Telehealth and Telework Accessibility in a Pandemic-Induced Virtual World

Telehealth and Telework Accessibility discussion. Zoom conference with Zainab Alkebsi, Blake Reid, Christian Vogler and two sign language interpreters.

The COVID-19 pandemic has many ramifications for telehealth and telework accessibility. Blake Reid, Zainab Alkebsi and RERC Director Christian Vogler examine technical and legal angles in a Colorado Law Review essay, as well as a virtual roundtable hosted by Silicon Flatirons.

The essay and the event address disability law’s COVID-related “frailty”: how the pandemic has undermined equal access to employment and healthcare for Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind as healthcare and employment migrate toward telehealth and telework activities. They touch on some of the difficult legal and technical issues we have encountered in healthcare and workplace accessibility for Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind in the pandemic-induced virtual world.

DHH-RERC and Deaf/Hard of Hearing Consumer Groups Provide Remote Workplace Guidance

Deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind people working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis may encounter significant barriers to communication. We have collaborated with consumer advocacy groups and subject matter experts to provide guidance on making remote workplaces accessible:

The following organizations and subject matter experts have contributed:

(*consumer advocacy groups that advocate for the rights of deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind people)

DHH-RERC Provides Guidelines for Virtual Meetings with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Participants

The DHH-RERC has posted time-tested guidelines for running virtual meetings with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. That includes meetings where everyone signs. We also cover meetings with a mix of signers and non-signers.

Virtual meeting with six deaf and hard of hearing participants; four women and two men. Two of the participants are signing, while the others are watching. A chat pane shows a web URL under discussion.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing face many barriers with access to virtual meetings. These barriers now have to be addressed with renewed urgency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, there are some relatively simple changes that we can make to the way we run meetings. By implementing them, we can make an immediate difference for our deaf and hard of hearing coworkers.

Overall, consider these guiding principles:

  • Keep meetings as small as possible
  • Have well-defined roles in running the meeting, especially for larger ones (e.g., chair, turn-taking manager, note-taker)
  • Have well-defined communication rules
  • Turn-taking management is critical
  • In larger meetings, default to video off except for chairs, interpreters, turn-taking manager, and people who have the floor
  • Get a second screen, if at all possible
  • Run Ethernet cables instead of WiFi, if at all possible

Check out our detailed guidelines for more information. Also check out Catharine McNally’s related accessibility tips, and Jo Wootten’s tips for British Sign Language.

The RERC will update these guidelines to cover additional scenarios in the near future. So, check back often, and drop us a line at

Voice Telecommunications Access Survey

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Telecommunications Access at Gallaudet University conducted a survey to learn about the experiences of adults who are hard of hearing, deaf or have hearing loss, in their use of voice telecommunications technology. The goal was to better understand how such adults use current voice telecommunications technology, what barriers they face using it and what needs they have for improved accessibility.

This survey has been analyzed with support from the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology RERC, and selected results were made available to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults in December 2015.

View the survey results:

  • Telecommunications Access Survey description (PDF)
  • Telecommunications Access Survey results (PDF)