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Summary

Zoom is an excellent choice if you are looking for outstanding accessibility to the deaf, totally blind and partially sighted with comprehensive documentation and tons of useful keyboard shortcuts with fully accessible apps for all the major operating systems and a very stable web app. As a bonus, the company continuously demonstrates their commitment to maintain a high level of accessibility across their product offering. The only issue I have is that some products are rather costly, especially for those of us working within the disability and NPO sector.

Short Introduction

Zoom Cloud Meetings (commonly shortened to Zoom) is a proprietary video teleconferencing software program developed by Zoom Video Communications. The free plan allows up to 100 concurrent participants, with a 40-minute time restriction. Users have the option to upgrade by subscribing to a paid plan. The highest plan supports up to 1,000 concurrent participants for meetings lasting up to 30 hours.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a major increase in the use of Zoom for remote work, distance education and online social relations. In the organisation that I work for, we relied heavily on Zoom in order to perform many functions, that otherwise, would not have been possible for us.

The increase led to Zoom being the 5th most downloaded mobile app worldwide in 2020 at 477 million downloads, according to Forbes

Zoom is compatible with Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome OS, and Linux. It is noted for its simple interface and usability, regardless of technological expertise.

Features

Features include one-on-one meetings, group video conferences, screen sharing, plugins, browser extensions, and the ability to record meetings and have them automatically transcribed.

On some computers and operating systems, users are able to select a virtual background, which can be downloaded from different sites, to use as a backdrop behind themselves.

Use of the platform is free for video conferences of up to 100 participants at once, with a 40-minute time limit if there are more than two participants. For longer or larger conferences with more features, paid subscriptions are available, costing $15–20 per month. Features geared towards business conferences, such as Zoom Rooms, are available for $50–100 per month. Up to 49 people can be seen on a desktop or laptop screen at once, up to 4 people per screen in iPhone and Android mobile phones and tablet computers, and up to 16 people per screen on iPad. Zoom has several tiers: Basic, Pro, Business, and Enterprise.

Participants do not have to download the app if they are using Google Chrome or Firefox; they can click on a link and join from the browser. Users have to download the software in tablet computers and mobile phones with Android and iOS.

Zoom security features include password-protected meetings, user authentication, waiting rooms, locked meetings, disabling participant screen sharing, randomly generated IDs, and the ability for the host to remove disruptive attendees.

As of June 2020, Zoom began offering end-to-end encryption to business and enterprise users, with AES 256 GCM encryption enabled for all users.

In October 2020, Zoom added end-to-end encryption for free and paid users. It’s available on all platforms, except for the official Zoom web client.

Zoom also offers a transcription service using Otter.ai software that allows businesses to store transcriptions of the Zoom meetings online and search them, including separating and labeling different speakers.

In September 2020, Zoom added new accessibility features to make the app easier to use for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or visually impaired. New features include the ability to move around video windows in gallery view, pin video windows to be spotlighted; improved keyboard shortcuts; new tools to adjust the size of closed captioning text; and sign language interpreters’ windows can now sit directly next to the speaker.

In August 2021, Zoom launched a new Focus mode. When active, the mode will hide participants’ screens from each other while the host retains the ability to see everyone’s camera stream or screen share. The feature is available across all Zoom accounts, including free ones.

Links

Zoom accessibility page
Zoom accessibility FAQ
Shortcut keys for Zoom

Advantages

  • Captions can be embedded in the video, although some people may prefer to have a link to stream text to be able to move it around.
  • Accessible for signing deaf users (small and large groups) as everyone can see each other.
  • This is a good option for an interactive meeting that requires output from deaf people using sign language.
  • Works well for hard of hearing people if live captioning is provided.
  • Works well for blind moderators and participants using screen readers, except for reviewing something that another person is sharing from their screen.
  • Zoom buttons are easier to understand and use since they are larger and have icons.
  • Keyboard-only navigation enabled.
  • Good audio and picture quality.
  • Anyone with an invitation can join a Zoom call. You do not need an Zoom account.
  • Does not require a mobile or desktop app download for attendees. Users can use this platform through a web browser.
  • Users can change their background, although this can sometimes wash out the presenter’s face.
      • Supports up to 1000 participants at an extra cost.
  • There is a chat messaging function.
  • Can be broadcasted on Facebook live and Youtube.  However, only one service at a time can be selected.

Disadvantages

  • It is difficult to see the captions while using or interpreting in sign language.
  • Captioning needs to be ordered separately for hard of hearing participants through a third-party service.
  • Closed captions must be enabled in meetings settings before the meeting starts.
  • Embedded captions appear with a delay on screen creating an additional barrier.
  • There is no option for captions to use either a few words or full captions on the screen.
  • Automated captions are not yet available. When they are available, this feature should not replace professional captioning since it is not fully accurate.
  • In recordings, the captions are not recorded if in a separate box.
  • For blind people using screen readers, it is difficult to review something that another person is sharing from their screen as the presentation is usually rendered in an inaccessible graphical format.
  • For blind people using screen readers there are some challenges with using the chat box. For example, the screen reader starts reading the chat, and then cannot access other functions, such as unmute, so delays participation.
  • Without the assistance of an interpreter-guide, Zoom is not accessible to many persons with deafblindness, including barriers in accessing the Q&A function or chat boxes.
  • If used, the password requirement can add another level of inaccessibility for some users.
  • A good internet connection is required, although calling in sometimes can assist with this.

Conclusion

Zoom is probably the most widely used video and voice chat service used by the deaf, blind and visually impaired community. With their ongoing commitment to constantly improve on accessibility of all their products, it is really difficult to find fault with the service.

 

The only issue, as mentioned right at the beginning, is the pricing model, especially for those of us operating in lower-income environments, i.e. Africa.

 

Finally, if, as a person with a disability, you are struggling with any of their apps or would like to provide accessibility feedback, report an issue, or request accessibility support, please email access@zoom.us.

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