True Story: Listening to Just One Employee Can Spark Greater Accessibility

By: Sarah Roberts



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It’s time to question your preconceived notions. Take it from a professional transcriber who is blind and excelled at her remote job for a full year before telling her team.

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we asked this transcriber, Konnie Ellis, who has been working for Verbit for five years, to share some of her professional experiences. Her time at Verbit has contributed toward making the work environment more inclusive for everyone and opened the doors for more transcribers who are blind. Here is her story and advice for business leaders to make their workplaces more inclusive and embrace employees with disabilities.

Navigating the job search without disclosing 

Ellis worked with a few companies before finding her way to Verbit. She didn’t immediately inform the company that she was blind. In fact, she performed her job for a year before she made that disclosure. 

“I don’t really make it a practice of telling potential people or job employers,” she said. “That usually just doesn’t come up in conversation. A lot of times, it just leads to unnecessary questions and angst on their part, like how are you going to do that, and that kind of thing,” Ellis said. 
Ellis didn’t need to disclose initially as she wasn’t facing any barriers and could complete all of her work-related tasks. However, when Verbit updated its platform, she encountered an accessibility issue that led her to inform her team.  
“I was just really impressed with their accessibility department. The accessibility department just got right on board immediately and fixed the problem very quickly. I was very impressed with that,” she said. 

With the fixes in place, Ellis could continue her work and stand out for her excellent transcription skills.

How companies should approach accommodations  

In a perfect world, employees shouldn’t need to disclose their disabilities as everything should already be accessible. However, that’s not the reality at many companies. Additionally, employees and potential employees should know they can request accommodations without fear of negative employer biases. Fortunately, Ellis felt comfortable reporting the need for fixes to Verbit’s platform and received a helpful response.  

Since not all employees will feel safe making such disclosures, businesses can also find ways to create feedback forums for employees to report accessibility issues. With these systems in place, people can request solutions anonymously. Regardless, the more comfortable employees feel requesting accommodations, the easier it will be to identify issues, remediate them and allow people to work more effectively.  

a person using a braille screen reader and key board

Resulting growth opportunities for employees and employers 

Over the years, Ellis has become an experienced and skilled transcriber.  

“I’ve been asked to do special requests for people,” she said. “Sometimes, if there’s a harder file that another transcriber is having trouble with, I’ve been asked to deal with that, or if there’s technical jargon that a lot of people aren’t familiar with, I’ve done so many files by now that I’m familiar with a lot of different things.” 

She also chose to help other people find roles as transcribers. She explained that recruiting more transcribers was “a great way to employ other blind people because a lot of times it’s harder for blind people to find employment.”  

Today, Ellis oversees four other transcribers, all of whom are blind.  

When it comes to making work accessible for people who are blind, Ellis said employers should know that it’s not difficult.  

“Now, with technology, it’s incredible what is available. The only adapted technology that we all use is a screen reader.”  

A screen reader is a tool that reads text on a screen aloud verbally, making it possible to work effectively on a computer.  

While solutions like screen readers are readily available, people who don’t use these types of technologies don’t always know that they exist. The lack of knowledge about accessibility solutions can lead to some companies or hiring managers to make harmful and inaccurate assumptions about people’s abilities.  

Educating your team members or even bringing in an accessibility consultant to analyze the ways your team functions and the platforms they use can help to make the environment more inclusive. As a result, companies can attract greater pools of talent and assist current employees in performing their jobs more efficiently. Verbit, for example, benefitted from Ellis’s feedback, which is helping improve accessibility and inclusiveness for all employees. 

people working on computers in an office

Overcoming biases at work 

Ellis admitted that when she didn’t inform Verbit that she was blind, it was because she “just didn’t want the possibility of discrimination.” Rather than having to answer unnecessary questions, “I just wanted to do my job,” she said.  

In her current role, Ellis no longer has those concerns. 

“I’m already so impressed with Verbit’s accessibility department. They just want to do all they can to make things as easy for me as possible and as accessible for blind people so that I won’t be the only one at the company,” she said.  

However, her experiences in the past showcased some common misconceptions that can make applying for jobs more difficult for people with disabilities. Unfair assumptions and ableism, a form of discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities, are often an obstacle.  

When she was teaching, Ellis said potential employers often wondered how she would be able to do the job or write correctly on the blackboard in classrooms.  

The issue is often that the people making these assumptions don’t know how to make adaptations. Many of these accommodations are also incredibly easy to implement. 

“People, of course, don’t think about how adaptations can be made because they haven’t had to make them,” she said.   

For Ellis, the solutions were often the “obvious thing to me. It’s just natural to come up with alternative techniques because I’ve just done it all my life.” 

a woman in a coffee shop using sign language

Important takeaways for today’s employers 

While Ellis always found ways to put others at ease by describing the potential workarounds for what they perceived as obstacles, employers today can and should do better. Instead of assuming that a person can’t do a job, talk to them and gain an understanding of whether they need accommodations.  

“Don’t assume [job candidates] can’t do something just because you haven’t thought of a way that they can do it. Still give them the benefit of the doubt. Realize that they have probably been doing this all their life. They wouldn’t be applying for the job if they didn’t feel qualified. They will ask you if they need anything special, but for the most part, you just treat them as you would anyone else,” she said. 

Ellis believes people can start overcoming biases through greater interaction.  

“Just being around disabled people every day as your friends or coworkers. You just automatically start to learn these things and that we’re just really pretty normal for the most part.” 

Fortunately, Ellis said she sees that inclusion is taking hold and that companies and peers are heading in the right direction.  

“It’s becoming better, definitely. I’m really glad to see that there are more opportunities for disabled people now than there have been in the past,” she said.  

Ellis’ experiences showcase how much businesses can benefit from making hiring practices more inclusive. Finding talented professionals with the right skills for a role is easier when we don’t exclude people based on misconceptions.  

Verbit is working to create opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work with us and offers solutions to help other companies become more accessible. For more information about Verbit’s offerings, like audio description, which assists individuals who are blind in your workforce and audience, reach out today.