Making online events accessible

It is important to understand people’s accessibility requirements in advance:

  • Before deciding the date of an event, you may want to look at a calendar of equality and diversity dates, including significant religious festivals.
  • Provide a range of alternative registering options. For example, online, telephone and email.
  • Make the registration form accessible. For example, the Events Office uses the University approved Microsoft Forms for the registration process for many events, and this has an immersive reader facility that is also suitable for screen readers.
  • Give people the opportunity to communicate their requirements in the registration form. Include a box asking if they have any access requirements, with a text box for them to elaborate further.
  • Brief your speakers, presenters and panellists. 
  • For those who rely on lip and face reading, it is important that the speaker:
  1. remains as still as possible whilst speaking/presenting. 
  2. blurs the background to allow the focus to remain on the speaker’s face. Blurring the background is possible in both Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
  3. ensures their face is well-lit.
  • Ask your speakers to use headphones or a decent microphone to ensure the best sound quality possible.
  • Send any documents that you will be sharing in the webinar in advance to those who need it so they can prepare.
  • For those using a screen reader, the chat function in both Microsoft Teams and Zoom can be difficult to follow. If there is a Q&A in your online event, try using the Q&A box instead. This allows the audience to submit questions to the host, the host can choose to publish those questions, as well as to either orally respond or to type the answer. Simple instructions for Microsoft Teams Q&A are available online. This facility is also available in Zoom, but not in the basic package. 
  • If you plan to show any documents during the webinar, or if you want to share your screen showing documents produced with any other Microsoft Office products, Microsoft has a useful accessibility checker. The accessibility checker (available in Office 365) can be used on a day to day basis, even when sending an email, and is a good way to learn the principles of ensuring you are communicating in an accessible way. Simple to use guidelines on how to use this function are available. 
  • Zoom has been voted by disabled groups as the most accessible online platform. Zoom Accessibility.

Automatic live captions

Live captions can be used to aid those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or for those who are trying to work in a noisy environment. If you are using Microsoft Teams for your online event you can simply turn captions on or off if you are the meeting host, and individual guests can also choose to turn on captions privately. This information should be included in the joining instructions that you send to your audience. Instructions on how to use this feature are available. If you are using Zoom, it facilitates the use of closed captioning.

It is worth noting that for the deaf community the AI automated captions are ok to a point, but their success will depend on the content and how technical it is.

To get the most out of live captions, you should ensure background noise is kept to a minimum, and wherever possible one person speaks at a time. Please note that live captions cannot be recorded in Microsoft Teams, and currently this facility is only an option for English speakers. PowerPoint offers a live caption facility in 60 languages. It is not completely accurate, but is more than adequate for most events. The drawback of using captions through PowerPoint is that in Microsoft Teams and Zoom, the PowerPoint slides need to be on the screen at all times. 

Closed captions

The easiest way to add accurate closed captions to the recording of a virtual event held in either Teams or Zoom is to edit an automatically-created transcript. These automated transcriptions will work best when background noise is kept to a minimum and when one person speaks at a time.


Enabling live transcriptions while recording a meeting or webinar in Teams will create a live transcription feed that can be viewed by all participants during the meeting and will generate a transcription file which will also be available to view after the meeting has finished.

To edit this transcription for greater accuracy, the recording needs to be uploaded to Stream. Once uploaded, the transcription can be generated, downloaded as a VTT caption file, edited in a text editor or word processing application, and then re-uploaded. For more details, see this Microsoft guide.


To create an audio transcription on Zoom, you must have a Business, Education, or Enterprise license with cloud recording enabled, and audio transcription must also be enabled. During the meeting, start a cloud recording. Once the recorded meeting has ended, you will receive emails with links to the cloud recording and to the audio transcript (the audio transcript may take additional time to process). 

Audio transcripts can be downloaded as a VTT file, which you can open and edit with a text editor or word processing application. You can also view or edit transcripts in the Zoom web portal.

For more information on editing automatic transcriptions, see the Zoom support page.


  • Providing a recording or a transcription can be invaluable to those who need it. Be aware that you must keep GDPR compliance in mind. There must be a legitimate reason to record or transcribe. Both Microsoft Teams and Zoom have the facility for recording online events. Please see below for useful links:


These guidelines have been produced by the Events Office, Public Affairs Directorate, in collaboration with the Equality & Diversity Unit and the Digital Communications Team.

Guidelines for running accessible physical events are available.  

You may also want to refer to the School of Geography and the Environment Best Practice Guide to Inclusive Conferences. This practical guide to making conferences and events more inclusive covers things such as the diversity of speakers, but also the ways in which participants are welcomed, respected and involved.