PEAT Blog

Reflections from the Road: What PEAT Learned Along the Conference Circuit

For several members of the PEAT team, October was a busy month of travel, talk, and trend spotting as we headed west to attend three conferences: the Coleman Institute on Cognitive Disabilities Annual Conference (October 15); HR Technology Conference and Expo (HR Tech) (October 18-21); and the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) Access 2015 (October 21-23). All presented valuable opportunities for our team to learn, share knowledge, examine future trends, and identify ways to strengthen PEAT's work. Below are some highlights of our discoveries along with their potential impact on accessible technology in the workplace.

Coleman Conference

Josh Christianson at the Coleman ConferenceThe annual Coleman Institute Conference is a one-day intensive symposium of researchers, advocates, and disability professionals focused on issues and technologies for people with cognitive disabilities. PEAT's presentation there on “The Role of Accessible Technology in Attracting and Retaining Talent” was well received and featured the results of our research on the accessibility of eRecruiting tools. In addition, we shared a preview of TalentWorks, PEAT's new suite of resources for employers seeking to improve the accessibility of their online job applications and other eRecruiting tools, which is scheduled to launch in early 2016.

Our greatest takeaway from the Coleman Conference was what Jutta Treviranus, of the Inclusive Design Centre at Ontario College of Art and Design University, refers to as “the study of one.” The concept is a reminder that what's accessible for one user is not necessarily accessible for another user. Thus, technology developers can make their solutions accessible to the widest number of users possible by considering how diverse individuals interact with the technology, and then ensuring that the solution meets the needs of all those users.

Reflecting this, researchers have been actively developing technology that can "learn" user preferences across platforms and then store those preferences in the cloud for use on multiple platforms and devices. And considering the rapid growth of cloud computing, these exciting trends hold great promise for accessible technology in the workplace. According to a recent survey by Cloud Computing Trends, 93 percent of respondents reported that they are using cloud-based technologies, whether through a public cloud, private cloud, or both. And, of course, these trends bring to mind the work of our friends at the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) project, who envision a computer ecosystem where a user's personal preferences and accessibility needs travel with them thanks to cloud-based access. Talk about a virtual workplace that's truly accessible to all—anytime, anywhere, and on any device!   

HR Tech

This concept of tailoring to the individual carried over to HR Tech—a massive annual conference for human resources (HR) professionals and technology providers. Our team marveled at the innovations on display in the exhibit hall, taking note of the major trends in the HR industry. Not surprisingly, the trend on everyone's mind was mobile, mobile, mobile. It was clear that today's employers want their mobile apps to run everything from job applications to training to performance reviews. And since mobile applications and devices are inherently easy to customize, this tied into the other key trend we noticed: personalization. Employers at HR Tech noted that personal, customized experiences are more likely to attract job candidates to your company. And while the conference attendees may not have realized it, this trend fits squarely with the "study of one" philosophy we explored in Denver. After all, many people with disabilities own (and prefer to use) mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, so optimizing online job applications and other work-related tools for mobile access will meet the personalized needs of a key subset of users, giving them a fairer shot at applying for jobs and advancing in their careers.

IAAP Access

Joiwind Ronen presents "Accessibility and the Employment Lifecycle" chart illustrating eRecruiting, Hiring & Onboarding, Work Immersion & Productivity, Retention & Career Advancement, and Post-Employment & RetirementIAAP Access 2015 was the first conference hosted by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, a new membership association for individuals and organizations focused on technology accessibility. We took in several presentations by IAAP members who work for large employers, including one by representatives from IBM. This presentation examined how their approach to accessibility has evolved over the years in pursuit of products that are more universally designed. Interestingly, when its accessibility division first launched, IBM's testing operation entailed disparate groups of product testers with different disabilities, all conducted separately from the company's general usability testing. But today, IBM has one group of diverse product testers, with many different personas and abilities represented.

It's an exciting and effective approach we saw alluded to in multiple presentations, and one that harmonizes perfectly with the universal design and persona-based testing philosophies we espouse at PEAT. By including people of varying abilities at the beginning stages of user-testing, manufacturers can ensure their products meet the needs of all potential customers, while employers can ensure the technology they adopt for their workplace can be used by all employees, including those with disabilities.  

The Key Takeaways

So based on our October road trip, what are the key employment and accessibility trends to watch?

  • Technology that can “learn” user preferences from the users themselves
  • Technology that meets the diverse needs of all types of users, i.e. “the study of one”
  • The growing importance of mobile both in recruiting and within the workplace
  • Inclusive, persona-based product testing in the early stages of development as a pathway to universal design 

PEAT Wants to Know What You Think

Do any of these trends resonate with you? PEAT wants to hear from you. Please join the conversation to let us know if you engage in techniques to personalize tech solutions for the needs of users with disabilities, or if you've jumped on the mobile bandwagon to enhance your recruiting. Tell us about the accessibility trends you find most promising and how we can engage employers and developers in the pursuit of universally designed products for employees and job seekers. We look forward to your input!

About the Author

Josh Christianson photo

Josh Christianson

Josh Christianson is PEAT's Project Director, overseeing its day-to-day activities and strategic initiatives. Prior to his role with PEAT, Josh worked at Deloitte Consulting, leading change management, technology and human capital initiatives at the Department of Health & Human Services as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs.