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Zoom and Beyond for People with Disabilities

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

With many people on lockdown or staying at home these days, nearly everyone is now online, video conferencing, chatting and interacting for work, school and fun. Here are some options for those with speech and hearing challenges:

FaceTime and more

A video feature available on iPhones is: FaceTime, which now has group capability through Messenger. Capabilities include: subtitles and captioning, compatibility with hearing devices and RTT (Real Time texting). Voice Control allows the app to be accessed through voice commands, with a VoiceOver feature speaking about items on the screen. Also, for the visually impaired, a Speak Selection feature allows for speaking the texts. Another big benefit: video allows for easy sign language conversations.

Google Google Google

Google has an array of options, including: GoogleVoice - for reading voicemails and, GoogleChat - for group texting/chatting. Also, GoogleMeet (which now replaces the previously named - Google Hangout for video connections). GoogleMeet is currently free for all users.


Zoom has exploded in popularity as meetings transition to the virtual space. Now it is not just businesses, non-profits, or and schools utilizing the software, but families are also using it to communicate, play games remotely or even having have virtual parties. Zoom is free for 40-minute sessions, unless you have the paid version. There are two screen options: speaker view or gallery view. A text window is to the right of the screen, which is great for supplementing. You can download the app on your device or computer, or opt in via a link provided by the host.

Captioning for video calls

If you don’t have access to live captions, there are workarounds, such as a speech-to-text app on a second device. Some of these apps include: Google Live Transcribe,, and Speechy.

Another option is Ava, with an extended free trial time of 30 days. Web Captioner can only be used on a computer. It’s useful in a pinch, but is AI-based. The problem: automated captioning doesn’t always do a great job understanding deaf speech. However, if you’re using it to understand what hearing people are saying, it’s quite effective.

You can also hire a professional through vendors such as: National Captioning Institute and CaptionAccess.

10 Video-conferencing tips

These tips for group video calling apps will help ensure those with communication challenges aren’t left out:

  1. Strong internet and good video and audio quality are essential.

  2. Keep the your cameras steady.

  3. Lighting is important! Avoid dark or too-bright backgrounds. Shadows can also make faces and sign language difficult to see.

  4. Make sure participants are close to the camera.

  5. Keep groups small as they are easier to manage.

  6. Have a buddy who can help fill in gaps when needed.

  7. Pick a simple background with no distractions.

  8. For those with speech challenges, being misunderstood can be remedied by utilizing using an Augmentative Speech Device (ASD) or, alternatively, - a speech app, such as TouchChat or Prologuo2Go.

  9. Only one person should talk or sign at a time. This means:

  • Having participants raise their hands to talk. (If you’re using a paid Zoom subscription, there’s a virtual hand-raising feature.)

  • Having a meeting organizer determine who talks and when.

  • Muting screens when not talking (since any noise will be distracting). Some platforms allow the meeting host to have the ability to mute everyone or selected people.

  • Using a text or chat feature for questions or side conversations while someone else is talking.

10. Last and most important, keep things light. A little humor goes a long way!

Watching and creating videos

To keep ourselves sane during this time of social distancing, people are getting creative online. Authors are reading their books, musicians are performing free concerts and comedians are producing short videos for comedic relief. TikTok allows for short, silly homemade clips for amusement. YouTube is another source of entertainment and education. Need to learn how to groom your dog, make a face mask, or boil an egg? YouTube has it all. If you are the creator, please caption your videos. Everyone benefits!

Good news

As technology has become more prominent in our everyday lives, the need for accessibility is gaining greater awareness. With the world’s increasing reliance on virtual technology, it’s seems that accessibility features should improve quickly.

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