Becoming an Accessible Technology Advocate
Here's a news flash—you don't need to work in the C-suite to help make your organization more accessible when it comes to technology. People at all levels of a company can demonstrate leadership and shape their current or future workplace. And this includes you!
So how can you advocate for accessible technology at work? Here are some of PEAT's ideas—and we're looking forwarding to hearing yours.
Seize the Opportunity
The reasons your business or organizational leaders should care about accessible technology are actually pretty straightforward. Accessible technology is key to basic productivity in the workplace, ensuring that current employees with disabilities can fully contribute their talents and skills to meet an employer's business goals. In addition, it ensures future hires and employees who acquire disabilities will have the tools they need to perform at the highest level.
When a commitment to accessible technology exists, the information and communications technology (ICT) offered to employees and customers will work for everyone. This means that all tools—such as desktop software, smartphones, websites, online services, and more—can be used by all employees and customers, including those with disabilities.
But what if your company's leaders are unfamiliar with the need to adopt and implement accessible technology products? What if they do not know how much accessible technology is already available or how to go about finding it? These situations are golden opportunities for ICT staff and other employees to exercise leadership and educate executives about how—and why—to make accessible technology available as an everyday practice.
You have the power to foster an internal workplace culture in which accessible technology is the norm.
Build a Case
In order to convince the "powers that be" to pay attention to accessibility, you'll need to make a persuasive case. In building your argument, key points to remember include:
Accessible technology improves productivity, helps retain talent, and reduces costs. Having an accessible and usable technology infrastructure allows all employees, including employees with disabilities, to succeed on the job. In addition, many people acquire disabilities—particularly older workers or those who are injured or become ill on the job. Furthermore, you don't have to have a disability to benefit from accessible technology! Some accessibility features (for example, enhanced screen contrast and magnification) actually help all users to be more productive.
Building and marketing universally designed products increases profits. It makes good business sense to create products and services that are universally designed—in other words, usable by people both with and without disabilities—right out of the box.
Employers have a legal responsibility to provide an accessible workplace. Providing accessible workplace technology may help ensure compliance with various employment laws and regulations and reduce risk associated with lawsuits. But beyond mandates, providing ICT that all employees and customers can access is a basic issue of fairness and workplace equality, helping to promote positive employee relationships and good public relations.
If you're thinking about becoming an advocate for accessible technology in your own workplace, there are many ways to start making a difference. Begin by taking one or more of the following action steps:
Become an Expert and Establish Yourself as a Point of Contact. Start familiarizing yourself with your own needs, and the needs of other technology users with disabilities, and develop a general level of expertise in accessibility matters. The more you know, the more respect you will gain from developers and other colleagues. In addition, consider volunteering to be a point of contact for other technology users with disabilities so that you can collect and catalog existing barriers and bring them to the attention of company leadership. This will also position you to share experiences and industry news with other interested parties in your company.
Build a Team. Identify others in your organization who might want to work with you on this topic. More people working together and sharing ideas can get you further, faster. For instance, if there is an employee resource group (ERG) at your company focused on disability or aging workers, some of its members may want to help. You might also recruit particular vice presidents, directors, union representatives, HR or diversity managers, or other influential and interested colleagues to serve on your team.
Assess the Maturity of Your Organization's Accessibility Efforts. An excellent first step on your journey is to access TechCheck, PEAT's tool to help employers assess their technology accessibility practices and find resources to help develop them further. TechCheck can help you, or relevant leaders at your company, understand the current state of your accessible technology policies, identify goals, and determine the steps necessary to reach them.
Address the "Low-Hanging Fruit" First. As you promote your accessible technology agenda, identify several areas where there are either known or potential accessibility barriers. Here are some common examples:
- Phone and teleconference systems might not work well for colleagues with hearing loss.
- E-mail systems cannot always be navigated or read by employees with visual impairments.
- Time keeping, travel, or other online self-management systems may have inaccessible interfaces.
- Web pages that provide internal information are not usable by colleagues with visual impairments who use assistive technology like screen readers.
- Training videos, online courses, or other human resource materials are not be available in alternate formats or feature captioning or audio descriptions.
- Some of the workplace products or services your company makes or provides may not be accessible.
Tell Your Manager. Let your supervisor and other appropriate colleagues know you are working on this topic and ask for their support.
Talk About the Issues. Over several months, meet with your team and ask for members' advice on ways to expand understanding of the importance of purchasing accessible technology or designing and developing it for employees or customers. It's also important to discuss strategies for reorienting people's point of view from seeing accessibility as "a problem" to something that benefits the company overall. In these conversations, let team members know of any of the problems you have uncovered. Be sure to capture their advice, including other influential people to talk to or specific ideas for change. Keep a written summary of these recommendations to use as a basis for new action steps or a longer-term strategic plan.
You might also consider starting a blog or other internal communication channel to discuss and share ideas, solutions, or resources (for example, where to go to have business cards Brailled or where to find a high-quality captioning provider for training videos) For more information, read Communicating Your Commitment to Accessibility.
Prepare to Back Up Your Arguments. Be ready to explain why promoting accessible technology in the workplace is not simply the right thing to do, but a smart and profitable business practice that positively impacts the employee morale and the company's bottom line. You can use the resources on PEATworks.org to help!
Join the Conversation
Do you have experiences advocating for accessible technology change in your workplace? If so, we want to hear from you. Please contact us to share your advice on influencing your colleagues, raising awareness, and making a positive difference in your organization.
At the end of the day, anyone who uses technology is in a position to become a workplace accessibility advocate. So, what are you waiting for?