In 2020, much of the world made an abrupt shift to remote work. And that trend has continued, with many companies transitioning to hybrid or fully remote working arrangements for the long term. This shift has had a positive impact on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, who are experiencing what has been called an “employment boom.”
But while it’s one thing to expand your workforce through remote work options, it’s another thing to empower staff to be their best.
People with disabilities are 1.6 times more likely to feel excluded in the workplace, which can prevent both employees and their organizations from reaching their fullest potential. And though remote work apps and technologies may encourage staff to stay connected while working from home, they aren’t necessarily a magic solution for an inclusive company culture.
So how do you empower all staff to thrive while working remotely? We spoke with team members Dana Randall,Tom Babinszki, George Quarcoo, and Gisela Blanco, who shared three digital accessibility best practices you can implement to foster a better, more inclusive remote work culture.
#1 Create open channels for feedback and communication of accessibility needs
“The larger the organization, the harder it is to remember everyone’s needs,” says Dana, eSSENTIAL Accessibility and Level Access’ Head of Accessible UI Design, “It’s helpful to have a single source of truth where that information is consistently available for people to check.”
Creating consistent methods of sharing information has made it easier for team members to share what they need, and for others to ask about these needs. At eSSENTIAL Accessibility and Level Access, we’ve also supported this culture of communication by providing ongoing training on accessibility and disability etiquette.
Team members generally want to be inclusive without being intrusive, so providing easy-to-access, standard areas to check for accessibility feedback is most supportive. Simple solutions can be effective, like adding an optional custom space in a Slack profile where employees can share their accessibility needs and considerations.
#2 Avoid “one size fits all” technology policies
Enabling employees to be considerate of each other is especially important when accessibility needs may differ or even conflict.
For example, when meeting virtually, you can accommodate various needs by allowing the use of preferred meeting tools, enabling closed captioning, and encouraging flexibility with camera use. The best option for a meeting may fluctuate, depending on the situation and the intersecting needs of multiple employees with disabilities.
Tom Babinszki, VP of Accessibility, is blind and prefers to have his camera off for meetings—a preference that is often shared by neurodivergent team members as well. Still, when Tom hosts a virtual meeting with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing he will ask if they might find it helpful if he is on camera, since they may employ lip reading or gain context through body language.
See also: How to make virtual meetings accessible
Dana adds that employers can also be understanding and accommodate device requests where possible. For example, she has vestibular dysfunction and is triggered by on-screen motion, so she has previously requested a vertical monitor to reduce scrolling.
For others, it may be helpful to have the option to work within a specific operating system or environment. Tom jokes, “I always tell people that since I got an iPhone, I’m only half as blind as I used to be. I’m able to be more mobile and waste so much less time.” Tom says many professionals with visual disabilities who use assistive technology to consume information may prefer working with mobile devices in certain cases because mobile apps and solutions tend to be leaner and have more streamlined functionality compared to their desktop equivalents, making them easier to navigate.
Equipping employees with their preferred tools can allow them to spend more time getting work done, and less time creating workarounds.
#3 Be flexible with time
Working in an inaccessible digital environment can come at a cost, and one of the most significant costs is time. In a digitally connected remote work environment, supervisors may now be used to in-the-moment follow-up on chat apps, and quick response times for email requests. This implicit urgency is not always equitable, nor does it always result in the best outcomes for work.
Understanding the time it takes for employees to access documents, or even join meetings, depending on the accessibility tools they may be using, is important. This is made more challenging due to the current pace of software updates on many commonly used digital tools, like meeting platforms. George Quarcoo, an Accessibility Specialist with low vision, has experienced the challenge of struggling to find the right link to enter a meeting on time using his assistive technology. “Something might work perfectly one day, and then not work so well the next day. It can be very time-consuming, especially depending on how comfortable you are with using your assistive devices.”
See also: Is your business’s online job search process accessible for people with disabilities?
In addition, supporting flexible working hours is a low-cost, high-impact way to make work more accessible. Gisela Blanco is an Accessibility Tester with a mobility disability. She says the opportunity to communicate with her supervisor and flex her working hours when needed has been a huge advantage in her work life. That’s because it may take her longer to prepare for work on some days than others, especially depending on whether she’s working in her fully accessible home, or from elsewhere.
Some employees may need a later start to align with energy levels, a mid-day break to administer medication, or more frequent breaks to eat or drink regularly. Partnering with employees to build their schedules around the hours that work best for them can increase productivity, foster engagement, and help keep the focus between employee and supervisor on the quality of the work done.
Making remote work “work” for everyone
Making work digitally accessible is a win for more equitable employment. To create workplaces that truly work for all employees, we have to be intentional in designing cultures that are inclusive and empowering. Keep in mind, the tips above are but a short list of best practices that can be helpful, and specific needs for access will depend on the individual. Trust your team to know what works best for them and include them in finding solutions. The important thing to remember is that when workplaces are more inclusive and accessible, everyone benefits: people with disabilities, parents and caregivers, and those who are very busy or going through a significant life event.
Work is only getting more digitally dependent. A commitment to making remote work more accessible for every employee will foster a more inclusive, and therefore, more innovative and productive company culture—setting your organization on the path to continued success.
If you need more insight on how to foster accessibility at work, visit the Level Access website for an on-demand webinar on accessibility education for employees.
eSSENTIAL Accessibility has changed its name to Level Access! Read More