During COVID-19, virtual/online platforms have experienced explosive growth due to the need to host meetings and events that previously took place in person. The plethora of platforms now available is overwhelming. So prevalent is its use one year into this global pandemic that new phrases have been added to our lexicon, like “Zoom fatigue” and “Zoomed out!”.
Meeting online is a very different experience than meeting in person. Not everyone may receive information as effectively in this virtual world. With the shift to remote work, employers must also consider the accessibility of online platforms. Not only is the provision of an alternative communication channel the right thing to do, but it is also the law of the land.
Employer Human Rights Obligations
Employers have a duty to accommodate employees to ensure their success in the workplace while meeting compliance obligations under provincial Human Rights Codes, and in Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
In Ontario, the AODA’s Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) includes the Information and Communication Standards. In s. 12(1), it states that every obligated organization shall upon request provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for persons with disabilities. Beginning January 1, 2021, the Ontario Government requires all public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012 to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA; this includes captions for all live audio content. As virtual meetings are a form of electronic (Internet-delivered) communication, web accessibility applies and WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) must be followed. To not do so exposes an organization to human rights and AODA compliance challenges.
Why Captioning Matters
Why is captioning so important for accessible communication? You are likely familiar with captioning on the television and subtitles on DVDs and streaming platforms like Netflix. Captions and subtitles can be open (always on the screen) or closed (enabled or disabled in the video or device settings).
You may think that captions are just for people with hearing loss. This is an understandable assumption, but they provide so much more value.
Ease Language Barriers – In a country as proudly diverse as Canada, it is highly likely that your employees and viewers will not have English as a first language. The addition of captions breaks down barriers to comprehension. Also, some may have unfamiliar speech patterns that can be difficult to understand so a visual presentation of words spoken helps. Depending on the captioning tool used, you may also be able to translate content into different languages while the event is happening.
Hearing Loss – One of the top five disabilities, statistics indicate an estimated 20 per cent of Canadians 55 years and older have hearing loss, which increases with age. However, those much younger also have measured hearing loss. Many are unaware of a decline in their hearing, and those who suspect may not investigate due to the stigma attached. The presence of captioning ensures that everyone gets the message.
Visual Reinforcement – Have you noticed that captions and subtitles are popular with younger generations who don’t actually have any hearing loss? This is because people have an easier time understanding and remembering content if they can read along. It also supports those who have learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder.
Overcoming Background Noise – Some viewers are overloaded by noise depending on what else is happening at their remote location or may wish to avoid disturbing others around them. Headphones don’t always work well, so the provision of captions on your virtual platform provides the option to turn down or turn off the volume and reduces distractions while enhancing engagement.
As a caveat, automatically generated captions powered by Artificial Intelligence do not meet user needs or accessibility requirements unless they are confirmed to be fully accurate. Because accuracy hovers around 80 per cent, this usually requires significant editing to bring it up to an acceptable standard. In comparison, steno captioning provided by a certified stenographer provides accuracy rates of 99% or higher. Accommodations are a collaborative effort; listen to the person requesting the accommodation. Some people are fine with auto-generated captions whereas others find it too difficult to follow and require steno captioning. Respect the needs as articulated.
How We Can Help
At Hum Law, we saw early on the importance of integrating captioning to enhance our brand and workplace communication. We have made concerted efforts to implement appropriate measures so that those who may be excluded by our new virtual world are included and are happy to discuss the solution that works best for us.
Employers should confirm compliance with the current provincial accessibility and inclusion standards. We can help with a compliance audit. Contact Hum Law today at (416) 214-2329 to speak to an expert.