Our co-worker thought we were heartless monsters.

This is a slight exaggeration, but an important lesson about what gets lost in translation when apps aren’t entirely accessible. During an experimental Zoom call, we learned that screen readers and the reactions feature aren’t quite compatible. That means that every time during a call when someone mentioned something hard or heartfelt and the screen filled with supportive emojis using the reactions feature, those using screen readers experienced cold silence.

We reached out to Zoom and learned that a screen reader can pick up on reactions only if the user has the reacting person’s name selected in the participants panel. If several people are reacting, or if the screen reader user has no reason to wander over to the participant panel, the reactions don’t register. It’s a great example of something that is technically accessible, but not quite practical, which can lead to users having vastly different experiences. Since we’ve contacted Zoom, they have released updates to reactions which now make them animated but no more accessible then before.

Disabled folks advocated for remote work long before the COVID-19 shutdowns drove many of us to our home offices – and watching how quickly accommodations were rolled out was frustrating for many. Teen Vogue interviewed disabled folks about this particular moment. One interviewee Kat said:

“Having these accommodations offered now is genuinely relieving because I can take care of my health better and not force myself to work when I’m ill. But it’s overwhelmingly frustrating, because it feels like the technology is there, the ability, and even the willingness is there, but it’s only because it affects the able-bodied majority.”

Zoom is an integral part of remote and hybrid work that has helped make meetings and conferences more accessible, but there are still ways we can make the experience even more inclusive. At Bocoup we’ve developed our own best practices guide to make Zoom meetings more accessible to those using screen readers. Feel free to implement these changes in your meetings!

To Set Up Zoom

  1. Create your free Zoom account

  2. Install the Zoom for GSuite Add-on: This should allow you to schedule Zoom meetings straight from your Google Calendar.

  3. Start using Zoom: Once you have the Add-on, you can schedule meetings directly from your calendar using Zoom and to convert meetings that are already scheduled, you should be able to edit the meeting, remove the Google Meet, and make it a Zoom meeting instead.

General Practices

To create a more enjoyable and accessible experience for all, Bocoup recommends all staff follow the below practices when video conferencing:

  • Make sure that you are using the latest version of Zoom.
  • If new to the people you’re meeting with, please state your name when speaking for the first few times to build familiarity with your voice.
  • If something shown on your screen is relevant to the discussion, please describe it verbally or in the chat.
  • When reacting to something someone is saying, please do so in chat versus using Reactions as these are inaccessible.
  • When using emojis, be aware of what the emoji text is, not only the image, as sometimes these may be interpreted differently. To view the text, click the Smile button in the chat and hover your mouse over the emoji to see the text associated with it.
  • When planning to screen share materials during a meeting, share these with the team ahead of time if possible. If not, share them after the meeting.
  • When sharing sound through Zoom, be conscientious of volume and offer to adjust if needed.
  • For smaller group meetings, consider being unmuted if you are not in a sound disruptive environment. This creates a more natural conversational setting.
  • Raising hands can be useful for people wanting to ask questions but be aware that screen readers do not alert the user if others have their hands raised (unless the screen reader user is the host.)

We cannot control your physical environment, but we can try to make virtual meetings accessible and inclusive to everybody. If we miss your access needs, please let us know. The above recommendations were developed through internal discussions around how we experience working together through Zoom.


There are two different types of Zoom settings. To access your Zoom profile settings, go to https://zoom.us/profile/setting. Make sure you are logged into the correct account. All settings below are recommendations based on creating an uninterrupted and smooth user experience. If you prefer an alternative to these recommendations, please feel free to set your account up as is most comfortable for you. Settings marked with an asterisk are ones that only apply to paid accounts so those with free accounts will not see them in these options. It is also recommended to review the Accessibility settings in your Zoom Desktop App to create the optimal experience for your Zoom account.

Schedule Meeting

OFF: Host video

OFF: Participants video -Audio Type: Computer Audio *-Audio Type: Telephone and Computer Audio

ON: Allow participants to join before host (Note: they won’t be able to join if you are in another meeting on your account.)

ON: Enable Personal Meeting ID

OFF: Use Personal Meeting ID (PMI) when scheduling a meeting

OFF: Use Personal Meeting ID (PMI) when starting an instant meeting

OFF: Add watermark

OFF: Mute all participants when they join a meeting

OFF: Upcoming meeting reminder

In Meeting (Basic)

OFF: Require encryption for 3rd party endpoints (SIP/H.323)

ON: Chat By default, allow participants to chat with: Everyone and anyone directly Allow users to save chats from the meeting: Everyone

ON: Private chat

OFF: Auto saving chats

ON: Sound notification when someone joins or leaves Play sound for: Everyone

ON: Send files via meeting chat

OFF: Feedback to Zoom

OFF: Display end-of-meeting experience feedback survey

*ON: Co-host

*ON: Meeting Polls/Quizzes

*ON: Meeting Survey

OFF: Always show meeting control toolbar

ON: Show Zoom windows during screen share

ON: Screen sharing Who can share? All Participants Who can start sharing when someone else is sharing? All Participants

OFF: Disable desktop screen sharing for meetings you host

OFF: Disable screen sharing when guests are in the meeting

ON: Annotation

ON: Allow saving of shared screens with annotations

OFF: Only the user who is sharing can annotate

ON: Whiteboard

ON: Allow saving of whiteboard content

ON: Auto save whiteboard content when sharing is stopped

ON: Remote control

ON: Allow remote controlling user to share clipboard

ON: Slide Control

ON: Non-verbal feedback

ON: Meeting reactions

OFF: Allow removed participants to rejoin

ON: Allow users to change their name when joining a meeting

ON: Allow participants to rename themselves

OFF: Hide participant profile pictures in a meeting