One of the first steps in improving accessibility in the workplace is getting a clear idea of what ICT is being used, and whether it has any accessibility barriers.
If you’re at work right now, look around you. What do you see? It’s highly likely that technology is in the picture. Most businesses and organizations use a wide variety of information and communications technology (ICT) to accomplish their goals—from e-mail and web-based applications to telephones and mobile devices. Technology powers all aspects of today’s workplace, optimizing employee performance and productivity—if it’s accessible, that is.
In order to get started with such an assessment, it’s important to consider three things:
- What barriers to fully benefiting from the technology tools you provide are encountered, and by whom.
- What solutions are available to address these barriers, including possible use of assistive technology (AT).
- What your technology vendors can do to help.
This assessment should then inform the steps necessary to implement effective solutions.
A good way to inventory the technology used in your workplace is to think about when and where employees encounter it throughout the employment lifecycle. Although each organization is different, there are likely some common characteristics across the five main phases, as illustrated below.
- Applicant-facing websites
- Online job application systems
- Prescreening employment assessment tools
- Recruitment portals and online job banks
- Social media platforms used for recruitment.
Hiring and Onboarding
- Corporate intranets, authorization and authentication, environment installation and imaging, cloud apps, storage accounts, mobile devices including bring your own device (BYOD), and e-mail accounts
- Job training and orientation by video, multimedia and webinars
- Assistive technology (ensuring its compatibility and interoperability)
- Time-entry and timekeeping systems
- Benefits administration systems
Work Immersion and Productivity
- Hardware (desktop and portable computers; telephones, mobile devices, and tablets; copiers, printers, scanners, and other peripherals; transaction machines)
- Software and web (operating systems; intranets; content creation and management: word processing, publishing, accounting/financial, web authoring tools and content management systems (CMS), library/storage/version control/archive systems; customer relationship management (CRM) and project management; social media)
- Travel and expense management systems
- Communication and networks (phone systems, messaging, e-mail, teleconferencing, other real-time collaboration tools)
- Content and media (documents, multimedia, spreadsheets, databases)
Retention and Career Advancement
- All of the above, plus:
- Training/professional development, including Learning Management Systems (LMS), and content
- Performance review applications
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
- Return-to-Work and Stay-at-Work programs
- Technology offered through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Post-Employment and Retirement
- Online benefits/retirement plan applications
- Past performance records management
Easier Than You Think
Again, this list may look more intimidating than it actually is, but breaking it down can help you take stock of the workplace technologies your employees—and potential employees—use. And taking steps to increase their accessibility may actually be easier than you think, for a number of reasons:
- Making a product accessible can sometimes be as simple as flipping a switch. You can work with vendors to ensure that built-in accessibility features are "turned on" from the start, and that users have proper training on how to maximize those features.
- For most products, only the vendor can make accessibility improvements. All you can do is encourage them, provide guidance on your company’s needs, and track progress.
- Many of the ICT products in your workplace are similar or tied into other products you may be addressing, so accessibility improvements you make in one area can often extend into other technologies. At the same time, it's important to take a comprehensive approach to accessibility, ensuring that you make necessary fixes to all areas of a product or application. For example, a web page used to recruit employees may be only a branch of your overall site. It may have a specialized user interface or template that may look different, but be managed centrally. Similarly, HR suites that cover time reporting, payroll, and benefits often have identical or similar user interfaces.
- Tools that work on different platforms, especially desktop and mobile, are often automatically re-formatted and re-rendered depending on the user’s device. Thus, the right choice may implement an accessibility feature across all of those platforms.
- For your internal developers, accessibility solutions can be generalized across everything they work on. For example, once designers understand issues of color contrast, every page they work on will reflect that skill. (Of course, proper training for developers is key and should be worked into your accessibility initiative.)
Completing an inventory of your technology is not difficult but it will require a time commitment to collect information about all the products you use, especially if your organization is large and has multiple locations and/or lines of authority. It’s a good idea to start by creating a simple table or database for collecting information, such as:
- Vendors, products, and their versions for each item.
- Links to vendor-provided accessibility information and other information you have gathered internally or externally.
- Status reports to document your work (for example, your own accessibility evaluations and gap analyses), what the vendor is planning to do (for example, a remediation plan) and what you’re planning to do, and in what timeframe.
This information gathering will greatly assist in prioritization, which the critical next step following assessment. Begin prioritizing by addressing any outstanding accessibility issues, such as complaints from employees and applicants. Once you’ve put out those fires, focus on the following in any logical order:
- Your online job application platform. This is especially relevant if you are a federal contractor, due to new regulations.
- ICT that is used throughout your organization, by many users, for many tasks. This will amplify the impact.
- ICT already in a procurement cycle. You may not be able to influence an imminent purchase, but getting in the door will help you build your accessibility initiative by identifying allies and target processes.
- Internally-developed ICT, such as websites and document templates. You can have maximum influence here, and also identify potential accessibility team members.
In your efforts to prioritize, it is especially important to not just focus on people with one type of disability—for instance, only addressing barriers encountered by employees who are blind.
Finally, remember that not everything can be fixed at once. And, even for the products you can fix, given how pervasive and ever-changing technology is in today’s workplace, you’ll likely need to plan and prioritize. But, like all journeys, the road to accessibility begins with a single step.
Join the Conversation
Has your company completed an accessible technology inventory or assessment? If so, PEAT wants to hear from you! Please contact us to share how you went about planning and prioritizing for ensuring your workplace technology helps optimize the performance of all employees who use it.