Why Companies Are Now Offering Accessibility “Office Hours” 

By: Sarah Roberts
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You’re likely familiar with the concept of ‘office hours’ in academia. Now, business leaders are following suit and committing to being in their offices a few hours a week to take specific questions on the topic of accessibility.  

As a way to promote inclusion, many business leaders are now holding office hours dedicated to teaching their teams more on accessibility. The concept is easy to implement, and it can help businesses stand out and showcase genuine support for their employees.  

Why more businesses are using office hours 

Putting aside a few hours where team members can come in with questions about your product, strategies, ideas or note complaints helps to troubleshoot issues quickly. Office hours make company leaders more approachable. 

This practice could be part of the antidote to the rise in disconnected employees. In fact, one recent study found one in three employees feels disconnected from their company leadership. Others found that it’s the leaders themselves that are often disconnected from their employees and perhaps not getting the knowledge or assistance they need.  

This disconnectedness is bad for employee retention, and it’s costly for businesses. A survey of CEOs recognized this problem, with two-thirds stating that their workers would leave their jobs for a position at a company where they felt more connected. Companies are seeing the benefit in creating an opportunity for people to speak directly with senior leadership or those leading newer company-wide initiatives, such as inclusion efforts, in smaller settings. These office hours can be an effective way to promote progress, provide education and bring about change quickly. 

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Why would a business want to host specific “accessibility office hours?” 

What better way to demonstrate a clear commitment to inclusivity than to dedicate a set time to discuss accessibility? Accessibility in the workplace impacts more people than many business leaders realize. Large-scale businesses reported that between 4% and 7% of their employees have a disability. However, around 25% of employees report having a disability. This discrepancy suggests that many don’t feel comfortable informing their employers. Plus, the number of individuals with disabilities engaging with your brand and its marketing efforts daily is even higher. 

Accessibility office hours first provide employees with a safe environment to disclose their disabilities or flag additional accommodations they need. One study even found that when employees disclose their disabilities at work, they are 30% more engaged. However, these hours also provide an opportunity for accessibility training and advice. Ensuring employees understand how to effectively approach accessibility in everything they do is key.   

These office hours can be designed to promote a culture of inclusivity. Perhaps a product developer on your team has questions or ideas on how to make your solutions more accessible. A marketer may also have questions about how to make your website more user-friendly. Office hours with a knowledgeable accessibility leader provide the perfect forum for them to learn and get inspired.  

Accessibility office hours can help give a voice to employees. They can ensure that leaders aren’t overlooking barriers that are preventing their team from performing their jobs effectively or consumers from making purchases. 

Who should host accessibility office hours? 

In many cases, today’s companies have a resident accessibility expert, officer or even an external consultant.  This person is clearly the most suited to host these hours. However, accessibility is often a shared mission with knowledge resting among different departments or team members.  
 
The person hosting these hours should be someone with significant authority and knowledge around accessibility-related practices. From knowing how to make company events accessible, to enlisting daily use of live captions on Teams calls, this person should be the go-to. It might also be useful to have different people host each week and answer topic-specific accessibility questions. For instance, leaders in HR or legal departments may have expertise on how to best approach inclusion in different areas of the business.  

The whole idea of these sessions is to showcase that your business isn’t just talking the talk; your leadership is invested in creating an inclusive culture and in dedicating time to knowledge sharing and resources. 

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How to promote your office hours effectively 

The first step is to select a time your team can commit to consistently. Employees should know what to expect. When announcing the start of accessibility related office hours, it’s also important to give examples of the types of questions, comments and requests that employees can bring up during the designated time. For instance, they might want to know obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act when launching a new site page. They may want to know how best to discuss their need for accommodations with their manager.  

When your team knows your accessibility and inclusion initiatives have support from leadership at the top, they’ll have more weight. One way to showcase this support is for the CEO to send the initial email announcing these office hours and their importance. Bonus points is the CEO attends sessions and showcases their commitment to learning more about accessibility as well. 

The actual office hours don’t need to be in a physical office either. It’s possible to hold them over Zoom or on another platform. However, it’s important to make sure these meetings themselves are accessible. Adding live captions to these sessions, which are critical for those who are Deaf and hard of hearing, is one way to effectively include more employees.  

Remember that some employees may not know where to start. Your resident accessibility leader should also be the one proactively suggesting ideas and asking teams, “what could we do differently?” 

For your company to be inclusive, it must build an inclusive culture from the top down. It’s no longer enough to meet the bare minimum requirements of laws like the ADA and hope for the best. Giving employees a voice and training teams on effective communication tactics is one way to start creating a more accessible workplace for everyone. 
 
Verbit is committed to supporting accessible workplaces with tools like video captioning for marketing videos, meeting transcription to help with notetaking and more. Connect with us to learn more about how our solutions can help your business promote a more inclusive company culture.