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
- National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes’ guide to Dual Interpreter and Speech-to-Text services (PDF)
- Zoom Video Tutorials
- University of Michigan's Zoom Accessibility page
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.
Zoom Meeting vs. Zoom Webinar
Zoom Meeting and Zoom Webinar work differently. Zoom Webinar limits participants to only being able to interact through the Chat or the Q&A button. Interpreters and captioners should be added to the Panelists group by the Host so they can have full access to the Zoom Webinar room for their duties. There are some features of Zoom Webinar that only the owner (such as specific University officials, not individual professors) have access to, but some features can be made available to the assigned Hosts. More information about the differences between Meetings and Webinars.
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.
Screen readers cannot read the chat input window, meaning that it can be difficult for screen reader users to type anything into the chat. University of Michigan's Accessibility Team has some work-arounds for this.
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.
When using the desktop client, there are issues with navigating the settings tabs (Home, Chat, Meetings, Contacts). Tabbing will select only the Home tab, then you must use the arrow keys to highlight the Chat, Meetings, or Contacts tabs. When you navigate to the settings tab you want, press enter to select it. The screen reader will not alert to the selection, but you can then tab into the tab of that window to change or access that tab's settings.
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 interpreter, or are 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 reorient 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. When using a live human captioner, there have also been issues of the captions disappearing before they can be read, appearing in a single burst that is unreadable, or appearing at such a significant (10+ second) delay that they’re useless for the meeting. 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. However, there have been several ongoing issues with live human captioners when it is used in the Closed Captioning.
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 (usually 30 minutes) 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
Most vendors use a cost-per-minute/hour model for their captioning/transcription services. There may be discounts involved for meetings and events that have been forced online by COVID-19. The appearance of vendors on this list does not mean that any person or entity involved with DLF advocates for or endorses any particular vendor.
- 3Play Media is a well-established transcription and captioning company with years of experience. They offer live automatic captioning for meetings, or human-generated post-production captions for videos. For one-time use, 3Play Media offers a pay-as-you-go option. For long-term use, the Enterprise option offers discounts on costs. More information about 3Play Media and Zoom
- Otter.ai is one of 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. More information on Otter.ai and Zoom.
- TypeWell is a proprietary abbreviation software for transcription, focused on offering the “essence” of a meeting. They offer software licensing and training for local transcription work, or they can connect you to already qualified TypeWell transcriptionists. Transcriptions are displayed in a separate browser window. TypeWell can be integrated with Zoom, but TypeWell does not recommend it. More information on TypeWell and Zoom.
- Streamtext realtime text player is a browser-based platform for displaying live transcriptions/captioning. They do not provide the captioners/transcriptionists. StreamCast is another product which can be used for post-production development of captions or transcripts.
- Verbit.Ai is a newer computer AI transcription program that has been gaining in popularity. Verbit now offers integration with Zoom (PDF).
- NDC’s Tipsheet “Hiring Qualified Speech-to-Text Providers” (PDF)
- National Court Reporters Association Directory of Certified Providers.
- Association of Transcribers and Speech-to-Text Providers Directory
- Google Slides Automatic Captioning
- PowerPoint 365 Automatic Captioning
Individuals can use many Speech-to-Text options on their own to create their own captions/transcriptions of meetings without needing to work through the Zoom hosts. Below are listed several free options, which all use computer AI for live transcriptions. These options may be limited in how much transcription-time they offer for free, and they all require the individual user to set it up and connect the app or program to their computer audio.
- Google Live Transcribe is an Android-only app that provides free, unlimited, live-audio transcription. It requires a wifi or network connection to function. The transcriptions can be saved for 3 days within the app, but it can’t be copy-pasted or downloaded to another program. Live Transcribe can also alert you to certain noises, such as a baby crying, dog barking, applause, laughter, etc. You can switch between two primary transcription languages, but the app does not translate from one language to another. Some users connect an android device to their computer in order to use Live Transcribe for free live captioning in a second window. The captions are fairly high quality for computer-generated, and include full punctuation.
- Web Captioner is a free, on-the-fly AI captioning solution for the Google Chrome browser.
- Google Docs Voice can use the computer microphone to automatically transcribe audio into a Google Doc. It will not automatically add punctuation or identify different speakers.
- Dictation.io is free, browser-based AI transcription service, similar to Speechnotes. It does not automatically punctuate sentences or identify speakers.
- SpeechNotes is a free, browser-based AI dictation site. It will not automatically punctuate sentences or identify different speakers. Dictated notes can be saved or emailed. For a fee, SpeechNotes can also computer-transcribe recorded audio or video.
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/or 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.
- Do a communication check about 5-10 minutes into the meeting to ensure that everyone is able to fully participate.
- Ask those who are not speaking to mute their audio to reduce conflicting speakers from overlapping or muting out another speaker.
- For very large meetings, the meeting host should set Zoom to only display video participants, so it’s easier to locate the interpreter’s windows. If it is a presentation, ask for non-presenters to turn off their video and mute their audio.
- Zoom is capable of showing up to 25 video windows at a time, but keep in mind that different interfaces may make that impossible, or make the video windows too small to be useful. During presentations or classes, you may wish to limit the active video windows to no more than 4.
- NDC’s “Hiring a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter” (PDF) tipsheet
- VRI One’s “Minimum Requires and Best Practices for Business Meetings and Education” (aimed for video interpreters, but wide applicable)
- Fixing an Audio Echo in a 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
- Zoom in Windows for Blind/Low-Vision Users
- Dr. Rachael Sessler Trinkowsky’s Zoom Tutorials for Screen Readers
- Connecting a BrailleNote Touch Plus to Zoom
- AFB’s 5 Accessibility Actions to take when moving your conference online
- University of Michigan Accessibility Team Zoom Accessibility page
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
Special thanks go to the AT professionals of the ATHENS, WAG, ITSACCESS-Educause and many other mailing lists and personal contacts who freely share their experiences and work-arounds with other AT professionals. This information wouldn’t exist without you. Thank you.
- University of Michigan Accessibility Team,"Zoom Accessibility", June 11, 2020. Retrieved June 12, 2020.