Frequently Asked Questions - General Questions
- What exactly is meant by the term "accessibility?" How is it defined in a technology context?
- What is information and communications technology (ICT)? And why is PEAT focusing on this category of workplace technologies?
- What standards/guidelines determine whether a technology product or application is accessible?
- How does accessible technology intersect with the employment of people with disabilities?
- What is assistive technology (AT), and what is the difference between AT and accessible technology?
"Accessible technology" is technology that can be used successfully by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. When technology is accessible, each user is able to interact with it in ways that work best for him or her. Accessible technology is either directly accessible, whereby it is usable without additional assistive technology (AT), or it is compatible with AT. For example, a mobile smartphone with a built-in screen reader is directly accessible, whereas a website that can be navigated effectively by people with visual impairments using a screen reader is AT-compatible.
Accessibility is all about the user interface; it gives the user a convenient, effective, and equitable way to control the technology and put it to good use. As such, accessibility often falls into the same category as usability, in that both seek to improve the user experience and effectiveness of the product. Usability covers the user experience broadly, while accessibility addresses the specific needs of users with disabilities. However, in terms of actual product features, they often overlap. For example, a feature like volume control benefits everyone, as does the ability to zoom the display on a small mobile device. This overlap is often referred to as “universal design,” which means the design of products to be used by the widest range of people possible.
PEAT thinks that all technologies should be usable by as many people as possible, and we work to advance the employment of people with disabilities by promoting the development and adoption of accessible workplace technology. While we strongly support product compatibility with AT, our primary focus is encouraging technology providers to develop products that are directly accessible. Further, we want employers to buy and implement workplace technology that can be used effectively by all employees—including those with disabilities.
Information and communications technology (ICT) refers to any technology designed to impart information or communicate. This includes hardware such as computers, phones, and copiers; software, such as those used to create documents, databases, and spreadsheets; multimedia of all types; and Internet technologies such as webinar platforms and websites. The term is an extension of information technology (IT), enhanced by the communication component since today's technologies have moved so powerfully onto networks, and are now used globally.
Worth noting is that ICT is similar in nature to Electronic and Information Technology (EIT), which includes any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the creation, conversion, or duplication of data or information. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, a major accessible technology law, uses the term EIT to characterize the technologies it covers.
PEAT focuses on ICT since these types of technologies are ubiquitous in today's workplaces. And if ICT is not usable or accessible to all employees—including those with disabilities—it contributes to inequalities in the workplace.
Not all people think of ICT when they hear the term "accessibility." Instead, people often associate the term with the physical accessibility of a facility, where innovations such as wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, and accessible restroom equipment have vastly improved the on-the-job experiences of workers with disabilities. ICT accessibility is really the next frontier of the accessibility movement, and a gateway to a more productive and inclusive workforce.
There are several different sets of technical standards to guide technology developers in their efforts to improve a product's accessibility. Some are referred to by laws and regulations, but they are not usually laws by themselves. Some have global reach and have been harmonized across national boundaries to help ICT companies make their accessibility work more efficiently. Standards and guidelines usually cover specific technologies; the most well-known is the family of guidelines for web technologies, produced by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative. For more details on these, and other accessibility standards and guidelines, read Technical Standards That Apply to Workplace Technologies.
ICT is one of the central drivers of productivity and success in today’s workplace, for all workers. But when workplace technology isn’t accessible to those with disabilities, it excludes and becomes a barrier to success and career advancement. It limits opportunities for people with disabilities to get hired, or to excel in a position when they are unable to perform their job duties because they can't access basic workplace tools. Just think about it—could you do your job properly if you couldn't read your email, access the web, or use your phone?
When the technology in your workplace is inaccessible, your organization is not being inclusive, which can expose you to legal risk. But, even more important, your colleagues with disabilities may not be able to perform to their full potential. Worse yet, if your online job application is not accessible, a qualified candidate may not even be able to apply for a position at your company.
These issues do not simply impact people who are born with disabilities. Many workers acquire disabilities—particularly aging workers or those who experience illness or injury. So accessible technology can be important to many sectors of a workforce.
PEAT's tools and resources are designed to encourage technology providers to develop products with accessibility in mind from the start, and to help employers ensure the accessibility of the technology they offer job-seekers and employees.
Commonly referred to as AT, assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or system, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capacities of individuals with disabilities. Examples include voice recognition, used instead of a mouse or keyboard; alternative input devices that enable control of computers through means other than a standard keyboard or mouse (e.g., head-operated pointing devices and “sip and puff” systems controlled by breathing); and screen readers, which allow users who are blind to hear what is happening on their computer by converting the screen display to digitized speech.
In contrast, accessible technology is technology that can be used successfully by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. While PEAT strongly supports product compatibility with AT, our primary focus is encouraging technology providers to develop products that are directly accessible, whereby they are usable by the widest range of people possible, right "out of the box."