Author Archives: Annie Jean-Baptiste

Make sure your video meetings are accessible for everyone

In 2017, Professor Robert Kelly was conducting a video interview with the BBC from his home office when he was famously, and adorably, interrupted.

BBC dad

Today, many of us working remotely due to COVID-19 can relate. Virtual meetings have become even more vital to how we connect, communicate and get work done, which is one of the reasons we made Google Meet available for free to everyone back in May. And while video conferencing is now part of our daily lives, it comes with its challenges, too. Aside from the occasional adorable interruptions, there’s also more potential for accidental exclusion. And when that happens, we risk missing out on valuable perspectives, creativity and successful outcomes

Fortunately, there are ways to make remote meetings better and more inclusive for all. 

Plan ahead

The more planning you do, the better remote meetings can be. Share your agenda, process and materials ahead of time so everyone has a chance to gather their thoughts and show up ready to contribute meaningfully. 

Everyone processes information differently; for instance, for some neurodivergent people, vague information can be stressful and difficult to respond to. And for introverted people, the same can lead to less participation.  

Check that the platforms your team uses for real-time chat, presentations, feedback or whiteboarding work with different assistive technologies that people with disabilities may use. You can search online, on the company’s help center, or contact them directly. (Here’s some accessibility info for GoogleMeet and Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms.

If you’re tied to using a specific platform, like a brainstorming tool without captions, tell everyone about its limitations ahead of time and work together to find a workaround. 

You can also send participants an anonymous feedback survey with Google Forms asking how to improve the experience. 

Set ground rules, norms and time limits

From the start, establish a clear process for the meeting. This can include when there should be discussion, when someone has the floor for an extended period, how to take turns and what signals the moderator will use to (politely!) cut in to keep things moving along.

It’s also essential to normalize parenting and caregiving. Make sure your colleagues know caregiving responsibilities can be attended to and prioritized, and discuss that it’s OK (and sometimes even fun!) for kids, pets and other family members to interrupt calls. And remember, anyone can be a caretaker regardless of age, gender or living situation, so include everyone in this discussion. 

 If meetings are longer than an hour (and were intended to be), offer breaks. Listening fatigue due to cognitive load can occur for deaf and hard-of-hearing participants, but breaks are likely welcome to anyone spending the majority of their day looking at a screen.

Take advantage of remote meeting technology

Before you join meetings, be close enough to the mic and camera so participants can easily see faces to clearly read lips, tone and body language. Using real-time closed captions (CC) is also a good idea (here’s how to turn on English CC when presenting in Google Meet and Google Slides), as is adding a phone dial-in option, which G Suite customers can easily do in Google Meet

And if you’re sharing any Docs or Slides, make sure the content is easily visible for everyone. (For more details about making sure meetings and the content you share during them are accessible, check out this blog post about creating inclusivity while we work from home.) 

Leave time for empathy

There’s a lot going on in the world, from a global pandemic to the quest for racial equity. It’s important to recognize that people may be in difficult situations and feeling a multitude of emotions. 

If you are leading a video call, plan to take some time at the beginning to acknowledge how people may be feeling, offer your support and understanding. Even though meetings have a specific agenda, it’s also important to  create a safe, no-pressure space for people to share—if they want to—and to connect to one another. 

Hopefully these tips will help make your video meetings more welcoming for everyone you work and meet with. 

Products that work for you, no matter who you are

I grew up as a first generation Haitian American woman, and I understand how things like race and gender can affect your experience in the world. When products that you use every day are built for people who don’t have a background similar to yours, it can be a frustrating experience. For example, I think of social media filtering that automatically lightens my skin tone.

As lead of our product inclusion team, it’s my job to help Google create products that reflect all of our users—no matter who they are or where they live.

We’re talking about some of those products at CES this week, so it’s a good time to check in our progress. Here’s a look at the steps we’re taking to make sure our products work for everyone.

We build our products with equity in mind from the start.  

Inclusion shouldn’t be an afterthought. We want to make sure that underrepresented voices are being heard throughout the product development process—this means providing input in the early stages of product ideation, prototyping, user research, UX design and marketing—all the way to launch. By doing this, we can create products that reach more people globally. For instance, when the Google Assistant was built, we wanted to make sure that the product didn't use insensitive language, so we worked closely with Googlers to stress-test the product before it launched, and came up with a list of words to proactively exclude. As a result, today, less than .0002 percent of the daily queries are marked as offensive. 

We address the diverse needs of our current and future users.  

Race, gender, age, ability, education level, and geographic location are some of the dimensions of diversity that we consider when developing a product. We ask ourselves questions like: Are all races represented in this product? Does it make sense for people living in different places around the world? Is it useful for people of all ages? To make sure we have the broadest perspective when developing products, we’ve set up an inclusion champion group of more than 2,000 Googlers who span those dimensions. They regularly provide feedback and lend their perspectives as the product is built over time. When we built the camera sensors on the Google Pixel, we consulted employees to make sure the product was more inclusive and captured a wider variety of skin tones accurately.

We constantly test our products. 

To ensure our products are inclusive, we’re always researching and testing. Take for example Low Light mode for Google Duo. When it was discovered that people around the world were struggling with poor lighting on video calls, the Duo teams conducted testing with employee volunteers of various skin tones in different environments and helped improve the feature. This is just one example—every year, thousands of Googlers volunteer to help test products. We also regularly conduct external volunteer research studies in the field as part of product development. This research is an essential piece of how we ensure that when we design products, they reflect our users universally. 

A commitment to product inclusion can’t just live within one team. It needs to be embedded and prioritized across the company. In 2019, we trained leaders across product areas at Google on our approach to product inclusion, to ensure they’re considering a diverse population during each step of product development, from ideation to launch. We also launched a new training for incoming technical Googlers on inclusive product design. So far, 12,000 Googlers have taken the class and we’ll be expanding the training this year to even more. 

Google is investing heavily in building products that work for all users with diverse backgrounds across the globe—and we’ll continue to work hard to get this right.