One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and these individuals, according to WorldBank.org, are more likely to experience more adverse socioeconomic outcomes over persons without disabilities.
That concept undoubtedly transfers over to the workplace, where these folks likely face countless hardships, namely during a period in time when millions now work remotely. Something we have uncovered during this time - not all collaboration tools extend an inclusive experience for those in need, of lets, say - enhanced audio as they are hearing impaired.
In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control notes that: 61 million adults – or 1 in 4 – people live with a disability. This statistic makes leading with accessibility (at all costs) the mentality to have as a collaboration software developer.
Webex has long championed the concept of workplace inclusivity, as have others in the collaboration space, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. They have all released features that have made it simpler for those with disabilities to better participate in the workplace as well. Today, Webex released a slew of more features designed to do just that.
Making Webex More Accessible
Currently, via the popular collaboration and video conferencing platform, Webex, users can access automated closed captions that rely on natural language processing (NLP) to transcribe English to 100+ caption languages quickly with high accuracy, according to a recent Webex blog post.
According to that same blog post, that number will soon grow to 13 spoken languages one can translate into 100+ caption languages. Javed Khan SVP/GM of Cisco Collaboration noted in that blog post:
"This expansion removes the barrier for more people who are deaf or hard of hearing, need language assistance, or are just in a quiet place where reading the real-time transcription is ideal."
As it stands, closed captioning is enabled from the Webex Assistant, but not for much longer. Soon Webex meeting attendees can access closed captions without turning on Webex Assistant.
New Smart Optimization Audio Capabilities
Webex is also updating its library of accessibility keyboard shortcuts (for Mac users) with capabilities like Smart Audio which lets users optimize for voice and noise removal. The ability to manage closed captions made the shortcuts keyboard, too.
Another new feature called 'Optimize for all voices' leverages proprietary Webex audio intelligence technology to single out and boost the clarity of a user's voice and nix any extracurricular distracting background noises. In a sense, it brings the speaker closer to the microphone so others can hear them with better clarity.
Available now for select customers, the feature will be generally available in February 2022, according to Kahn.
Enhancing UX for Interpreters, Meeting Hosts, & Attendees
Webex supports meetings and large-scale events like webinars and tech conferences up to 10,000 people. It can also support; multiple interpreters per channel with simultaneous interpretation (direct/relay) and bi-directional language interpretation as well.
For meeting hosts (and co-hosts), the process of interpreter management just got simpler, with them gaining access to simultaneous interpretation for meetings and webinars they schedule, and the ability to make adjustments in real-time during virtual meetings.
Today via Webex; before a meeting starts, hosts can create audio channels in 110 languages and assign interpreters to the appropriate channel. Hosts can further add interpreters and create new language channels after meetings start.
When a meeting participant joins in need of an interpreter for an event - they can select their preferred language from within Webex. Further available for users - a sensitivity slider. The slider lets Webex users with disabilities better balance the audio they hear between the interpreter and the original audio.
A Redefined Interpreter Experience
When a meeting host adds an interpreter to a virtual meeting invitation list, they will see a new icon next to the interpreter's name, which denotes them from panelists and other meeting attendees.
Each meeting invitation sent to interpreters includes a unique password, and interpreters gain more control over things like coordinating handoff to other interpreters.
Customize Virtual Meetings & Stages
Khan further wrote in the post:
"We are making it easy for hosts and participants to focus on who and what they want at any given time."
Meeting hosts and participants can change the view of their 'stage' by dragging the desired video thumbnail to the stage. Hosts and co-hosts can even sync the virtual stage to control what appears there for everyone. If a meeting host wants a sign language interpreter to stay present for all attendees - they can do so.
All this - updates in real-time, extending a great deal of flexibility to meeting hosts/co-hosts, enabling them to create a more tailored experience for meeting attendees. When the stage is not synced by meeting hosts/co-hosts - participants can customize their meeting view leveraging advanced layout controls offered by Webex.
What Else is New to Webex?
Webex expanded presence capabilities for MPP Phones in the Webex App so users can leverage desk phones to update their status to “on a call," for instance.
More controls for far-end camera control are also on the way to the Webex team collaboration platform. These controls enable a more immersive meeting experience, enabling callers to remotely control the camera of the person they are meeting with so they can pan, tilt, and zoom in to see the speaker’s environment.
Such a feature might be valuable for doctor/patient consultations and is now available on Webex App, desktop, and mobile devices.
Receptionists, assistants, and other remote/hybrid employees can soon leverage the Webex 'Blind call transfer' feature. The capability enables Webex Calling users to transfer calls with a single click from within the Webex App.
Webex recordings quick forward/rewind buttons are also fresh to the Webex platform, as are reimagined spaces in the form of new colors for Webex Desk Mini and Webex Desk devices which now come in a limited-edition Desert Sand, Nordic Blue, and Woodland Green.
Looking at recent Webex security updates, meeting hosts will now see a grouping of three attendees: internal, external, and unverified, to view who is waiting in the lobby and admit them into the virtual meeting space. New calling APIs for call pickup, mute transfer, call park, and location schedules are also fresh to the Webex platform.
Webex further introduced the 'Cisco Emergency Communications Solutions (CECS) offering for Collaboration Flex Plan users, a solution that extends E911 capabilities, etc.
Webex continues expanding regional coverage and recently added two new Dedicated Instances for Webex Calling data centers. This time, in Australia. With the latest expansion, Webex now has eight calling data centers to provide geo-redundant coverage for Dedicated Instances in every region of the globe.
Finally, Webex added new embedded apps like Smartsheet, Call Control, and InterpretManager. Webex will soon host a webinar on January 27, 2022, where you can hear from experts on creating an inclusive collaboration experience that works for everyone. It is not too late to register for free.