The impact of accessibility in the workplace
At the Digital Learning Institute, we recognise that online learning is in a unique position to improve accessibility in the workplace. Digital technology provides the opportunity for learning to be communicated using many different audio and visual elements, it also gives greater flexibility to the learner freeing them from the necessity of having to be in a certain place at a certain time, they can study at their own pace, when and where suits them.
With all the opportunity that digital learning provides also comes a responsibility to ensure that we continue to create learning that is user centred and accessible to everyone. In this article we examine the impact accessibility has in the workplace and the different ways you can build an accessible workplace across your digital and physical spaces.
We can all appreciate the importance of accessibility, but what does it really mean to have an accessible workplace and how do you build one?
The Hearing Health Foundation categorises accessibility across three areas:
Physical: Is the physical space you provide your employees accessible? Is it wheelchair friendly, do you have special car parking spaces, clear signage, and ramps? Is the building easy to navigate for all staff, not only those with a physical disability or mobility issues?
Technological: Technology can help to make systems and processes more accessible. Providing different formats for digital assets including video, audio and captioning can help make them more accessible for everyone because we all learn in different ways. Technology can also improve the physical objects that we use for work, larger keyboards, additional monitors, and ergonomic chairs can make everyone’s workday more comfortable and productive.
Cultural: Are diversity and inclusion part of your workplace culture, is it reflected in your hiring and onboarding processes as well as the day-to-day attitudes and behaviours of people within the company including management?
Implementing accessible work practices may seem overwhelming at first, but making a conscious commitment to building an accessible workplace that embraces equality and diversity will help you to build a better business and will have long-term benefits. Education and knowledge can be the first step.
We have recently launched our Professional Certificate in Accessibility and Universal Design which is an 8-week online course and provides certification as a Universal Designer with a globally recognised, industry-approved qualification.
Learn more our speciality certificate in accessibility
The benefits of accessibility in the workplace
Having an accessible workplace has many benefits for your business outside of directly improving the physical environment and culture. Studies have shown that improving your diversity and inclusion practices will make your business more attractive as a place to work and improve employee retention. (7) Outside of attraction and retention, it can also have a positive impact on the bottom line as it enables you to hire from a wider pool of talent and it will help to build a culture that welcomes broader skills and different perspectives.
A 2018 study by Accenture—in partnership with the AAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities) reported that companies embracing practices that support and encourage individuals with disabilities in the workplace saw their bottom line improve. Strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices were associated with a 28 percent increase in revenue, double the net income, and a 30 percent boost in economic profit margin, compared with their peer companies that scored lower on DEI practices. (2)
Accessibility is part of the picture, but traditionally Accessible Design has focused on the needs of people with disabilities. In contrast, Universal Design considers the wide spectrum of human abilities. It aims to “exceed minimum standards to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.” Accessibility and Universal Design principles go hand in hand because we are all different and not all disabilities are visible, the concept of neurodiversity means that each person has a brain that is unique to them and therefore learns in a different way.
For at least 20% of the adult population in the UK, these differences mean they may be diagnosed with neurological conditions including autism, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (1)
If you ignore accessibility and don’t commit to building a diverse and inclusive workplace you are actually limiting your business growth by setting up barriers and exclusions for employees and your customers. Inclusive businesses are better to work for, and better to do business with.
How to improve accessibility in the workplace
We have established that improved accessibility has many benefits for employees and the business and we have identified three main areas where you can get started in implementing change in your workplace:
- Invest in Accessible Information Technology,
Adapt workspaces to make them more accessible for all staff including neurodivergent staff and workers with disabilities.
- Flexible working environments
Work to create inclusive and accessible recruitment, onboarding and retention processes and diversity and inclusion policies
- Hire Certified Professionals
By hiring certified professionals you can ensure that your workplace keeps pace with changes in workplace accessibility legislation. Existing staff should also be trained in accessibility. Through hiring and training, you can make diversity and inclusion a core value in your corporate culture.
Invest in Accessible Information Technology
Technology is constantly changing and it is important to keep up to date with the latest assistive technology that can help you on your way to becoming a truly inclusive workplace.
Assistive Technology consists of devices and technologies whose aim is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence. Technology can help to facilitate participation and enhance overall well-being. People with disabilities can utilise a variety of technologies to help them access and utilise online resources. For instance, screen-reader software, which reads out what is on the computer screen, may be used by people with limited vision. If someone else is unable to use a keyboard or mouse, they can enter data into the computer using voice-activated dictation software.
It is also important that you examine your company’s internal systems and processes to ensure they are accessible, the first point of action should be your own intranet and website. You should ensure that your intranet and website follow the guidelines of WCAGWeb Content Accessibility Guidelines (https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/)Designing your intranet and website to ensure accessibility not only benefits people with disabilities but is also best practice in terms of Universal Design. This avoids costly redesign efforts and retrospective accessibility fixes.
You also need to look at other communication channels and software that are used internally for example instant messaging software, forums or shared files. Are these processes and channels working for everyone? Are they providing an open and consistent communication experience? For example, virtual meetings provide a flexible solution for staff in different locations to discuss topics, but are there things that could be done to improve the accessibility of these meetings, for example adding auto-captioning or transcription?
By investing in assistive technology you are practising what you preach and putting systems in place that can support inclusive hiring decisions.
Flexible working environments
Since the pandemic hybrid and remote working has become a mainstream part of working life for many people. Hybrid working has benefits for both companies and employees, it can save money on office space and has been shown to enhance productivity as employees can reduce commuting time.
A survey by Mercer of 800 HR leaders reported that 94% found that the staff at their companies were more or equally productive working remotely compared to working in the office. A two-year survey by Great Place to Work of more than 800,000 employees showed that the shift to working remotely during the pandemic boosted worker productivity by 6% on average. (4)
A key benefit of a hybrid workplace is the increased flexibility it can provide and the opportunities it has to increase inclusive hiring processes by offering more choices around working times and locations. However, the hybrid workplace also has its challenges and requires more robust online learning technologies to ensure a consistency of experience and maintenance of connection and community when employees are spread across different locations, this gives even more reason to invest in your learning and development function.
Hire Certified Professionals
Training and education in diversity and inclusion should be part of your in-house learning and development programme to foster a culture of openness and ensure your company environment is free from prejudice, discrimination and stigma. This can be incorporated in your onboarding modules or used as continued training opportunities.
Oftentimes, professionals are building these training modules without having a background in accessibility or universal design. While it’s better to have some exposure to accessibility, hiring certified professionals with a background in Universal Design ensures that not only are your onboarding and diversity training up to date, but these certified professionals can be consultants within the company to be sure that day to day practices and workings are as optimal for workers as possible.
Accessibility and Online Learning
More than ever before we have the opportunity through new technology to use the principles of Accessibility and Universal Design to create user-centred learning for everyone. Apart from issues of equity, proactively designing for inclusivity and accessibility has been shown to benefit all users and this applies to our physical as well as digital worlds.
For example ramps and wheelchair access installed for individuals with limited mobility, also benefit anyone who has pulled luggage, pushed a pram, or juggled an armful of books. Universal benefits are also possible in the digital world when UDL and accessibility act as partners, proactively designing learning environments that meet the needs of diverse learners. (3)
Twitter and other technology businesses are recognising the advantages accessibility enhancements to their product provide for all users. By making videos accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing as well as those who prefer to watch the video without sound, auto-captions can enhance video accessibility and boost overall viewership without the users having to add captions manually. Twitter data claims that videos with text or subtitles are 11% more likely to be viewed and yield 28% higher completion rates. (5)
The principles of Accessibility and Universal Design can help all learners navigate both the physical and digital worlds, whether it’s using a ramp instead of the stairs or reading captions whilst watching a video.
Digital Learning Institute and Accessibility and Universal Design
At the Digital Learning Institute we have helped businesses implement wholesale change in Accessibility and Universal Design across their organisations. We have trained whole in-house teams and taken them through a programme of professional development that broadens their knowledge, fills in any skill gaps and results in an industry-recognised certification.
Our training programmes offer the flexibility of online learning thereby minimising the impact on the working day and can be managed by the individual. This means companies don’t have to schedule time for whole teams to take part in synchronous training, but each individual will receive a consistent learning experience and still have the benefit of training with their cohort.
To find out more about the benefits of our business training and to read some of our student testimonials
Accessibility and Universal Design are important for all workplaces because when you take the time to design a working environment that meets the needs of all employees, you create an inclusive and accessible environment where everyone can succeed, which is part of running a successful and sustainable business.
- Universal Design for Learning and Digital Accessibility: Compatible Partners or a Conflicted Marriage? | EDUCAUSE
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