Knowledge is Power: Training Your Staff on Accessible Technology Issues
Once your company has adopted an accessible technology mindset, you'll be ready to take action and start implementing inclusive technology practices within your workplace. But these efforts will only be successful if relevant staff across your organization share your understanding of accessibility practices. For example, if you implement a policy requiring that all company documents and pdfs be made accessible, you'll need to train employees on what that means and why it's important. Similarly, if you instruct your web developers to make your website accessible, they may or may not know what that means. And that's where training and professional development come into play.
This article provides tips on accessible technology training—from basic disability awareness for all employees, to highly specialized technical training for software and application developers.
General staff training on accessibility basics is always a good idea. It dovetails nicely with training on diversity and disability awareness, and should ideally cover the following subjects:
- Disability basics and the typical barriers people with disabilities encounter in the workplace.
- Typical solutions to these barriers, focusing on the fact that there are solutions available for almost every situation.
- Examples of accessibility solutions, many of which benefit all users. For example, people with and without disabilities know the value of text messaging, voice recognition commands, video captioning, and many other supports and technologies that were originally developed for people with disabilities.
- Your organization's commitment to preventing inaccessibility through accessible technology.
Employers and ICT vendors may also want to include other points based on their priorities and situations. For instance, employers can present the advantages of an inclusive workplace and their organization’s overall commitment to disability diversity. And technology providers can present information about their accessible products and services, as well as their organization’s commitment to product development processes designed with accessibility in mind.
Different job roles within your company will require different training levels and skills. For example, the people who procure ICT for your workplace need training on requesting accessible products from vendors and evaluating vendor responses to accessibility-related questions.
It makes sense to assign training for your employees based on the goals they are expected to achieve. And not all training has to take place in-house. Some organizations let their accessibility teams or individuals find external training on their own, while some incorporate accessibility into their internal staff development programming.
In either case, here are some typical job roles and the accessibility training they should ideally receive:
- CIO and Procurement Officers: Communicating with vendors about accessibility; building accessibility into procurement processes; requesting and evaluating Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) and other vendor information; requesting AT compatibility and other testing results; remediation planning; accessibility in the ICT lifecycle. (See Accessible Technology: The Search is On to learn more.)
- Human Resources: Utilizing accessible job applications and other HR infrastructure tools; working on accessibility with employees, colleagues, and supervisors; recruiting applicants with disabilities.
- Legal Counsel and Regulatory Staff: Understanding laws, regulations, and cases that pertain to your organization’s accessibility responsibilities; staying aware of legal and regulatory developments. (See Accessible Technology and the Law for more background.)
- Marketing and Public Relations: Promoting the marketing value of accessibility and universal design; marketing successes related to accessibility; identifying mainstream and specialized marketing channels; communicating about accessibility to internal and external audiences. (See Communicating Your Commitment to Accessibility to learn more.)
- Product Documentation and Support: Creating accessible product documentation; documenting accessibility features; communicating with people with disabilities about accessibility; building accessibility into your customer relationship management (CRM) processes.
- Product Management: Recognizing where accessibility fits into your product development process; identifying individual and organizational accessibility customers; learning and incorporating accessibility standards; understanding relevant laws and regulations; becoming proficient in compatibility with and interoperability of assistive technologies; conducting accessibility testing (automated and manual); finding platform-specific accessibility tools; managing accessibility expertise (internal and consultant); planning, reporting, and improving accessibility.
- Technical Development: Understanding accessibility standards; carrying out accessibility testing (automated and manual, including AT and user testing); finding and using both general and platform-specific accessibility tools and methods.
Beyond PEAT, numerous organizations offer disability-related and accessible technology education and resources. Below is a list of popular training sources:
A number of organizations offer free trainings and/or educational materials on topics such as general disability awareness, workplace inclusion, disability etiquette, communication, and more. Examples include the following:
- CAP Online Trainings: Modules on disability etiquette, accommodation solutions, and more from the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP)
- Workforce Discovery—Diversity and Disability in the Workplace: An online training module from TransCen, Inc.
- Effective Interaction—Communicating with and About People with Disabilities in the Workplace: A fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
- Effective Communication, Alternative Formats, and Web Accessibility: An online course from the Corporation for National and Community Service.
- Disability Etiquette: An online toolkit from the Employer Assistance and Resource Center (EARN).
- Creating an Inclusive Work Environment: An online resource and recorded webinar from EARN.
A wide range of free web accessibility training materials and opportunities are available online:
- The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Education and Outreach Working Group has created many of its own materials. It's a natural home for collecting and evaluating both curricula and materials on accessible web tools.
- WebAIM offers many online training materials, including a basic introduction to web accessibility.
- The Accessibility Project provides many free trainings and how-to guides.
- 18F provides an excellent introductory overview to building an accessible website.
- The TeachAccess initiative provides a basic training tutorial for developers and designers for making accessible mobile and web apps
- Section 508.gov: Creating Accessible Websites provides a guide to creating websites compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and WebAim likewise maintains a handy Section 508 checklist
- Egghead.io offers a series of instructional videos to Start Building Accessible Web Applications Today
- Creating an Accessibility Engineering Practice - A primer by Dan Na
Many dedicated instructional courses are also available online and face-to-face. PEAT maintains a list of professional development opportunities in Action Step 8: Learn More.
In many ways, software accessibility is similar to web accessibility; they both concern user interface issues, and they are merging in terms of how they are developed and implemented. Separate software accessibility training resources are scarcer than web accessibility trainings. The best sources for training may be platform-specific: large mainstream software tool makers are increasingly aware of accessibility and many have developed materials that can guide your staff, often via just-in-time training. Here are a few examples:
- Microsoft Developers’ Network – Accessibility Tools
- Oracle’s Java Accessibility Guide
- Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Support
- IBM Developer Guidelines on Accessibility
Documents and Media:
As with software, content (e.g., word processing documents or multimedia) accessibility depends on user interface features that parallel the web. For example, the web requirement for alternative text for images carries over to a word processing document with an embedded image: it too needs alternative text. The techniques depend on the platform you are creating content on, and some of the major vendors provide centralized support for creating accessible content:
- WAI has created a task force to translate its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) into non-web terms. WCAG2ICT is a useful tool for creating accessible software and content.
- Adobe offers resources about creating accessible PDFs using different versions of Acrobat, and creating accessible Flash.
- Microsoft documents ways to create accessible content (word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations) in detail for its Office 2010 and Office 2013 product suites. The Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities has also created a wide range of resources on creating accessible content using Microsoft Office products.
- The National Center for Accessible Media develops and maintains numerous guidelines and tools on accessible multimedia. WC3 also provides FAQS about multimedia accessibility, and the University of Washington’s DO-IT Center provides an excellent guide for creating video and multimedia products for people with sensory impairments.
Training on accessible hardware is probably the most difficult to find. Since hardware designs are very complex and product-specific, there are few general accessibility techniques. Furthermore, different rules apply to telecommunications devices than to the rest of the hardware world. Since many trade associations maintain working groups on accessibility, they are often the best resource to contact regarding hardware issues.
In recent years, a new professional organization, the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) has taken on a major role in training and professional development. The organization is actively developing curricula and collecting materials for almost all of the domains where accessibility is important, including workplace ICT.
PEAT also maintains a full list of professional development opportunities in Action Step 8: Learn More.
The moral of this story?
It's simple—start sharing knowledge about accessible technology throughout your company through staff training and education. By infusing accessibility acumen across divisions and job roles, you'll start to build an educated team of experts to help fuel your company's accessible technology efforts.
And if you have a successful approach to staff training on accessible technology, PEAT wants to hear more about your training program and who's involved. Please share your company’s training strategies and best practices with us so that we can help give them a wider audience!