing on accessibility issues. People in health care designed special masks for deaf people. They have a clear shield so people can read others lips to communicate. However, everyone benefits when we can see each other’s mouths when we’re wearing masks, whether we’re hard of hearing or whether we’re deaf and using sign language which of course the faces a key part of the communication, everyone finds it easier to understand each other when we can see the emotions and the movements that make up more of the face. It is an example of the overall goal that all should have. We need to design for the extremes and in this way benefit everyone. This principle is a core of the experience in design that we need to focus on. If we can make sure that all websites are accessible and follow WCAG guidelines than Governments will save money as they would not have to hire special firms to answer phone lines and have special lines that read people texts and walk people through the forms. People could self-serve. If we make sure everyone can self-serve, we’re actually able to save millions of dollars. This type of thinking, what we like to call the accessibility dividend when we do things to include everyone, we get benefits for everyone.

The webinar included seven panelists representing different disabilities and countries. The panelists highlighted a number of issues related to digital accessibility including: If an approach can work in one small community, it can be replicated in many other local, regional, and national governments. The right ingredients need to be in place. That’s policy, practice, and people. Formulating right policies with inclusion of people with disabilities and then practicing those with people centric approach could be a winning strategy. This is where rhetoric meets policy. Once people understand why digital accessibility is important through direct contact with persons with disabilities there’s a greater incentive to make a change. We need more disability awareness training.

Another speaker, Peter Crosbie, focused on cognitive disabilities and how they are often overlooked by companies who instead just focus on visual or hearing disabilities; there is often no mention anywhere of what specific cognitive access measures they have incorporated to help out people with cognitive disabilities. He mentioned that Zoom calls with many speakers and participants are in actuality very inaccessible for many people with cognitive disabilities. There’s just very little understanding of what cognitive access is or how it works.

The goal of Accessibility SIG in this webinar was to discuss and raise awareness of these issues. We will have six other webinars in this series, so stay tuned.

MAY 28 2020 – GAAD: When Rhetoric Meets Reality: Digital Accessibility, Persons With Disabilities, and COVID-19

Register on Zoom

Register on Zoom

On Thursday May 28 2020, from 12:00-13:30 UTC, in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) will host a webinar “When rhetoric meets reality: Digital Accessibility, Persons With Disabilities and COVID-19

This webinar brings together digital accessibility experts and people with disabilities to discuss the digital accessibility outlook beyond COVID-19. The webinar aims to share and offer a variety of ideas from different disabilities and different parts of the world.


Introduction: Muhammad Shabbir Awan, President, ISOC Accessibility SIG

Keynote: How governments can integrate accessibility into their web presences
David Berman, David Berman communications, Canada

Experience Sharing:
Naveed Haq, Regional Director Infrastructure and Connectivity, Asia Pacific, Internet Society
Gunela Astbrink, Vice President Accessibility SIG, Australia
Fernando Botelho, F123 initiative, Brazil
Judy Okite, founder, Association for Accessibility and Equality(AAFE), Kenya
Peter Crosbie, advocate for the autistic community, France
Lidia Best, Vice President, European Federation of Hard of Hearing, UK
Manique Gunaratne, Manager, Specialized Training and Disability Resource Centre, Sri Lanka

Open Discussion

Closing Remarks: Muhammad Shabbir Awan



Accessibility SIG General Meeting – Jan 23 2020 – 12:00 UTC @a11ySIG @InternetSociety

Accessibility SIG

Accessibility SIGOn Thursday January 23 2020, at 12:00 UTC the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) will hold a General Meeting. All SIG members are urged to attend. Observers are welcome. The format will be a zoom call, which will be recorded, and which will have real time text captions.


  1. Welcome by President 5 Mins.
  2. Affirmation of Officers / Bylaws 5 mins
  3. Overview of SIG activities in 2019 10 Mins.
  4. Plans for 2020 10 Mins.
  5. General Discussion by the members 25 Mins.
  6. Closing remarks by the President 5 Mins.

Time: Jan 23, 2020 07:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)


Meeting ID: 989 322 556

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Moving Beyond Rhetoric: Towards a Digitally Inclusive and Accessible Pakistan for PWDs

photo of banner

By Muhammad Shabbir Awan

The 2018 Pakistan IT Policy titled Digital Pakistan envisions “to become a strategic enabler for an accelerated digitization eco system to expand the knowledge based economy and spur socio economic growth”. We felt that with 10-15 percent of country’s population consisting of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and over 95 percent of inaccessible websites, this vision would remain just rhetoric unless we do something about it. The answer, “make websites accessible for PWDs” seems easier said than done. Nonetheless, I am pleased to report that we have taken another significant step towards making ‘Digital Pakistan’ inclusive and accessible for everyone including PWDs.

The Internet Society Asia Pacific Bureau, supported by the ISOC Accessibility Special Interest Group (Accessibility-SIG) and Islamabad Chapter organized a 3-days advanced training on web accessibility from 21st to 23rd October 2019. For this purpose, internationally reputed expert on web accessibility David Berman was invited to organize the training.

Photo of class

Government departments, particularly Ministry of IT, National IT Board and National Incubation Center, were incremental in organizing this event. About 50 webmasters a majority from the government, people with disabilities, and private sectors participated in the training.

The three-days extensive program covered a variety of topics related to digital accessibility that included but was not limited to: introduction to accessibility; why and how accessibility helps everyone and not just those with disabilities; how accessibility will help project budgets; what are the major disabilities and challenges, how most of us have some level of difficulty that can be assisted by accessible design, and assistive technologies we can typically use to mitigate these issues; national and international policy and legislation; overview of W3C WCAG 2 guidelines A and AA levels; PDF and accessible documents overview, including accessible tags; understanding of how enterprise-wide development processes can save money and time; Javascript accessibility; testing tools for Web pages and documents; accessibility checklists; auditing models for page frameworks and specific pages; case studies walkthrough, including existing government websites; and advanced issues that are beyond AA, application and beyond Web and documents.

group photo

The purpose of the training was three-fold: first, train the developers to make the websites accessible for PWDs and according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 standards. Second, to prepare local team of developers that is well versed in digital accessibility standards. Third, gather digital experts from Government, private sector and PWDs under one roof to start discussing to find practicable solutions to accessibility-related challenges in Pakistan.

trainees studying

To recall, over the past 4 years the Internet Society has been working on Digital Accessibility issues in Pakistan. This work has resulted in involvement, success and support from the government and local community, including People with Disabilities, to address the digital accessibility challenges in the country. One of the key successful outcomes of our efforts was the Ministry of IT taking PWDs on board as a stakeholder while formulating the aforementioned Digital Pakistan policy that was announced in 2018. With this training we wanted to build capacity of the government webmasters to develop accessible websites. In the concluding session of the training, Member IT of the Ministry of IT, Syed Junaid Imam, who was invited as keynote speaker reassured that all the government of Pakistan websites would be made accessible. He also informed the audience that MOIT is developing the strategy to implement the national IT policy and this time too, the input from people with disabilities will be incorporated in the document.

photo of banner

The cases of Digital Pakistan policy and the current training on one hand show that Pakistan is incrementally moving to make internet truly for everyone, and on the other, proves that solutions to the digital accessibility related issues for PWDs can only be found with their own involvement. Meaning, nothing about us without us! Moreover, now when with the help of civil society the government of Pakistan has formulated the guidelines, the training has been provided to the webmasters, the next step is to translate the rhetoric (policy guidelines) into action! The ISOC Accessibility-SIG is ready to support in whatever way it can. I am sure that together we can ensure the websites not only of the government but also of the private sector are accessible for PWDs. Accessible internet for PWDs would bring us another step closer to fulfilling the objective of leaving no one behind by 2030.

About the author: Muhammad Shabbir Awan is a researcher, a rights activist and the President of Internet Society Accessibility SIG. He tweets at @MshabirAwan

Observing International Day of Persons With Disabilities on Tuesday 3rd December 2019 #idpd

Accessibility SIG

Accessibility SIG[A message from Accessibility SIG President Muhammad Shabbir Awan]

On Tuesday 3rd December 2019, the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) joins the rest of the world in observing International Day of Persons With Disabilities (IDPD).

To recall, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been annually observed on 3 December worldwide since 1992. The theme for 2019 IDPD is: ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’. The theme focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognizes disability as a cross-cutting issues, to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The ISOC Accessibility SIG aims to make the Internet and its attendant technologies accessible to the largest audience possible regardless of disabilities. On Tuesday, while we are observing IDPD, I call upon the developers to remember that not everyone uses your product in the same way. Moreover, the digital divide is not just about having the access to digital technology, it could also be about having the access to technology and not being able to use it. Among other factors in the domain of Internet and digital accessibility, a lot depends upon the technical community and developers. So, if you are a developer, and developing a device or a website, you need to ensure that your digital product doesn’t prevent nearly one billion of world’s population to access or use it.

Thus, if you are not making your website accessible, you are contributing to the digital divide. If you want to make your website or mobile app accessible, follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In ensuring that the Internet is for Everyone, the developer is either part of the solution or the problem. There is no middle way.

With Best Regards,
Muhammad Shabbir Awan
Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group.
Twitter: @mshabirawan

Experience Sharing: the National Federation of the Blind Annual Convention 2019

(In July 2019 A11ySIG President Muhammad Shabbir Awan attended  the NFB convention in Las Vegas – this is his report)

Betting is an uncertain business and some may consider “sure bet” as an oxymoronic statement, however, at Mandalay Bay Resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada from 7th to 12th of July 2019, there was sure bet that one would find determined blind people, as well as skills, information, awareness and experience about blindness. Said to bring the world’s largest annual gathering of people with blindness together, The American National Federation of the Blind (NFB) 2019 convention proved to me that it was much more than I had read, heard and/or imagined. I am thankful for the support of Internet Society that enabled me to experience this wonderful 2019 convention from July seventh to twelth. I am also thankful to Mr. Sultan Shah and Mr. Usman for their wonderful company during this trip. No doubt, this convention made a tremendous impression on me.

The life  philosophy of NFB is: “The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. The National Federation of the Blind is not an organization speaking for the blind–it is the blind speaking for ourselves.” This is the message that I would hear, see and experience for the whole duration of the convention. This experience would make it worth over 26 hours long flight, disturbance in bodyclock due to time zone difference, and travel all the way from Pakistan to Las Vegas.

Situated at the beginning of the world-famous Las Vegas strip, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was the perfect location for enjoyment, networking, learning, conference activities, all of the above and more too! Graceful, confident people with blindness wove their way through crowded lobbies and hallways using their canes or guide dogs effortlessly. Mandalay Bay had more than two dozen restaurants and activities for people of all ages to enjoy. Among its features is an aquatic playground called Mandalay Bay Beach which has real sand, a wave pool, and rentable cabanas. The fun part was that Wherever I went in these six days, be it the middle of the day or night, I would find people with blindness enjoying and groping through their way.

I see that many of the rough places have been made smooth by these heroic pioneers.

I found myself attending meetings of many groups and divisions. The six-day agenda was full of seminars, workshops and sessions on a variety of topics related to blindness. The topics included but are not limited to: education, science and engineering, technology, research, yoga, self-defence, sports and recreation, and many more. The convention also had sessions on tactile graphics, accessible art, and bringing more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) into blind people’s lives. For me, the sessions related to accessible technology particularly live presentations by the accessibility teams of Apple, Microsoft and Freedom Scientific as well as discussions with the people from these companies on sidelines were really interesting and fruitful.

As an International Relations (IR) researcher and professional, for me, the research and academic professional’s meeting to discuss current research, issues that blind people face in research and share ideas for increasing the research and academic presence of the NFB was of particular interest. I, as an IR student and professional, particularly loved the NFB Newsline service that offers hundreds of American and international newspapers and magazines to people with blindness in accessible formats. The only disappointment I faced at the convention was that I could not be subscribed to this wonderful service as I was not a resident of any US state.

Nonetheless, I was able to gain a lot of knowledge and awareness from the meetings. I learned about forms of discrimination and access barriers that blind people have faced, and how the NFB helps overcome these issues. For example, I learned that the NFB has fought for blind people who have faced low expectations from teachers and lacked necessary accommodations to gain the same knowledge as their sighted counterparts. At convention, I learned about technologies intended to help overcome access barriers, such as the awesome development of a braille display that makes images tactile. I also learned about Aira, a new technology that helps blind people have easier access to information. Meanwhile, I also took the opportunities to introduce the ISOC Accessibility SIG to the participants and ran a member recruitment campaign too.

The exhibit hall was also one of my favorite attraction places. It opened the prospect for me to meet and speak with representatives from about fifty companies and organizations that produce, market and/or disseminate training in these tools. It was wonderful to get my hands on so many tools for the blind all in one place. For anyone who wants to do some comparison shopping before purchasing a piece of access technology, this is definitely a prime opportunity. The devices that excited me most were: a Bluetooth refreshable Braille display with a note-taking feature built in; and Optical Character Recognition Glasses (OCR Glasses). I plan to purchase one as soon as I can. At the same time, the NFB Independence Market provided the opportunity to handle, test, and learn to use blindness and low-vision tools including accessible games, household items, watches, calculators, and more.

In summary, for me, the convention was a blast! From the moment I entered the hotel, to the second I left, I was participating in exhilarating activities. Regardless of whether I was at General Session or out to lunch with my friends, I was having a delightful time. I have been to number of international conferences with thousands of participants, I also knew that successful blind people existed, but I never witnessed such a large gathering of blind people in my life—over 3000 people registered for the event. With all of this in mind, I would definitely recommend that everyone who is blind or visually impaired try to go to an NFB convention. There is so much to experience and so many great people to meet. However, I do have one word of caution regarding convention: Sleep may be hard to come by. There is so much to do that getting the normal six to eight hours of sleep per night may not be possible.

Lastly, I understand that people with blindness or other disabilities face difficulties in every society, in developing countries more than in the developed world. However, before convention, I was unaware of the extent of inequality that the blind community may face in all aspects of life. The fact that people are getting paid less simply because they are blind, or having their children taken away because close-minded individuals say, “How could blind people raise children?” is absurd. To be honest, I have personally faced little discrimination and few access barriers thus far in my life. I was shocked to hear about the terrible ways in which blind people have been slighted, and times when they had been cheated out of opportunities and experiences. I believe that continuing the fight to overcome discrimination and access barriers is extremely important. Probably the most important lesson I learned is that blind people all over the world are facing challenges, but despite this, they are overcoming these barriers and getting the degrees, finding the jobs and having the experiences they want. In other words, they are living the lives they want!

Muhammad Shabbir Awan is the President of Internet Society Accessibility SIG and can be contacted at: Email and Twitter.

MAY 16 2019 – GAAD: Digital Accessibility for Persons With Disabilities

GAAD Webinar

GAAD WebinarOn Thursday 16 May 2019 at 12:00 UTC the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) marked Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2019 (GAAD) with its inaugural public webinar “Digital Accessibility for Persons With Disabilities“. A11ySIG founders and special guest Dan York of the Internet Society introduced the group and discussed this important aspect of the Internet Society’s vision that the Internet is for everyone.



Welcome and Introduction: Mr. Muhammad Shabbir Awan, President, A11ySIG

Historic Context of Accessibility SIG: Mr. Joly MacFie, AMS Admin A11ySIG

Women and Digital Accessibility: Ms. Gunela Astbrink, Vice President, A11ySIG

Digital Accessibility and Internet Society: Mr. Dan York, Director of Web Strategy, Internet Society

Accessibility between Policy and Practice: Ms. Judith Hellerstein, Secretary, A11ySIG

Interactive Discussion / Q&A session

Vote of Thanks and Wrap up: Mr. Muhammad Shabbir Awan, President, A11ySIG

TWITTER: @a11ysig + #gaad

The Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) is dedicated to ensuring equal access to the Internet and its benefits to all regardless of disability.

May 16 2019 marks the eighth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities.

The Internet Society supports and promotes the development of the Internet as a global technical infrastructure, a resource to enrich people’s lives, and a force for good in society.