This page gathers the IT Subcommittee resources on Zoom Accessibility Auditing Information.
- Zoom VPATs and Accessibility Information
- email email@example.com 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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 to be able to understand what you are doing with the whiteboard.
The Share Screen function in Zoom is not accessible to screen readers. 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 a shared screen or access any of the text.
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
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 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. 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.
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.
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 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.
Zoom has several programs where they’re integrating 3rd party captioning companies such as Otter.ai, as well as developing their own integrated in-house system. This information is accurate as of the time this article was written.
Zoom supports 3rd party live sign language interpreters.