Your Virtual Meetings Aren’t Accessible — Here’s How We Can Fix That.
By: Savvy Gupta: Lead Design Artist, Karina Novotny: Research Coordinator, Tadeusz Pforte: Data Investigator, and Ryan Whitaker: Research and Study Design
What Is at Stake?
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to remote work has created setbacks for the hard of hearing community in their ability to communicate effectively in the workplace. The behavior of hearing people during online video meetings makes communication and understanding more difficult for the hard of hearing. Things like fast or unclear speech, low audio quality, not facing the camera and poor lighting make auto-captions inaccurate and lips hard to read. Our goal is to make online video conferences as accessible as possible to the hard of hearing community by tackling the problems that are within each hearing participant’s control. By focusing on the problems that are created by an individual’s behavior in an online meeting, we can alleviate some of the difficulties that the hard of hearing community faces while working remotely.
A Design for All
Our proposed solution is an online software that will alert a user anytime their video or audio quality worsens so that the user can fix their behavior to help their hard of hearing co-workers communicate effectively. Throughout our design process, we discovered that it was crucial to focus on how we can change the behavior of hearing people to help the hard of hearing rather than trying to change the behavior of the hard of hearing community. Our software can be connected to any online video platform so that the user can receive alerts throughout their meeting. The user can adjust the frequency of these alerts as they try to adjust their video and audio quality. Additionally, the user can see an after meeting summary that will give them additional information and solutions to their audio and video issues, including timestamps so that they can double check the accessibility when there were issues.
Our Design Iteration
We started our design process with a paper prototype that allowed us to immediately understand how a user may interact with our design, and unforeseen elements needed to be included. We created a mock desktop application interface that was able to showcase all of the text and information we planned to offer, and included a basic zoom interface with which we could overlay our alerts. Our initial prototype was fairly limited as we had designed it from our own understanding and expert usability knowledge which created some immediate issues come time for testing.
Our initial results quickly let us know that users were unsure of how the flow within the desktop application worked, and they required more information from us to understand what alerts meant and how to interact with or customize them. Significantly, users were unsure which settings corresponded with what alerts. In order to give more control and confidence to users, we decided to include a welcome page that explains the basic control flow of the application and its interaction within a meeting. Additionally, we included mouse over tooltips on the settings to better describe what situations these alerts may arise from and to better clarify which alerts were being controlled. Our final version of the paper prototype as seen above demonstrates how we were able to build upon the previous prototype and easily add or remove features with minimal commitment to a final design. The paper prototype allowed us to easily transition our ideas into a digital mockup and better understand how to more effectively design our application.
To further flesh out our idea, we built a digital prototype of our application in Figma. This let us take the feedback and experience we got from the paper prototype and solidify our ideas about what our interface would look like — especially our alerts — and how it would mesh with video conferencing softwares like Zoom.
This is an example of an alert a user might receive as part of our first task: reminding users during meetings to help them correct their behavior. We made the alerts large so that they would be noticed immediately, but made them slightly translucent to minimize the disruption if the user is looking at what is behind the alert. “Hide” and “Don’t Show Again” buttons give users some control over the alerts they see without making them open our application during the meeting. The AVA logo is also displayed on the bottom left of the Zoom interface, indicating that our application is active during this meeting and providing an easy way for users to open the application — simply clicking on the logo — if they want to change their settings mid-meeting.
For the application itself, we tried to keep a clean and simple appearance throughout. The Connect page allows users to link our application to different video conferencing softwares so that it can launch automatically whenever a meeting starts.
This is an example of a meeting summary that would be generated for a user after a meeting has finished, as part of our second task: letting users review an entire meeting and identify places where the transcript might require correction. Each event has a timestamp, so the corresponding point in the transcript can easily be found, and can be expanded for additional details as well as suggestions for how to correct the issue.
Finally, the Settings page allows users to customize the frequency of different alerts. If a user is uncertain what a particular alert, such as “Speech Clarity”, is triggered by, they can hover over the alert name to see a detailed description.
In conclusion, our goal was to support the hard-of-hearing and d/Deaf community in their video conferencing use through technology that encourages hearing people to change their inaccessible behaviors, rather than putting the burden on members of the HoH community to change in some way. We were able to accomplish this goal through AVA, which, as demonstrated, highlights these negative behaviors through alerts and offers suggestions for improvement so that hearing people can eventually learn how to incorporate more accessible forms of communication in video conferencing. We envision AVA being used anywhere there is reliance on video conferencing for meetings — whether that is the workplace or even eventually expanded to online schooling. Ultimately, with AVA incorporated into video conferencing across the board, we hope to make meetings more accessible and equitable, and provide members of the HoH and D/deaf community the opportunity to participate in these aspects of their life without issue.