Like many others in the blind community, I have become comfortable using Zoom to communicate with others. It has been ages since anyone has asked me to use Skype for this purpose. I almost never chatted online with my sighted friends using anything other than Facebook Messenger, but when COVID-19 brought everything to a screeching halt, that changed. I felt pretty good when I learned that my church's small group Bible study was going to use Zoom. I was a pro, or at least enough of one to participate in the group with no problems.
When it came time to think about the beginning of the new school year, the state of Missouri decided that therapists at the state school where I do music therapy would need to do therapy virtually. Also, we would use WebEx to connect with our students. Immediately, my brain went into overload and began spinning in two directions at once. First, how on earth would I do music therapy virtually? Second, how accessible was WebEx? If it ended up not being useable with a screen reader, would I pretty much be out of a job? I began reaching out on social media and doing a bit of research. I quickly learned that the WebEx platform is in fact accessible, although there are a few quirks to be aware of. This article isn't meant to be a tutorial on using WebEx, but it should get you started if you find yourself needing to use this platform.
Signing Up and Signing Into WebEx
Since I would be scheduling sessions, inviting students to those sessions, and hosting each session, I needed to create a free WebEx account. The best thing I can say about this process is that I literally have no recollection of actually doing it. The process was about as straightforward as it gets. Although not difficult, signing in takes a bit more work.
JAWS is my primary screen reader, and I have had no reason to use any other screen reader when doing music therapy using WebEx. I am currently using the public beta of JAWS 2021 as I write this article, but I have used JAWS 2020 most of the time that I have worked with the WebEx platform.
This is as good a time as any to say that I have done all my work using the Web version of WebEx. The desktop application appears to be much less accessible than the Web app. Everything discussed from this point on will be from the context of using WebEx with Microsoft Edge. I will also describe things from my personal vantage point, as your experience might differ slightly depending on your setup.
When I first load the webpage, I generally bring up the list of links in JAWS and quickly type the first few letters of the words "sign in." Pressing Enter brings me to the proper place. One disadvantage to this approach is that I am not always told that the sign-in option is collapsed. Doing a JAWS find command and looking for the word "sign" brings me to the right place, and I am given the status of the option. When I expand the sign-in option, I must choose either WebEx Meetings, or WebEx Teams. I always use the Down Arrow key to choose Meetings and press Enter. Next, I am taken to the edit field where I can enter my email address, and I press Enter again. Instead of automatically being placed on the Password edit field, I have to Tab to it, enter my password, and press Enter. At this point, I am logged in to the service.
Scheduling a WebEx Meeting
If you are a Zoom user, you know that you can start a meeting on the fly and invite people to join. You can do this with WebEx as well, but I've not played with this option much at all. I have more experience with scheduling meetings for a future time. Once I have logged into WebEx, I find myself in my personal meeting room. You can poke around there at your leisure, but we will press the letter H a couple of times to move by heading to "Upcoming Meetings." Press Up Arrow until you get to the button that allows you to schedule a meeting, and press Enter.
Here you will find a series of edit boxes, buttons that can be expanded, and at least one checkbox. The "Meeting Type" option lets you choose from WebEx Meetings Pro 3 and WebEx Meetings Pro 3 (end to end encryption VOIP only). I have no reason to change the meeting type from the default of WebEx Meetings Pro 3. Be aware that if you use up and down arrow keys to make changes to options in WebEx, you pretty much always need to press the enter key in order to get those options to stick. If you don't you will find yourself quite frustrated in a short amount of time. Next, Tab to the edit field that allows you to type a meeting topic. This cannot be left blank. For this example, I called my meeting Test Meeting. You can next Tab to the meeting password which WebEx will create for you, or you can create one of your own. I just let WebEx choose a password for me. Next you will Tab to a button that reads a suggested meeting date and time. The maximum length of a meeting when using a WebEx free account is 50 minutes. Press Enter on this button to begin making adjustments. You will find buttons that take you to the previous and next month. Otherwise, just keep Tabbing until you reach the date grid. Here you can make changes with all four arrow keys. To advance the meeting time one day, just press the Right Arrow key. Next, Tab to the hour field and press Down Arrow to expand it. Choose your start hour and press Enter. Next, Tab to the minutes list and do the same thing you did with the hour list. Again, press Enter. Next, Tab to a couple radio buttons that let you choose AM or PM. No need to press Enter here. Next, Tab to move to the fields that let you determine how many hours and minutes long the meeting will be. Remember to press Enter each time you make a change. With only 50 minutes maximum using a free account, I never mess with the hour area of the meeting duration menu. Finally, press Tab to get to the Done button and press Enter. You might think youÕre done, but you are not. Another press of the Tab key lets you choose your time zone. I recommend going into settings and changing this permanently if you are going to schedule a lot of meetings. Next, you can check a box that determines whether or not the meeting will be recurring. If you check this box, you can determine the recurrence pattern much as you would in any calendar program. Next, tab to an edit field where you can invite up to 1,000 attendees to your meeting. That's a lot of typing if you ask me!
It has been my experience that if I press Shift + Tab to review a setting I have made, I get thrown completely out of the dialog and have to find my place again. Not a big deal, but definitely something that needs fixing in the future.
Next, you can Tab to a link that offers more advanced options, which I honestly haven't ever felt the need to play with. They include audio connection options and Agenda, just to name a couple. Finally, you Tab to a schedule button. Your meeting has been scheduled.
Starting and Managing a Meeting
From within my personal meeting room, I can Tab to a list of upcoming meetings. It is also possible to see meetings that were scheduled earlier than the time you are viewing. Pressing Down Arrow places me in a grid with the name of each meeting and an option to start the meeting. I could move through this list with the Down Arrow key, or I can use table navigation commands to move up and down in a column or right across the rows. Each meeting topic name is a link. Pressing Enter here will let you do a number of things including editing the meeting if needed.
In my case, I chose the topic Test Meeting and moved right to Start Meeting. When on this option, I pressed Enter.
From here I could adjust audio and start my video if I desired. At the bottom of the screen is the Start Meeting button. For me, this brings up a quirk that can make WebEx very frustrating until you figure out what is going on. When I press the button to start the meeting, I am asked to confirm that I want to use my laptop's camera. I do, but now I must find another Start Meeting button and press Enter on it as well. At this point, I hear two ascending tones that let me know my meeting has started. The need to issue a command twice happens every now and again with WebEx, so just be sure to read your screen carefully.
Buttons to view the participants list, chat with others, and mute your audio are all well labeled. Unfortunately, you don't get a lot of feedback in WebEx when you are doing things like chatting with others.
I need to share audio and video with my students, so I needed to get the hang of sharing content using WebEx. After pressing the Share Content button, I see that my share screen will be optimized for text and images. Pressing Enter on this option opens a menu that allows me to optimize my screen for motion and video. I must press enter to make this change stick. Next, I see buttons to share my screen or share an application. I haven't been able to get the Share Application button to do what I want, so I just share my screen. Share Entire Screen is selected, and that is fine with me. Now, I must check the box to share computer audio. Finally, I must press the Share button. I get no feedback that this has worked, but I have done this several times successfully. I can play audio with no problem, but my infrequent attempts to show video haven't worked when using WebEx. Zoom is still my go-to program when I want to share audio and video with my students. Fortunately, the state now allows therapists to use other platforms besides WebEx if they choose. When I am done, The Stop Sharing button quickly allows me to stop sharing my screen.
When my meeting is over, I press the Leave or End Meeting button. End Meeting is a button, but the Down Arrow key allows me to assign a host and end the meeting. I generally press the End Meeting button. I am now prompted to confirm that I wish to end the meeting for all participants. The End Meeting choice is not an obvious control, but pressing Enter on the text stops the meeting.
The Bottom Line
When I began working with WebEx, I was very concerned that I would have major problems with the platform. This has in fact not been the case. I still prefer Zoom because I believe it is easier to use, you receive more feedback from the platform itself and support is provided by Vispero and Brian Hartgen. Sharing my screen is definitely easier with Zoom. For some reason, the teachers at the school where I work occasionally have trouble getting Zoom to connect on their students' iPads. WebEx rarely has this problem, so I use both WebEx and Zoom on a regular basis, with WebEx being my primary Web conferencing platform at school. It could use some TLC, but it definitely works from a screen reader user's perspective. I have visited with people who use NVDA with WebEx, but I donÕt know how it works on the Mac.
If you need to host meetings longer than 50 minutes with more than one host, there are a number of plans available starting at just $13.50 per month.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are required to use WebEx, I hope this article will get you up and running.
Here is an article on using WebEx with JAWS that may be of some help.
Here is an article on using WebEx with JAWS and NVDA written for those who are students only. Instructions are for using the desktop application. Your mileage may vary.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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