This page gathers the IT Subcommittee resources on Zoom Accessibility Auditing Information.
- Zoom VPATs and Accessibility Information
- email firstname.lastname@example.org directly for questions
- Overview of different Zoom accounts and their features
In general, Zoom is a good option for an accessible video conferencing software. It is compatible with JAWS and NVDA screen readers, and it supports multiple interpreter videos, closed captioning, and transcription services. There have been some difficulties using the chat function for screen readers. Zoom has its own keyboard commands, but they may interfere with other keyboard commands; however, things like the Mute/UnMute function can be set up as a universal keyboard command so it doesn’t interfere with other software.
The same issues with Zoom also apply to Zoom breakout rooms.
As always, be sure that you are communicating directly with your users who require assistive technology or captioners/interpreters to ensure that your decisions reflect what works best for them. Have a single person who is the contact, who is also intimately familiar with AT and Zoom, to ensure that all users will be able to fully participate in the Zoom meeting.
Known Accessibility Issues
The chat function in Zoom can cause additional barriers for disabled users dependent on assistive technology. Some of these issues can be solved by either not using the chat function, or by having a designated chat-wrangler. A chat-wrangler is a person who monitors the chat, audibly alerts the group to new chat messages, reads chat material aloud, and either keeps a record of URLs posted in chat or saves the chat to make it available to users after the meeting. Sometimes the host of the meeting is also the chat wrangler. In some cases, the host will need to go into their Zoom web interface and enable all users to save the chat before the meeting starts.
Keep in mind that to get to the chat window and go through the steps to individually save it can take a long time when using keyboard commands or a screen reader. If the host ends the meeting prior to all users being able to save the chat, the users will no longer be able to access the chat at all (unless they were able to copy-paste it to another document prior to the end of the meeting). In the past, Zoom had allowed users to set their own versions of Zoom to save all chats, but recent security updates prevent that function. You should check the settings of your Zoom web interface prior to any meetings to ensure accessibility.
It can be difficult for a screen reader user to be active in the video conference while also using the chat. For some users, there have been reported problems with the audio cutting out from either the screen reader or the video chat when switching focus between the video and the chat window. When other users post material in the chat, a screen reader may not alert that new chats are available. Additionally, it can be difficult to copy-paste from the chat window when links are posted for anyone using a screen reader--users report needing to use several keyboard commands and work-arounds to the point that they can lose track of the actual conversation. Zoom is working on a fix for screen reader users to access URLs in chat. On some devices, such as tablets and chromebooks, there can be other errors unique to those devices due to memory or processing issues.
You can access and change the keyboard command shortcuts in your Zoom desktop client’s settings. Zoom has a complete list of keyboard commands on their website. Keyboard navigation commands may be counter to or otherwise interfere with screen reader keyboard commands, so novice Zoom users may need to be reminded to check them.
The white board function in Zoom is not accessible to screen readers. It is the equivalent of posting an image with no description or alt text. It cannot be accessed by keyboard navigation or read by a screen reader. If you are using the white board, you should be sure to have alternate access to the information in a more universal format. You should also use descriptive language to let non-sighted users or those relying only on audio access (telephone call in users) to be able to understand what you are doing with the whiteboard.
The Share Screen function in Zoom is only screen-reader-accessible to the individual sharing their screen. If you are sharing your screen specifically to demonstrate the screen reader functions, then you must enable “Share Computer Audio” in Zoom when you share your screen. Otherwise, the audio from your computer will not play in the Zoom meeting.
Screen Share is not accessible to screen reader users viewing the shared screen. It simply gives users a visual of your screen, but does not enable the screen reader users to access your screen in any way. Screen reader users cannot navigate through someone else’s shared screen or access any of the text via keyboard.
Sharing your screen also dominates other users’ screens. This can be an issue if they are following a live transcript or taking notes in another window. Best practice is to warn other meeting participants when you are going to share your screen. You may need to pause for a moment to let screen reader users re-orient themselves to the new layout.
Depending on a person’s installed instance of Zoom and their device, there may be problems with the Closed Captioning. Users have reported that in some instances, especially with live human captioners, the closed captioning is far too short, displaying only 2-5 words at a time. There have also been issues of the captions disappearing before they can be read. In these instances, users are advised to use the “View Full Transcript” option in Zoom rather than the Closed Captioning. This can involve having a separate window open or using a second device to fully participate in the meeting. Some live captioning services also support a 3rd party website that displays captions, which may be a better option or some users.
Captioning and Transcripts
Captioning must be set up by the host of the meeting prior to the meeting, while transcripts can be done live or post-meeting through recording or use of 3rd party transcription. Zoom has an entire page devoted to information on closed captioning.
Zoom supports 3rd party live captioners (either automatic AI captioning or human captioning). Within Zoom, there is an API token that is unique to every individual meeting. Additionally, Zoom can allow you to assign a member of the meeting as the typist/captioner who can caption the meeting within the Zoom interface, or the host themself can be the captioner.
Whether you are using Otter.ai For Teams or some other 3rd party captioner, there is a cost associated with live captioning or post-meeting transcripts. If Zoom is being used for a presentation, the host or present can use PowerPoint 365 automatic captioning or Google Presentation automatic captioning for no additional fee. As of May 2020, Microsoft has been working on integrating Microsoft translate as a free computer captioning option, but it is not yet available.
Zoom supports post-meeting automatic transcripts for paid accounts, when the meeting has been recorded to the cloud. Zoom utilizes Otter.ai transcription technology for their transcripts. Paid or Premium users of Otter.ai can also use some integration of Otter.ai in Zoom, while Otter.ai For Teams is required for automatic live captioning. University of Minnesota is currently using Otter for Teams for live captioning.
Live Captioning vs. Computer Captioning
Computer captioning can increase the accessibility of your Zoom meeting, but it should never be considered an appropriate accommodation for a disability. When captioning is being used as an accommodation for a disability, you should use live human captioning.
At best, computer or AI Automatic captioning can deliver 90% accuracy, but on average it is only 60-70% accurate. Accuracy declines dependent on the speaker’s rate of speech, accent, AI vocabulary knowledge, and number of speakers. This means at the very best, every tenth word is missed, garbled, or transcribed completely inaccurately. You can train the AI captioner with specific jargon prior to the meeting if you are able to plan ahead. Some computer captioning companies offer human corrected transcripts after a meeting, but most of the time these require an extra charge.
Live captioning is held to higher standards, and the human captioner can often work directly with the disabled user or host to communicate issues or vocabulary prior to the meeting. Human captioning, however, can take longer to appear on screen for the user, due to the need for corrections on the fly or connection/audio issues.
Known Issues with Captioning
Users have reported that live captioners can often run into difficulties using the built-in API capabilities for Zoom. Most of the time, these issues can be fixed by captioner themselves leaving the meeting and logging back in. If the issues are not resolved, the host may need to end the meeting and restart. When working with live captioning, having a test-run or a test-period prior to the meeting can help to prevent those issues cutting into meeting time.
This article demonstrates some of the issues that can arise from using closed captions in Zoom. Additionally, it can be distracting or exhausting for a user to have a separate window or even device open to read the live transcripts. If you are having multiple meetings in a row, such as for a conference, including appropriate space and recovery time for all users between sessions is suggested.
Zoom supports several 3rd party captioning/transcription companies such as Otter.ai, and they are also developing their own integrated in-house system.
3rd Party Captioning/Transcripts
Otter.ai is the most popular transcription software used with Zoom. Zoom utilizes the Otter.ai engine for their automatic cloud transcription, and depending on the level of your Otter.ai account, you can display side-by-side live AI captioning of a meeting (Otter for Teams), automatically record and transcribe Zoom meetings (Premium Otter), use it produce post-meeting transcripts (Free or Premium Otter), and export .srt files for online video integration (Premium Otter). Otter.ai includes full punctuation, automatic speaker identification, and, when you use the Otter.ai web interface, you have synchronized transcriptions (i.e. highlighting the words as they are spoken). Free Otter allows for exporting a .txt file of the transcription, as well as multiple editors for transcription correction.
Amara Editor is a free public video subtitle editor which also has paid levels for private subtitles. Amara does not automatically transcribe audio; it is a platform for generating subtitles in post-production. There is no integration with Zoom, but you can upload a recorded meeting to create your own subtitles.
Zoom supports 3rd party live sign language interpreters. You can invite captioners to the meeting as a regular user. It’s suggested that they rename their window/Zoom instance to reflect the interpretation they do “ASL Interpreter 1” or “BSL Interpreter 3”. For long or multiple meetings, it is advised to have multiple interpreters so that they can switch primary signing duties throughout the presentation to prevent exhaustion. Sign Language Interpretation requires viewing not only the hands but the face and body movements, and can be more taxing than other forms of interpretation.
This YouTube video shows how interpreting works from the interpreter’s point of view, and also demonstrates how to pin an interpreter’s window to prevent it from getting lost. Zoom also has a page on pinning videos of interpreters. When you’re recording a Zoom meeting and you want to include the sign language interpreter, you can use the “side-by-side” mode and spotlight the interpreter, so that the recording will include the slides/presentation and the video of the interpreter.
When using the webinar set-up for Zoom, you may have to enable all participants to record the meeting locally to ensure that they can pin and access the interpreters windows, especially if you are not making a fully subtitled/transcribed/interpreted video of the meeting available later. You should test this prior to the webinar to see what options you may need to enable.
Best Practices for Working with Interpreters
- Provide the interpreter and Deaf user a copy of any content to be used in the meeting/presentation. Include notes, names, and special vocabulary as well.
- Ensure that the interpreter has access to the video and the audio of the meeting.
Legal, Ethical, and Privacy Issues
Zoom has been under fire in regards to their security. A recent update brought end-to-end encryption to Zoom Pro accounts, but it remains unavailable for free accounts. Zoom does have a page dedicated to reporting on and gathering feedback on their privacy and security.
Some of the low-cost 3rd party transcription options have brought up questions of ethics and legality. Recently, Rev.com finally banned underaged transcribers from working on materials, but have also lowered their pay for transcriptionists. When investigating any 3rd party option, you should investigate possible legal, ethical or privacy issues.
Resources for Blind/Visually Impaired Zoom Users
- Getting Started with Zoom Meetings: A Guide for JAWS, NVDA, and iPhone ($18 ebook)
- “Meet Me Accessibly: A Guide to Zoom Cloud Meetings From a Blindness Perspective” (free audiobook, includes JAWS and iPhone VoiceOver)
- Free JAWS scripts for Zoom
Resources for Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Zoom Users
- Basic Introduction to Zoom] (ASL YouTube video)
- Using an Interpreter in Zoom] (ASL YouTube video)
- Professor Jeff Pollock’s Zoom Tutorial] (ASL YouTube video by a Deaf professor)
- National Association of the Deaf Zoom Tutorial
General Virtual Meeting Accessibility Resources