Inclusive virtual conferencing: Creating personal and empathetic experiences 

In today’s fast-paced world, technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. From smartphones to social media platforms and smart home devices, technology surrounds us, shaping our experiences and interactions. While the primary purpose of technology is often functional or utilitarian, it is equally important for AImpower to consider how tech products can promote empathy, authenticity, a sense of belonging, and emotional connections. This note provides insights into our journey of developing products that enhance virtual conferencing experiences for individuals with diverse speaking abilities.

Virtual conferencing could be stressful, especially for those who stutter.

“I’ve had people ask if I I was having a bad internet connection because they thought, Oh, my computer was freezing or I’m having a glitch. But it was due to my stutter… So that’s always kinda awkward, though it’s well meaning…It cut me off and made me more nervous. ” – Participant 1.

We recognize that people with diverse speaking abilities face unique challenges on a virtual conference, including limited non-verbal signals; and misinterpretations of their speech interruptions etc,.Those challenges can hinder efficient communication and lead to increased stress. This can ultimately result in reduced inclusion within teams and organizations. 

Through in-depth interviews with 7 participants who experienced different levels of speaking diversity in China and the US, we identified the major challenges as follow.

  1. People with speaking diverse-ability often invest more cognitive and physical effort in virtual conferencing meetings, weighing the benefits and cost of speaking up during meetings. 
  2. They may experience stress and mental health issues due to self-judgment or social stigma which persist beyond the meetings. 
  3. They consistently deal with inappropriate interaction with their audience, such as educating others about their stuttering, which requires additional effort.

Communities are experts of their own experience.

We believe that communities are the experts in their own experiences, and we aim to collaborate with them to design warm and empathetic products tailored to their needs. So we invited the target community of people who stutter to co-design products, ensuring that their voices are heard. We believe in fostering a co-design approach to create a supportive virtual conferencing environment. Here are some themes that our target community look forward to in their virtual conferencing experiences.

  • Disclosure. Many participants indicated that disclosing their stuttering can enhance their experiences by allowing them to focus on their viewpoints rather than hiding their diversity. This disclosure could trigger more relevant functions for all meeting attendees.
  • Better interactions. Attendees should be informed on how to support individuals with diverse speaking abilities effectively. Timely information to facilitate communication between speakers and listeners, such as a feature indicating when a speaker hasn’t finished, is essential.
  • Environmental Clues: We aim to add more clues in the virtual conference environment, amplify body language cues, improve transcription accuracy, and provide better coaching that focuses on mental health problems.

Next steps

Based on these insights and user requests, AImpower has developed the first batch of prototypes for the next co-design session. Stay tuned for updates as we embark on the second stage of co-design with individuals who have diverse speaking abilities. Together, we will prioritize these features and create refined, high-fidelity prototypes for product development.

Know more about stuttering

In case you are not very familiar with people who stutter. Here are some facts which could be informative. (And here are more facts!!)

  • Roughly 3 million Americans stutter. It affects about 1% of the world’s population.
  • Stuttering is a biological condition. An individual who stutters exactly knows what he or she would like to say but has trouble producing a normal flow of speech.
  • When people stutter, they feel like they have lost control of their speech mechanism. For people who stutter, the observable disfluencies are not the most important part of the condition. Instead, it is the stigma of stuttering – which is associated with various negative impact on their lives – that causes the biggest challenge for people who stutter.

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