Top tips: Holding accessible work meetings

Work meetings can be challenging if you have an access need – and even more so as online meetings become more common. Here’s how to make business meetings better for everyone.

A laptop on a table, showing a screen with many faces taking part in an online meeting. Next to it, a coffee cup.

Everyone has their own needs in order to fully participate in work meetings, even if they wouldn’t necessarily see them as access issues. Meeting these needs is partly about practicalities, but also about good practise.

We know that a welcoming culture is a key enabler to accessibility. Make it clear that you want everyone to be fully welcomed and engaged in the meeting, and ask what they will need in order to make this happen. The following tips are a starting point to help ensure everyone is included.

Getting to the meeting

First, make sure your building – and the route to the meeting room – is accessible.

Then, provide accessibility information ahead of the meeting. This could include:

  • Instructions for how to get there. Provide pictures, or descriptions of visual markers for people with low vision; wheelchair users will need an accessible route that will let them access the building.
  • The locations of accessible toilets.
  • The nearest accessible car parks.

It’s also useful (for everyone!) if you provide details about who to contact on the day if you’re having any difficulty finding the location.

And it’s a great help to explain what to expect from the actual meeting – the agenda, who will be there and how long the meeting will be.

Before the meeting

The key to accessible business meetings is to actually ask what people need. Don’t make assumptions, but be curious. The best question isn’t about someone’s (visible or invisible) disability; it’s simply “What do you need in order to participate?”

Some common considerations are:

  • Communication. Find out about people’s preferred communication methods and whether there are any supports of adaptive technology they use. They may ask for specific adaptations, such as written material in large print or as electronic documents.
  • Companions. Someone might also need to bring a companion – an NZSL interpreter, a support person or a guide dog. (In this case, you’ll also need to consider the dog’s needs in advance, such as providing a water bowl and identifying the nearest place for toileting.)
  • The room set-up. Lighting is one example: ensuring good visibility obviously helps partially sighted people, but it also helps Deaf people who need to lip-read. However, glare or flickering lights can be a problem for autistic people who may get sensory overload, and they may also have problems with external noise.

At the meeting

Make sure people have the information they need to get the best out of the meeting, to contribute and to take part in decision making. Ask at the beginning of the meeting whether there is anything people need to participate. Even if you’ve already asked before, it’s helpful to check in to make sure everyone is comfortable and has what they need.

  • Introductions are important. Make sure everyone knows who is in the room. Continue to use people’s names throughout the meeting. This helps attendees who have low vision or are blind to know who is speaking.
  • Make people feel included: be proactive in giving everyone a chance to participate.
  • Use an appropriate way to get someone’s attention. (If you're not sure what's the best way, just ask).
  • Reduce distractions such as background noise or people talking over each other.
  • Provide handouts in the appropriate format: you will have asked in advance for these.
  • If anyone is writing on a board or using slides in a presentation, remember to audio describe anything visual.

This page on “disability etiquette” from the Office for Disability Issues has some helpful advice, and Blind Low Vision NZ has also put together some useful tips.

Your communication style

How you talk in meetings is important to accessibility, but these three simple tips can make a big difference to everyone.

  • Speak clearly.
  • Don’t use jargon.
  • Give people time to process information.

Online meetings

Most of the above tips are also relevant to online meetings, but meetings via video bring their own challenges and solutions.

1. Prepare in advance.

Check that participants can access the technology platform you are using, and find out if there is anything you need to be aware of. For example, is the platform compatible with the assistive technology someone is using?

Accessibility is also about access to technology itself, and people’s digital skills levels, so check whether there are any issues and provide alternatives if necessary. For example, someone might find it easier to join a Zoom meeting by phone rather than video. You might also want to offer a tech check-in before the meeting – this is an opportunity to practise in advance, and to build confidence.

Remember that online meetings are not just about tech. Ask whether an attendee needs NZSL interpreters and provide one if necessary.

2. Be aware that “Zoom fatigue” is real.

This applies regardless of which platform you are using (not just Zoom!), and it applies to everyone – even if they would not normally consider themselves as having an access need. To avoid cognitive overload:

  • Keep meetings short.
  • Provide slides in advance.
  • Record meetings so that people can watch again.

3. Consider everyone.

People attending your online meeting will have a range of diverse needs, so here are some more ideas to help you make sure that everyone is included.

  • Set the view to only show the person speaking (although Deaf people will need to a set-up that shows the interpreter as the main speaker).
  • Ask people to mute themselves when not speaking.
  • Let people use the chat pane or Q&A function instead of speaking, if they are more comfortable with that. But remember that chat is not always accessible, especially to blind users, so the chair or moderator may need to read these out.
  • Provide captions/subtitles. As well as helping Deaf people, this is also useful for those who struggle with processing information at speed. It allows them to switch between listening and reading and, when discussions move quickly, to "rewind" the conversation where needed.

Are your work meetings accessible?

If you need help ensuring that your workplace culture is welcoming and accessible to all staff and customers, we can help. Contact our One-Stop Shop and ask about our Be. Confident sessions.


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