The future is fully accessible.
That’s the word from Gartner, at least, and it’s exciting news for those with disabilities and those enterprises eager to onboard diverse teams. According to their recent study, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will tear down barriers over the next three years, making way for a workforce comprised of three times the number of individuals with disabilities from what it is today. This is great news. According to Gartner, “organizations that actively employ people with disabilities will not only cultivate goodwill from their communities, but also see 89% higher retention rates, a 72% increase in employee productivity, and a 29% increase in profitability.”
AI and machine learning are among the top technologies that will drive impact, according to Gartner’s report, and also among the technologies that are making it possible for workers with disabilities to gain better access to career opportunities that have, for many reasons, eluded them for decades. But as workers with disabilities increasingly join the workplace, there are many organizational improvements that CIOs and IT leaders can make to better accommodate the diverse workplace. As companies benefit from expanded access to the essential skills this workforce brings, they also must make sure that accessibility does not stop with the employment offer. Hiring workers with disabilities means maintaining a culture and atmosphere of accessibility at all levels and across the board.
It all starts with training and transparency. An accessible workforce is one that is also aware and empowered. When employees with disabilities join your ranks, they need to know that their coworkers understand and care about their unique abilities and the potential challenges that, if neglected, could inhibit full, equal and unimpeded participation throughout the organization.
Establishing a communication channel to openly discuss disabilities and accessibility awareness will help reinforce one of the simplest rules of keeping engaged with their new coworkers:when in doubt, ask.Employees with visual, auditory, cognitive or physical disabilities may require certain accommodations in order to best perform their duties, and when well-meaning coworkers feel they can’t speak openly, they may end up closing off from, and excluding, their colleagues.
It can have a meaningful impact to emphasize the importance of using people-first language that positively reinforces the individual ahead of any antiquated disability terms, which may, unintentionally, possess offensive or negative connotations. Awareness and sensitivity training will also help encourage employees to consider and mitigate potential physical access issues. This includes maintaining and distributing fully accessible digital files of all presentations so that they can be reviewed in advance of meetings or at a larger resolution or sound level, and ensuring the accessibility of internal and public-facing electronic information technologies, including websites, intranets, mobile and web applications.
And while it’s important to be prepared, it’s also important to not be overwhelmed. Start with the basics. The Americans With Disabilities Act, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, lays out the laws and regulations that all US citizens should be aware of when it comes to creating workplaces that are fully accessible for those with disabilities. There is no shortage of resources, virtual and otherwise, dedicated to assisting organizations seeking to embrace the inclusion revolution. Assigning internal stakeholders and identifying champions to lead the organizational charge toward inclusion is key. If this team is empowered by the CIOs, IT leaders, and other executives at the top of the organization, they can identify other stakeholders from within or bring in the necessary external resources to help build and expand a culture of inclusion across the organization.
Once empowered, it’s time to act.
Are your digital resources accessible for those with visual or mobility impairments? Usability testing of these assets is best conducted by individuals versed in the use of the assistive technologies, such as screen readers, that are prevalent in the marketplace. As needed, sustainable testing and remediation plans should be put into place to help ensure accessibility is always prioritized and maintained as digital content and functionality is updated over time or as the organization comes to rely upon or adopt new tools or services.
Procuring new tools? Accessibility is a must. Procurement teams must inquire about the accessibility of any new vendor-supplied service, prior to introducing it and rolling it out across the organization. Neglecting accessibility when rolling out new corporate initiatives is a recipe for disaster that leads to exclusion.
In the coming decade, as more skilled, creative and diligent workers with disabilities join the workplaces in droves, we all benefit. And that’s a win for everyone involved.
Sean Bradley is AudioEye’s Co-founder, President, and Chief Strategy Officer. Throughout his career, Bradley has been recognized as an innovative leader in technology. In addition to AudioEye, he has co-founded multiple technology companies. He has a track record of bringing to market timely digital platforms and products, which have been relied upon by some of the largest and most influential businesses in the world.