Meeting the access needs of your employees is key to building an inclusive workplace. But what should you do if different individuals with disabilities request accessibility practices that seem to conflict with one another? Addressing competing requests can be challenging because a perfect solution is not always clear.
This article shares examples of employees with different needs and offers suggestions for managing them. Instead of looking at access needs as competing, try reframing accessibility as an ongoing practice that staff accomplish together. Organizations can foster a culture of inclusion by working with staff to acknowledge and support all employees’ access needs.
Disclaimer: The situations described in this article are meant to convey best practices for organizations to foster a culture of inclusion. These situations do not counteract the rights of individuals with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations. For more information on these rights, view the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s resource, The ADA: Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability.
Examples of Conflicting Accessibility Needs
Situation 1:1 An employee with vision loss may prefer to turn their camera off during virtual meetings to avoid screen fatigue. However, their Deaf colleague may rely on lip reading during video calls to supplement automatic captioning, which can sometimes be inaccurate.
Both parties should work together to find ways to address and balance their needs through open dialogue and brainstorming. A few solutions for this situation include:
- The organization could provide a live CART captioner, ensuring accurate captions and a decreased reliance on lip reading.
- The coworker with vision loss may be able to gain management support to keep cameras off in other meetings, so that they can schedule camera-on meetings judiciously with this coworker.
- The coworker with vision loss may feel comfortable keeping their camera on during meetings if they can reduce fatigue by minimizing their own video square so that it does not take up space on their screen.
- The meeting may happen in a different format that works better for both employees. For example, they can find time to meet in-person or explore which tasks they can adequately discuss over email.
Situation 2: Slides with many visual elements can make presentations more difficult to follow for an employee with vision loss. However, using text-only slides might make it more difficult for someone with ADHD to concentrate, and it might hinder others who benefit from visual components like diagrams.
In this scenario, thoughtful solutions to address the competing interests involve planning ahead, prioritizing accessibility best practices, and providing flexible options. Potential solutions include:
- Ensuring that slides are fully accessible and distributing them to attendees 24 hours ahead so that participants can review slides in advance.
- Minimizing the amount of information on a slide that must be interpreted visually. For instance, be selective about using diagrams and images that convey key takeaways, and make sure to include plain text descriptions alongside them.
- Ensuring that the presenter fully describes diagrams and images during the presentation, as well as any key takeaways.
Ongoing Best Practices to Mitigate Different Access Needs
Promote Accommodations and a Culture of Inclusion
You may not even know about every potential issue unless all employees with disabilities feel safe disclosing their needs. Often, employees are reluctant to disclose their disabilities, and they may not know exactly what accommodations will help. Make accommodations simple by inviting employees to explore what options are available. The Job Accommodation Network is a great place to start.
Procure Flexible Technologies
Any new technology you introduce into your workplace should have accessibility features or work with assistive devices. Beyond that, if you procure a technology that is flexible and allows for customization, then employees can configure the tool to work best for them. As individuals, we all have different ways we work best. Giving your employees the flexibility to choose how they use the technology can help them overcome some barriers without needing accommodations. Check out our Buy IT! resource for helpful guidance on procuring accessible inclusive technology.
Support Creativity & Open Dialogues
Every situation is different, and often your employees will not know that their needs compete with other employee needs until the situation arises. In that moment, you may worry that your environment is not inclusive or that you need to choose one person’s needs over the other’s. Managers can promote an inclusive environment by encouraging open dialogue, working with both parties (individually, or if they feel comfortable discussing their needs with others, together) to find ways to address their concerns, and welcoming creative solutions. Remember that employers must keep disability-related information about individuals confidential and may only share it on a need-to-know basis.
1 Thank you to Meryl Evans for providing insight on Situation 1.