Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Improving digital accessibility and inclusion in the workplace

This article was originally posted by Cordell Health and is shared with permission.

Our vision at Cordell Health is to change the focus in the workplace from disability to ability. And yet the conversation around disability is too often focused on the hurdles disabled people have to overcome – rather than the abilities they bring. It doesn’t help that people with disabilities are often underserved by today’s digital products – and this includes the equipment they have to work with.

If your disabled employees and candidates experience poor digital accessibility it not only affects their enjoyment of working for you – it will do nothing for their engagement or productivity. That’s why equality of digital accessibility for all should be a core requirement.

For this reason, we are writing this blog as our contribution to Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). GAAD is a day of awareness focused on digital access and inclusion for people with disabilities around the world. It takes place on Thursday, May 18th with the purpose of getting everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion.

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is about ensuring that digital services, including those provided to employees, are free of barriers that might prevent people with vision, hearing, mobility, and other disabilities from using them. Equally there are impairments associated with ageing. Digital accessibility applies to websites, apps, e-books, data processing of documents and tech based means of communication. Hybrid working has made this even more important to get right.

How accessible is your organisation?

Statistics from the House of Commons report, ‘Disabled people in employment’ show that there were an estimated 4.4 million disabled people in employment in the UK in 2021.  These were defined as those with a physical or mental impairment with a substantial or long-term impact on their ability to do normal daily activities. What’s more, the stigma around disability suggests many more keep their disabilities a secret. The need to create accessible workplaces along with a culture of acceptance has never been stronger.

So, how good is the digital experience you offer your disabled employees? Do you support people with sensory impairments, cognitive impairments and physical limitations? How easy do people find using your tech, IT and web services and of experiencing your content?

If their experience isn’t at least equal to that of those without disabilities, then your organisation risks creating barriers to entry for potentially valuable talent. Equality of accessibility is clearly the right thing to do, but it’s also a legal requirement.

Digital accessibility and the Equality Act

Since the introduction of The Equality Act 2010, employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.  Some of these adjustments apply to providing equipment, services or support such as the technology used to perform work duties. For example, changing screens and keyboards to help people with sensory impairment and providing emails and documents in an accessible format.

The steps employers can take

The GAAD website identifies four common disabilities and impairments people face, with examples of how technology can help.

Visual: People who are blind need alternative text descriptions for meaningful images and use the keyboard and not a mouse to engage with interactive elements.

Hearing: People who are deaf or hard of hearing will need captioning for video presentations and visual indicators in place of audio cues.

Motor: People with motor impairments may need alternative keyboards, eye control or some other adaptive hardware to help them type and navigate on their devices.

Cognitive: People with different learning disabilities/impairments would benefit from an uncluttered screen, consistent navigation and the use of plain language.

Another way of assessing how you meet accessibility requirements is to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines by the Web Accessibility Initiative who set the standards for the internet. They aim for you to make your website and other digital tools accessible in the following ways.

Perceivable: This is about being able to get the information from the page. It includes things like colour contrast and text that changes size when the browser asks it to.

Operable: This is all about how you do things. Are button sizes large enough? Can you navigate the page with a keyboard? Can sections that need input handle voice recognition?

Understandable: This is about comprehension. It includes readability and layout guidance that makes reading possible for both humans and technology, such as screen readers.

Robust: This focuses on how good your solutions are. Are they future proofed? Will they work on different devices?

Digital accessibility in recruitment

Job seeking can be stressful enough, but the stress can be much greater for people with disabilities. Research shows just how demoralising it can be. In the UK, 17% of disabled adults report having had a job offer withdrawn as a result of their disability, and 30% said that they felt they were not taken seriously as a candidate as a result of their disability.

There’s little doubt that organisations need to become better at recruiting people with disabilities. Here are some ways you can include digital accessibility in your recruitment process and remove barriers for disabled applicants:

Your careers site: This needs to be accessible itself and coded in a way that allows people with disabilities to be able to read or hear the job vacancies. Likewise, any videos need to have captions.

Interview stage: How much support is available for candidates to be interviewed in a way that makes provision for any equipment and communication needs they might have?

Be neurodiverse-friendly: Neurodiverse candidates find certain colours very difficult to view. Does your careers site have neurodiverse friendly colours? Neurodiverse candidates may prefer online conversations and tests over face to face interviews. Likewise, group based induction programmes may be overwhelming for neurodiverse new starters. Can you offer an online onboarding experience as an alternative?

In conclusion

This has largely been an article based around the suitability of digital technology, but it equally goes back to your culture. For accessibility and therefore inclusion to happen, it has to be adopted into your workplace culture so that people with disabilities can contribute equally with colleagues without disabilities. This starts with recruitment – fail here and it will tell candidates all they need to know about working for you. Ultimately the better equipped you are to consider accessibility needs, the better you will be placed to change the focus in your workplace from disability to ability.

Further reading