Best practices for hosting accessible web-based meetings

This is a resource for the Executive Branch of the Commonwealth in its ongoing efforts to provide accessible virtual meetings and presentations.

Federal and state anti-discrimination laws require that state agencies make their programs, services, and activities accessible to people with disabilities.  

In-person and virtual meetings/presentations must be conducted in a way that provides equivalent access unless to do so presents a fundamental alteration. Providing reasonable accommodations and effective communication are critical components to achieving equal access.

Reasonable accommodations are workplace adjustments or modifications to existing policies, practices, and procedures that are necessary to ensure that employees or members of the public with disabilities can equally participate in a program, service, or activity.

Effective communication ensures that people with vision, hearing, or speech disabilities can communicate, receive, and convey information in a manner that is accessible to them. Agencies must furnish auxiliary aids when needed to communicate effectively with people who have language-based disabilities. Examples of auxiliary aids for meetings/presentations may include accessible electronic documents that can be read with assistive technology, large print documents, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, and Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services. The agency, department, or entity that is hosting the event is responsible for providing ASL and CART along with other needed accessibility features.

Table of Contents

Considerations for ensuring accessible virtual meetings and presentations

Selecting a platform

After determining which platforms meet an agency’s operational needs, the agency should consider selecting the platform that provides the highest level of accessibility.

Consult with vendors and review their accessibility statements which offer insight into how various users with disabilities would interact with the platform. Find out how the system would work with an ASL interpreter, CART, or closed captioning or if a screen reader or strictly keyboard user could access features such as screenshare, chat, and video recording. The Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) offers accessibility consulting services free of charge to state agencies to help you assess the accessibility of various platforms. You can also reference the Statewide IT Accessibility Services Contract (ITS61) for accessibility audits and other digital accessibility-related services.

If an agency has identified a platform that meets its operational objectives but has inaccessible features, the agency should determine whether those features are critical to access. If the identified barriers are not critical, the agency should avoid using those features during the meeting/presentation. For those components deemed to be critical but not accessible, the agency should explore alternative ways that a participant with a disability can effectively participate in the meeting/presentation.

For example, Platform X allows presenters to take polls in order to gather real-time feedback testing attendees’ knowledge or gathering their votes. The agency has deemed this to be a critical component for participation. However, Platform X’s polling functionality doesn’t work with certain assistive technologies. An alternative method of meaningful participation must be explored and shared with attendees. For attendees who can’t access the polling features, the agency could allow feedback via alternative methods such as a Q&A or chat box, an email address, or a phone number where attendees can call or text in their submission. These alternative methods would need to be monitored in real-time to achieve equivalent access.

Presentation materials

To the extent possible, ensure that all presentation materials are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities including those using screen readers and other assistive technologies and those requiring large print. Since users of screen readers cannot read documents through a screen share and those using magnification may find that screen share video may be distorted with increased magnification, providing these materials in advance would allow these participants to better follow the discussion in real time.

Please review Microsoft’s support page on creating accessible Office documents to best assure that your presentation materials are accessible to the widest audience possible. Additionally, our colleagues at Minnesota IT Services have created a free e-learning program on how to create accessible Word documents.

Plan ahead for communication access services

Secure ASL interpreters and CART services in advance of the meeting or presentation. These important communication services can easily be offered on a digital platform.

The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing provides referrals for interpreter and CART services. You can request these services via their how to request an interpreter or CART provider webpage or by calling 617-740-1600 (voice) or 617-740-1700 (TTY). It is good practice to make your request at least two weeks prior to the event to ensure a provider is available.

If you are hosting a web-based meeting, check whether the web meeting platform’s closed captioning functionality is compatible with an external CART reporter’s software.

Decide whether you will provide CART/ASL interpreter services proactively or only upon request. When making this decision, think about the nature of the event: Will people be required to register for the event? Does the event have a fixed or undefined audience? How many attendees are you expecting? Will the event be live streamed? Will it be recorded? In instances where participants have been invited in advance, the invitation should direct people to contact the agency ADA Coordinator to request ASL interpreter or CART services. This direction can be included in the reasonable accommodation statement described in the next paragraph.

Reasonable accommodation statement

When advertising meetings or presentations, be sure to include a reasonable accommodation statement that informs invitees to notify the host agency of any modifications to policies, practices, or procedures that they would need to equally participate due to a disability related limitation. This statement should include a point of contact and a date by which requests should be received to ensure that the agency has adequate time to secure the accommodations. Also, be sure to state that you will try to accommodate a request after the deadline and work with the person requesting the accommodation but may be unable to fulfill the request due to time constraints.

Here is an example of a reasonable accommodation statement:

“[Agency] does not discriminate on the basis of disability and is committed to providing accessible programs, meetings, and events. To request reasonable modification to participate in this program, please contact [Agency] ADA Coordinator, [Name], at [email] or [phone]. Requests for ASL interpreter or CART services made after [date] will be considered but may not be possible to fill. 

Best practices

Before the meeting:

  • Do a trial run. If you have already identified employees who need to use accessible features of a platform, ask them to test it with you.
  • If you are planning on making certain accommodations such as ASL or CART available without request, be sure to include this information on any meeting advertisements. If participants must request services such as ASL or CART, be sure to provide instructions for how to make those requests.
  • Send out accessible meeting materials (slides, handouts, etc.) in advance.
  • Determine which features will be used in the meeting/presentation and include details about how to use those features on the meeting/presentation invitation or reminder. For example, provide a list of commonly used shortcut keys that can be used on the platform or any specific instructions that pertain to users of assistive technology.
  • Provide an outside contact point, such as a designated phone number and email address, that attendees can reach to address any accessibility concerns that may arise prior to and during meetings/presentations. Include these contact points with any communications advertising the event. Provide these alternative contact points during the beginning of the meeting/presentation, as well as periodically throughout the event. Designate a specific staff member or members (such as your ADA Coordinator) to monitor these channels in real-time.    
  • If using CART services, include the link to CART in meeting reminders so attendees can access the meeting link and the link to the CART platform in one place.
  • Become familiar with the features of the platform, including the accessible features and share them with participants. This could include providing a link to CART in the chat window, offering a brief overview of how to interact with the platform at the beginning of the meeting/presentation, and providing these types of verbal instructions for the duration as features are being utilized.
  • Prior to the start of a meeting/presentation, assign the CART reporter with the credentials/permissions needed to display closed captions. Once the assignment has been provided, request that the reporter provide a test message to confirm that closed captions are displayed. Test once more immediately after the start of the meeting/presentation. Inform the CART reporter in advance if you want a copy of the transcription.
  • If providing ASL interpreter services, secure two interpreters for meeting/presentations lasting 1 hour or longer. Prior to the meeting/presentation, discuss with the ASL interpreters on how long each would like to be visible on screen before taking a break.

During the Meeting:

  • If the meeting/presentation will be recorded, advise attendees at the start.
  • If using two or more ASL interpreters, temporarily pause the meeting/presentation to allow for a smooth change over. Resume the meeting/presentation once the changeover is complete and you have ensured that the ASL video is prominently on screen.
  • When using an ASL interpreter, make sure that the video remains prominently visible onscreen throughout the meeting/presentation. This may mean using a “spotlighting” or “pinning” feature on the ASL interpreter’s video. Depending on the platform, the host may need to give permission to interpreters or attendees to enable the “spotlighting” or “pinning” features. Depending on the platform, this may also require asking participants to turn off their video to ensure that the interpreter can be seen or be displayed more prominently.
  • If audio quality is an issue, consider requesting that participants turn off the video feature if it is not essential to participation.
  • Avoid more than one person speaking at a time. Crosstalk may be distracting for attendees and presents difficulties in relaying accurate information for ASL interpreters and CART captioners.
  • Direct presenters to identify themselves each time they speak. Doing this will ensure that attendees participating over the phone or who may be using assistive technology understand who is speaking at any given moment. Similarly this will aid ASL interpreters and CART captioners and will provide for a more accurate transcript.
  • When using screenshare or presenting materials on screen, provide a verbal explanation of what is being displayed so that those participating by phone or those who are unable to see the document or review the materials with assistive technology will be better able to follow along.
  • If you are planning on using a video as part of your training or presentation curriculum then it should have audio description or the visual aspects of the video should be described before or in between the dialogue of the video by a person on the training team.
  • Consider limiting the use of any chat functionality as comments may be automatically read aloud to attendees using assistive technology, which may cause distractions. Similarly, attendees participating over the phone will not have the benefit of reading chat messages. This functionality should be used sparingly and presenters or their designees should be prepared to read aloud any important statements/messages posted in the chat.
  • Keep a record of any URLs or important references included in a chat or Q&A feature and make these items available post meeting/presentation.
  • Plan ahead for how you will call upon attendees who cannot use a chat or hand-raise feature. Designate a staff member to monitor attendees’ screens if the participant is signaling that they are attempting to ask a question and are prevented from doing so.

Contact us

If you have questions regarding this guidance, please call MOD at 617-727-7440 or email

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