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Businessman in a video conference with his team while working from home during quarantine.

A user's guide to video conferencing apps

Assessing different options' accessibility and usability

Businessman in a video conference with his team while working from home during quarantine.

Video conferencing apps

Blackboard is an online teaching and learning tool used by students and teachers. It enables online classroom learning with course materials, student/teacher interactions and assessments delivered online. It can facilitate real time and recorded lectures and discussions and can be used for mentoring and tutoring.

Advantages

  • Provides HTML content to view.
  • Multiple methods of communication.
  • Instructors are prompted to add alt text to images.
  • Is compatible with screen readers such as JAWS and VoiceOver.
  • Is possible to enable define high contrast on the log in page.
  • Quick links and keyboard log ins are available.
  • Has the ability to add your own alt text to images.

Disadvantages

  •  No speech-to-text function.
  • Doesn’t have live captions, you have to add them to your materials.
  • Users report that it is difficult to navigate.

See a list of the accessibility features in Blackboard.

 BlueJeans is a cloud-based service that is able to connect users across multiple devices and utilise conferencing solutions including Google, Microsoft Lync and Cisco. The platform offers collaborative video, audio, and web conferencing as well as allowing users to host livestreams and other interactive events. It offers a free trial initially, but then requires an annual or ‘pro’ subscription to continue using. BlueJeans Standard will likely be sufficient for most users, as it allows you to host up to 50 members per meeting, unlimited one-on-ones, unlimited group meetings without time limits, and five hours of recording times for the meetings you host. BlueJeans Pro allows  75 members per meeting, 25 hours of recording time, as well as Command Center Analytics and security and workstream collaboration features not available on the Standard level.

Advantages

  •  BlueJeans sells itself on its simplicity allowing users to “schedule, join, and host one-touch meetings in just six seconds” from any device.
  • Utilizes HD video and Dolby Voice audio, which offer superior quality.
  • Compatible with standard screen readers such as VoiceOver on iOS and OSX platforms, TalkBack on Android devices and NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access) for Windows platform.
  • Users can navigate using their keyboard and assistive technologies to perform most of the functions to schedule, attend and participate in a BlueJeans meetings.
  • Closed real time AI captions can be enabled.

Disadvantages

  •  Turning on closed captions can be slow and there may be a delay.
  • Closed captions are not available after the meeting as a transcript.
  • Transcription is a paid for add on service.

View the BlueJeans accessibility homepage.

Quick and easy to set up, Google Hangouts is a free solution for smaller group meetings. It can be used on a computer, mobile phone or tablet, as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection or mobile data plan. To create a video meeting, you need to be signed into a G Suite account. To join a video meeting as a guest, you need the Meet mobile app or a supported web browser. You do not need a G Suite account, but you must be invited by someone who does.

In response to lockdown, Google announced in May 2020 that they would be making premium features of Google Hangout free to individuals, including live captions.

Advantages

  • Live AI close captions available on desktop and mobile.
  • Anyone with a Gmail account can join a Google Hangouts call.
  • Screenreader accessible.
  • Can be used in web browser.
  • Keyboard shortcuts for video calls and within chat function.
  • Good picture and sound quality.
  • Chat messaging function.
  • Supports up to 25 call participants.
  • No limit on call time.
  • Noise minimisation feature focuses audio on the speaker’s voice and not background noise.

Disadvantages

  • Non-Gmail addresses can only be added to the video meeting if the user who invites you has a G-suite account.
  • You do not have the option of adding your own caption provider to the call. If you do use a caption provider their captions will not show within Hangout, and you will need to view these via a different window/application.

Sign up to Google Hangouts
How to start a video call in Google Hangouts
Suggested browsers for using Google Hangouts with a screen reader

The business version of consumer Google Hangouts requires at least one meeting member to sign up to G Suite. Hangouts Meet offers a high quality live captionist.

Google has recently made Hangouts Meet available to all G Suite customers for free. (Note, owning a Gmail account is not the same as being a G Suite customer, which a paid-for service).

Price: G Suite offers a free 14-day trial which requires no software download.

Package pricing starts at £4.14 per user per month for the Basic package, £8.28 per user per month for Business and £20 per user per month for Enterprise.

Advantages

  • High quality live captions available.
  • Widely reported as the highest quality AI closed caption provider among regular users.
  • Keyboard shortcuts for video calls and within chat function.
  • Screenreader accessible.
  • Integrates with both Microsoft Outlook and Gmail.
  • Simple, easy-to-use interface.
  • Can be used in web browser.
  • Customers can make use of full-page zoom magnifier, high-contrast colour, and accessibility extensions in Chrome browser.
  • Any user can mute anyone else on the call.
  • Supports up to 250 call participants.
  • Offers a free call-in number for those without video to join the call.
  • Censors swear words.

Disadvantages

  • At least one call participant must have a paid-for G Suite account.
  • Captions are only available in English.
  • If you record a video meeting, captions are not recorded and don’t appear when you play the recording.

Useful links

Launched in 2017, Teams is Microsoft’s answer to rival platform Slack. The number of daily users has surged to 44 million during the coronavirus outbreak.

Teams is available to organisations who use Office 365, though Microsoft plan to launch a consumer version of Teams later in the year. Microsoft Teams will soon replace Skype for Business.

Advantages

  • Live captions available on desktop app and mobile, but only as a preview feature. This means that not all companies who use Teams will have this functionality yet. Captions are not available in government clouds.
  • Screenreader accessible.
  • Good picture and sound quality.
  • Simple user interface.
  • External guests can join as long as they have a valid business or consumer email address.
  • Chat can be accessed within web browser.
  • Audio, video and screen-sharing activity can be recorded in Teams meetings. Automatic transcription allows users to playback the conversation and search within the transcript.
  • Users can blur their background for privacy or to remove distractions for those lip reading.
  • Supports up to 250 call participants.
  • Chat messaging function.

Disadvantages

  • Browser-based web app version doesn’t support real-time calls or meetings.
  • Live captions only available in English.
  • You do not have the option of adding your own caption provider to the call, if you do, their captions will not show within Hangout, and you will need to view these via a different window/application.
  • Blur background function is disabled for some users and appears as “disabled by policies”.

Useful links

Free service which specialises in video chat and voice calls. Can be downloaded across a range of devices. Live captions and subtitles are available in Skype version 8 or higher for Android, iOS, Windows and macOS. Accessible through computer, mobile or tablet, with a Wi-Fi connection or mobile data plan.

You can also make a call from Skype to someone on their mobile or landline with a subscription or Skype Credit. Some premium-rate numbers, geographic or country-specific numbers are not supported by Skype.

Advantages

  • Free.
  • Live AI closed captions available on desktop and mobile (for video, audio and traditional phone calls).
  • Closed captions are attributed to specific users.
  • Screen reader accessible.
  • Users can blur their background for privacy.
  • Censors swear words.
  • Can be accessed in web browser.
  • Anybody can join a call, even if they do not have a Skype account.
  • Skype to Skype calls are free anywhere in the world.
  • Supports up to 50 call participants.
  • Chat messaging function.

Disadvantages

  • Does not remember preferences for captions, so they must be enabled each time.
  • You do not have the option of adding your own caption provider to the call, if you do, their captions will not show within the chat/call, and you will need to view these via a different window/application.
  • Users must pay to use premium features like voice mail, SMS texts, making calls to a landline, or mobile phone outside of Skype.

Useful links 

 

Integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Office 365 products. Closed captions can be viewed in Skype meeting broadcasts, but they must be enabled by the meeting organiser beforehand. Can be used on a computer, mobile or tablet, with a WiFi connection or mobile data plan.

Price: Free to the user (organisations must be signed up and pay per user)

Advantages

  • Supports up to 250 call participants.
  • Closed captions can be enabled in a Skype meeting broadcast.
  • Chat messaging function.
  • Users can blur their background for privacy and to enable lipreading without distractions.

Disadvantages

  • Users must have a Skype for Business or Lync account through their organisation.
  • Not compatible with the consumer version of Skype.
  • Live closed captioning not supported within the product.
  • Closed Caption support for real-time transcription must be provided through a third-party service or by typing yourself.
  • User interface is difficult to use.
  • Users must download desktop or mobile app.
  • Charges call-in fees on top of per month per user fee.

Useful links

A screenshot showing a Webex Meeting, with participants appearing on a 5x5 grid

WebEx Meetings is a full video and content sharing cloud solution that you can join via desktop, mobile, browser, and video devices. WebEx allows users to host or participate in video conferencing, online meetings, and screen sharing, with up to 1,000 participants allowed in a virtual meeting room. Meetings can be joined via the WebEx desktop, web, and mobile apps. WebEx offers a free trial but is thereafter a paid for service.

Advantages

  •  WebEx Meetings can automatically detect background noise to remove distractions.
  • A single, consistent one-button join across devices and apps. Clicking on a green button in the invitation allows you to join.
  • Nothing to install, plug in, or download to join from Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari browsers.
  • You can join or a start a meeting from WebEx, or do it from Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Workplace by Facebook. It also works with calendars like Google Calendar. Support for Microsoft Office 365 is expected shortly.
  • It has been updated to work better on Mobile devices. Apple users can now use voice commands, Touch ID, and Face ID.
  • Should minimize bandwidth issues such as latency, bandwidth, jitter, and packet-loss issues that happen so often on the public web because it uses the Cisco network backbone.
  • Supports the high contrast scheme of the Windows operating system (OS).
  • Supports the zoom functionality of the OS.
  • Supports browser text resizing and zoom functionality.
  • Possible to pin a video to see an interpreter.
  • The host can record the meeting and create a transcript.

Disadvantages

  •  Limited keyboard navigation support.
  • Supports high contrast only with the Chrome high contrast extension.
  • Limited screen reader support but works with the latest version of JAWS.
  • No Live Captions available. Closed Caption support for real-time transcription must be provided through a third-party service.

 Useful links

Free, powerful video conferencing software. Particularly good for larger group meetings. Can be used on a computer, mobile or tablet, with a Wi-Fi connection or mobile data plan. Popular with people who require interpreters and speech-to-text reporters.

Price: The basic package is free, Pro subscriptions range from £11.99 to £15.99 per month.

Unlimited one-to-one video meeting calls with the basic, free package, with a 40-minute limit on group call times. For longer meetings, one meeting member must be signed up to the Pro subscription for £11.99 per month.

Advantages

  • Accessible via a screen reader.
  • Keyboard-only navigation enabled.
  • Good audio quality.
  • Good picture quality.
  • Anyone can be invited to join a Zoom call.
  • Does not require a mobile or desktop app download for attendees. Users can use through a web browser.
  • Users can change their background.
  • Supports up to 100 call participants.
  • Chat messaging function.
  • You can pin a speaker to your screen, so that you can keep an interpreter in view all the time.
  • Possible to phone into a Zoom meeting as well as joining with video.

Disadvantages

  • No live captions available. Closed caption support for real-time transcription must be provided through a third-party service or by typing yourself. The process is complex and requires the user to copy Zoom’s API token and then find another service.
  • Closed captions must be enabled in meetings settings before meeting starts.
  • Concerns over data privacy and security – which means that some businesses (e.g. Government departments) do not allow the Zoom app to be downloaded onto work devices.
  • 40 minutes limit on hosting group video meetings (of 3 to 100 people) with the basic package.
  • User interface sometimes difficult to use.
  • Only the host can mute everyone.
  • Due to increased demand from Covid-19, dial-in by phone audio conferencing capabilities may be temporarily removed from free basic accounts.

Useful links

 

There are other services that provide basic video messaging functionality. All of the following services are free but require you to download an app onto your device.

Facebook Messenger

Anyone with a Facebook account, and a device with a camera and a microphone (like a smartphone, or laptop) can access to Facebook’s video messaging service, with group calls enabled. Available on iOS and Android.

Facetime

Available on iOS only. Offers voice calling as well as video calling. Requires a Wi-Fi or 4G connection. Useful for people who want to sign with interpreters. Group calls enabled.

Whatsapp

Offers voice calling as well as video calling, with group calls enabled. Requires a Wi-Fi or 4G connection. Useful for people who want to sign with interpreters. Offers the ability to send and receive audio messages.

Available on iOS and Android.

Google Duo

Free to use, enables one-to-one video and voice calls and it works across both iOS and Android devices unlike Apple’s FaceTime. Group calling limit is 12. Ability to send and receive video and audio messages. Google Duo seems to be preparing live caption functionality at the minute.

 

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