Just call it the workplace potluck. Bring Your Own Device, which most netizens and productivity experts have abbreviated as "BYOD," is not a new trend. It refers to employees using their own technology devices at work, and it is rampant and unstoppable. Since the late 2000s, BYOD has gained significant traction in workplaces around the world. In fact, research shows that almost 75% of organizations are adopting some policy that involves employees supplying their own technology devices. And while it has both passionate supporters and skeptical critics, BYOD continues to demolish traditional office practices where all technology is standard and "you get what you get."
Nowhere does BYOD have more potential and measurable benefit than in the employment of people with disabilities. It's a practice that can help businesses effectively attract, employ, and retain workers with disabilities while boosting productivity for all. So this October, and all year long, it fits squarely with the spirit of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
BYOD can be a mighty defender against the myth that people with disabilities are expensive hires—a stereotype that is generally unfounded since not all employees with disabilities need accommodations, and for those who do, the cost is usually low or totally free. But when employees with disabilities do need technology-related workplace supports, BYOD adds another option for employers. It allows workers to adopt the best possible productivity tools for their particular needs, while helping employers attract and retain a diverse workforce. Think of implementing BYOD in terms of the memorable quote from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” If an organization builds a strong BYOD policy, they can use it to draw and keep talented workers with disabilities.
A BYOD policy is an optimal technology solution for many employees, with and without disabilities, primarily because individuals will generally purchase the technology that is the best fit for their personal and professional needs. And that “D” in BYOD includes more than just smartphones, although that’s what people often think of in this context. BYOD policies can also cover laptops, tablets, screen magnifiers, and more, all with up-to-date accessibility features that benefit and fit the user. BYOD can result in accessible, employee-derived solutions that yield productivity for organizations almost instantaneously.
So what are the critics’ concerns? Some BYOD challenges that have been raised primarily relate to security, privacy, and support. How can employers ensure security and privacy when employees access their data remotely? What if an employee's device is lost or stolen? And should support for personal devices be the responsibility of the employee, or will the employer's help desk serve everyone, including those who bring devices from home? There is also much lively debate on the relationship between BYOD policies and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Can employers require an employee to pay for and bring in their own accessible device as a way of getting around the ADA’s accommodations requirements? On the flip side, can an employer be required to set a BYOD policy as an accommodation when an employee needs to bring their own device because of built-in or individualized accessibility features?
These are all important questions that need continued discussion and attention, because BYOD has the potential to truly transform the productivity of our workplaces. How does one measure productivity? It’s not always visible, but its effects are perceived in a number of ways. Beyond cost savings, employees using their own devices can often increase the quality and quantity of their work, which in turn, increases employer profits. BYOD has also been proven to reduce the time wasted by employees struggling with outdated or inaccessible technology devices and solutions. And while incompatibility is often a concern, research shows the majority (87%) of companies are dependent to some extent on their employee’s ability to access mobile business apps from their personal smartphones. This is all great news for employers and employees alike.
The bottom line is that BYOD is an achievable solution for increasing the number of people with disabilities who are employed, and NDEAM is a fitting time to examine its potential. But while a month of awareness is wonderful, people with disabilities deserve a plan forward that doesn’t end after Halloween. BYOD presents an opportunity for employers to work in partnership with their employees with disabilities to find effective technology solutions. It has tremendous promise for advancing the employment of people with disabilities, but in order to reap its rewards, BYOD needs employers to bring it to fruition.
Are you ready to bring it?
For more information about BYOD policies, please see the PEAT article “Bring Your Own Device” and Accessibility". PEAT will also be hosting a Twitter chat on BYOD policies and other leading accessible technology practices designed to help all workers and advance the employment of people with disabilities. To participate in this real-time Twitter conversation, please log into Twitter on October 28 from 2:00 - 2:30 ET and use the hashtag #PEATtalks to follow and tag posts.