How to Make Your Digital Workplace More Accessible
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against people who are disabled. This includes requiring employers to provide alternative ways for people with disabilities to perform their work. With more than 19% of those registered as disabled in the US employed, this makes accessibility crucial to the workplace.
While accessibility in the physical workplace is now commonplace — from car spaces, ramps and workspaces that can cater to people with movement impairments to those who need additional technology to help them access or complete tasks — digital workplace accessibility is still a relatively new concept.
The move to remote and hybrid work is, however, accelerating the change. Making a digital workplace accessible to every employee is more than a moral or legal obligation. These tools can help employees feel more satisfied in their positions and achieve greater productivity and improved accuracy.
Building an Accessible Digital Workplace
The move to remote and hybrid work has created new challenges for employees with disabilities, and organizations have an important role to play to ensure they continue catering to every member of the workforce equally. Here are five considerations for making today's digital workplace inclusive to all:
The first and most important thing for leaders is to open the lines of communication. This starts by asking employees, from the start, during the onboarding process, what tools can help them execute their tasks.
"Often, employees are familiar with their special needs and what software or plug-ins would help them best," said Melanie Green, content director at New York City-based KitelyTech. "By knowing what accommodations may be needed, employers can make sure that they are providing an environment that is safe and comfortable for all employees."
Asking employees directly for input also helps organizations save time researching the tools needed and prevent the wrong software from being purchased.
Every employee should receive training for using the tools or software provided by the company. When accommodations are made to assist people with disabilities, whether that is by adding plug-ins to an existing tool or implementing new software altogether, other employees should also be trained on using these accommodations to ensure it doesn't impact collaboration efforts.
Employees who need the assistance may also want to offer sessions where they provide insights into their needs. Making sure that the workplace is inclusive and collaborative, where employees support one another and understand the best ways to collaborate, is key. It also helps minimize confusion and conflict among coworkers.
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Making the digital workplace more accessible means there may be a need to add equipment. For instance, individuals with hearing or movement impairments may require adjustments to their workspace. Meeting rooms, where staff might need to view digital presentations, should also be modified. These modifications can include adding signs to clarify what support is available to all staff.
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"Consider setting up a meeting room with signs for text/verbal/visual aids for people who need them," said Vartika Kashyap, chief marketing officer at Walnut, Calif.-based ProofHub.
In today's digital world, there's no shortage of options for individuals with impairments. For instance, reading programs like Job Access With Speech (JAWS) or Dragon Natural Speaking can support employees with visual disabilities. Those with a hearing impairment might use tools like Google's live transcript or Rogervoice.
If an employee isn't sure which tool is best for them, it is the organization's responsibility to help them find the best option for the task at hand. Leaders can, for instance, research a selection of tools that are on budget and can be integrated with existing software, and offer employees to trial them to determine which helps them best complete their work.
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Virtual reality can provide a safe space for employees with disabilities to learn more about their new environment and help them integrate. It can not only reduce awkward situations and anxiety, it can also be an excellent way for leaders and managers to learn more about their employees' needs.
"Companies can use AI and VR, for example, to better integrate persons with impairments into the workplace and enhance job skill training," said James Angel, the co-CEO and co-founder of Marina del Rey, Calif.-based DYL.
Accessibility = Inclusion
To be more inclusive in business, organizations will have to use a mix of equipment, software and practices. While there are costs, the benefits are worth it and go beyond simply being in compliance with regulations.
Employees will feel more satisfied with their work. Enhanced inclusion will reduce employee turnover and help to improve productivity. In turn, businesses will boost their profitability, enhance their reputation and achieve overall greater success.