The Importance of Accessibility in the Workplace

By: Danielle Chazen

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You’re not likely to encounter a workplace without a ramp or elevator these days. More workplaces are now extending the accessibility measures they put in place for those with visual disabilities to meet additional needs, such as employees who are deaf, hard of hearing, who have learning disabilities and others. A workplace which promotes a fully inclusive environment primes all employees for equal opportunities to excel and succeed. This mentality translates to the business’s bottom line.

Companies that promote accessibility in the workplace, a form of inclusion, as well as diversity, are helping to attract more employees and loyal customers. Statistics show that these individuals have a growing interest in working for and supporting companies who are committed to these initiatives.

With this in mind, digital accessibility has become more top of mind with the influx of technology and new preferred modes of communication. Digital accessibility involves ensuring all information and communication technology is accessible to all viewers and participants.

Accessibility in the workplace as a legal obligation

Accessibility is not only a ‘nice-to-have’ aspect of a company’s culture, it’s also necessary to comply with legal obligations, such as the ADA. Employers need to ensure they’re meeting federal disability nondiscrimination laws. To drive more employers who may need the extra nudge to invest in creating accessible environments and hire individuals with disabilities, the government also offers some tax incentives to employers who hire individuals with disabilities.

Following a survey of employees, global technology leader SAP established an in-house Representative Body for People with Severe Disabilities (SBV) to ensure all needs of SAP employees navigating disabilities are being met. Other companies are following suit. This resource explores the legal aspects of accessibility.

Digital accessibility presents broader benefit

It’s important to note that accessible workplaces and accessibility technology don’t only benefit those living with disabilities, but all employees. Accessible workplaces and web accessibility technology drive productivity and comprehension of all employees, as they offer more ways to consume information and participate in meetings.

While noting employees with disabilities in the workplace which have clear needs is a proven way to secure initial budgets for accessibility initiatives, it shouldn’t stop there. In fact, according to a report by SAP, 70 percent of disabilities are non-visible. Employees are also much less likely to report their disabilities to work than students with disabilities would in a university setting.

The onus therefore falls on the employer to ensure those who aren’t comfortable sharing their disabilities at work for a range of reasons are still taken care of and provided with equal opportunities to succeed.

2 persons sitting beside each other working on their laptops

Methods to promote workplace accessibility

From providing assistive technology in the workplace to providing education to all employees, there are many ways to promote accessibility in the workplace. These include:

  • Step 1: Recognize the importance and growing demand of web accessibility: As more businesses work distantly, providing accessible content can help all employees. Those with vision or hearing problems can benefit, as well as those who work in remote environments that aren’t ideal for playing audio out loud. If you’re a global company, individuals working in languages which are not native to them can also benefit from additional methods of consumption. Understanding the different needs and use cases is a great first step.
  • Step 2: Survey your employees: Anonymous or otherwise, offer examples of what measures can be taken and technologies implemented to get a gauge of which tools employees are most interested in. For example, Verbit has launched a new desktop application to provide live captions within Zoom, which many businesses are now using to hold meetings and town halls remotely.
  • Step 3: Think externally as well: In addition to providing accessible internal tools, work with your sales and other client-facing team members to ensure the materials the company is distributing externally also account for accessibility needs of the general public and potential consumers. For example, individuals consuming your content can benefit from the addition of captions to all of your social and YouTube videos.
  • Step 4: Dive in: Don’t be overwhelmed by the technology offerings available and then wait on web accessibility. You can begin educating managers and captioning your live and recorded meetings and videos today. Every day you wait is another day an employee or customer may be struggling. There is already a great deal of stress and change that employees are encountering globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring you’re providing your employees with as much support and assistance as possible to arm them for success will be greatly appreciated and lead to retention once things go back to ‘normal’ or a new normal.
  • Step 5: Enlist HR professionals: Evaluate your hiring system and processes to ensure items are accessible from the moment a potential employee enters your site. Engage HR to create an environment where individuals navigating disabilities or who have varying learning needs can speak up and do so anonymously if they prefer. You should also conduct periodic check-ins or surveys of your existing staff to evolve with their needs as technology matures and needs themselves change. Verbit can also help you evaluate your web accessibility needs.

Key takeaways

Providing an accessible and inclusive workplace doesn’t happen seamlessly, but it’s also more critical than ever due to the current climate and the additional needs it presents due to social distancing and remote work.

You can take steps now to ensure everything you produce going forward serves as an accessible material. Then, business leaders can account for items they may regularly reuse, such as HR training videos. Taking the time to evaluate your existing and upcoming collateral, meetings, events and promotions is critical in the process to establish an accessibility and inclusion plan and set priorities.

Verbit is working with key enterprises and consulting them on how to make their workplaces more accessible. If you’re interested in becoming a more inclusive environment, contact us. We’re happy to help you get started.