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Accessibility and Workplace Technology: Are we doing enough?

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A lot more people are talking about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace today. According to Gartner, since 2018, CEOs talking about equity and inclusion has increased by 658%; which is great news.

But in all the DEI conversations, there’s one thing that has only now started to make an appearance despite its widespread need and that’s digital accessibility in the workplace

DEI dialogues were, for the longest time, focused on making physical workplaces barrier-free for people with disability, but as work itself becomes more digital, another pivotal question we must now ask is: 

Are we doing enough to make workplaces more digitally accessible?

On the customer side of things, discussions and actions around online accessibility are rife; especially after the top companies of the world such as Netflix, Domino’s Pizza, Amazon, Nike and Blue Apron faced lawsuits over the inaccessibility of their digital platforms. 

But are we taking equal steps to make employee facing digital solutions accessible as well?

Digital accessibility beyond customers

As long as digital accessibility is restricted to a checkbox-based compliance activity, not a lot of organizations may see customer-facing practices being reflected internally for employees.

But if you are a People Leader strongly advocating to be an Equal Opportunities Employer and are actively hiring for diversity, then digital accessibility can’t escape your radar of things to do to create a better and more inclusive organization. 

Which is why, even as you build offices with ramps and reserve parking spots for people with disabilities, questions around digital accessibility are also important to ask and answer:

Are your HRMS, payroll, time and leave management tools, intranet and employee onboarding software accessible to the diverse employees that you are hiring?

And if not right away, at some point, you’ll feel the pressure to look at digital accessibility more urgently. We say so because:

  1. As Adam Grant points out in his Worklife podcast, if you are 20, you have one in four chances of developing a disability before you hit 65. That simply means that there will be more and more people with varying ranges of abilities in an organization in the times to come. And enabling each of them to be fully contributing members of the company is important - for the people and for the company itself.
  1. Workplaces are going to be largely digital. Every department is undergoing digital transformation. If you are hiring for diversity, then it is equally important to ensure that every one of your employees have an inclusive environment with equal access to all the digital tools. 
  1. Laws and regulations around accessibility are only going to get stricter. And any violation can attract costly litigations and penalties.

Simply put, digital accessibility in the workplace needs immediate attention from HR teams. So where do you start?

Digital accessibility & HR teams

1. Recognize and challenge misconceptions about disability

One of the greatest challenges with disability is this: we don’t truly see disability for what it is.

Given that the logo representative of disability is a wheelchair, we assume that all disability is visible to the naked eye and is permanent. However, that’s far from the truth.

Take Jill Griffin’s example, for instance. Jill met with an accident when on vacation and developed vestibular balance disorder. Among other things, one thing that was extremely challenging for her to deal with was the Windows ’97 screensaver with the logo animating all across the screen. It made her dizzy and disoriented. Not that people around her visibly saw her discomfort but it existed and hampered her ability to work.

But Jill’s is just one example. 

A person with a fracture, even if just for a month is temporarily disabled and in the absence of right assistance will struggle to discharge their duties effectively.

The more you understand disability, you’ll realize that digital accessibility isn’t just about making the use of digital tools comfortable for people with visible disabilities but a range of physical, motor, cognitive and developmental differences that may or may not be visible to the naked eye.

2. Understanding disability is one thing, practicing accessibility and inclusion another

This is where digital accessibility gets complex. Even for organizations that are committed to making technology accessible to one and all, there is no ready playbook available. 

There are Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), Section 508 and ADA testing, and PDF/UA - all of which are standards and certifications that are currently available for organizations to make their products more digitally accessible. 

But these certifications, standards and credentials are only the start of the accessibility journey for any organization.

Neil Milliken, VP and Global Head of Accessibility at Atos summarizes the dilemma beautifully. He points out that digital accessibility is very unique to an organization. Knowing what is the right thing to do is one thing and being able to understand the complexities of an organization and putting things into practice is another set of challenges that anyone who is championing for accessibility will have to go through. 

3. Drive accountability among your HR vendor partners

HR teams themselves are using multiple tools these days. Start by asking all of your HR tech providers one simple question:

“Is their HR tech product accessible?”

Every time you evaluate an HR software vendor, pose the same question…and not in a way that is intended to penalize the vendor but in an attempt to drive accountability.

In a lot of situations, it is possible that your vendor may not have a fully accessible platform yet. But initiating a conversation around accessibility gives them the motivation to embark on their accessibility journey. And that’s what’s needed the most right now. Accessibility isn’t a destination to reach but a journey of continuous improvement and learning.

4. Digital accessibility is a journey

One other thing that People Leaders must know is that while it is important for your HR tech partners to have a VPAT certification, it is not the do-all and end-all of accessibility.

Alongside the certification, it would be wise to evaluate the commitment of the vendor to make accessibility a core part of their culture and product development. You can always engage companies like Crownpeak and BarrierBreak who assist and mediate these discussions.

Tydy’s commitment to better accessibility

Tydy uses a dedicated widget by accessibility server, Userway, to improve our software’s compliance with WCAG 2.1

Userway enables us to make the platform accessible to a wide range of users. For instance, people with visual impairments have access to a screen reader that reads content out aloud, has four different font sizes, and lets you set the saturation and contrast among other things. 

“There are a number of adjustments that can make websites easier to navigate and read for people with impaired vision. This profile provides suggestions that can be helpful for a variety of conditions.”
Benjamin Okafor (visually impaired) on Userway

For people with dyslexia, text can be modified and line spacing adjusted to give a more personalized experience.

“It is estimated that 1 in 5 people worldwide have dyslexia, but many have not been diagnosed. The profile (Userway) provides customization options that can help improve reading comprehension and fluency.”
Cornelia De Vries (Dyslexia) on Userway

With Userway, Tydy follows automatic back-end and front-end logic and remediation layers to accelerate ADA and WCAG compliance. Large cursor, pausing animation, page structure, video autoplay, adding missing titles, reading guide, keyboard navigation are among hundreds of other functionalities that make Tydy accessible.

Accessibility, however, doesn’t end here.

Tydy’s commitment to accessibility follows a three-pronged approach:

  1. Accessibility is a mindset that we’re cultivating: Accessibiity can’t be an afterthought. Our Product Team is building the accessibility-first mentality and striving to make it a core part of their development process. 
  1. Learning is at the heart of our accessibility journey: We come with an open mind knowing that we may not know it all and may not have done it all. Alongside our customers and partners, we look forward to building more capabilities into our product that will make it more and more accessible.
  1. Building for an equal and equitable workplace: A place where everyone experiences the most personalized onboarding experience - one which takes into account their gender, ethnicity, caste, cultural or digital literacy, location, ability, orientation, etc.
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