Disability:IN and our Accessibility Leadership Committee recognize that digital accessibility is crucial to the success of every diversity and inclusion initiative. The sudden switch to remote work due to the global coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital accessibility at work – wherever that work takes place.
Drawing on the collective expertise of our corporate partners, this section of Disability:IN’s COVID-19 Response Series lists action items to help organizations ensure that employees with disabilities are included in all aspects of remote work during this crisis and always.
A recent post on the Microsoft Accessibility Blog says it best: “The biggest source of knowledge right now are your employees, especially those in your disability employee communities.” If you have an Employee Resource Group (ERG) tap its disabled members to learn from their experiences with remote employment. What is working and what could make the workday easier?
Be sure to have systems in place not just for accepting suggestions, but for letting employees know how that feedback is being incorporated and acted on.
Accessible video conference platforms are more important today than ever. If you do not know whether your video conferencing platforms are accessible to employees with disabilities, chances are they are not, and now is the perfect time to find out.
Accessibility considerations for conferencing platforms include the following:
- What are the captioning, sign language, and audio description capabilities?
- If captioning is powered by AI, what is the accuracy rate?
- Was the platform designed to meet accessibility standards? (Relevant standards may include WCAG 2.1 AA, Section 508, Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines.)
- How was the platform tested for accessibility?
- Can screen reader and keyboard-only users take advantage of all functionality, including chat, screenshare, and recording, as well as the basics of logging-in, listening, and running a meeting?
Your conferencing platform vendor should be able to provide accessibility information. Make a plan to remediate any accessibility barriers or switch to a more accessible platform.
Accessibility Information of popular conferencing and meeting platforms can be found here:
- Adobe Connect Accessibility Overview
- Google Meet Accessibility and Hangout Chat Accessibility Features
- GoToMeeting Accessibility Features
- Microsoft Teams Accessibility Support and Accessible Learning Webinar Series on Microsoft Teams
- Skype Accessibility Features
- WebEx Accessibility Features and WebEx Web App Accessibility Features
- Zoom Accessibility Page and Zoom Accessibility Frequently Asked Questions
There are also several articles that compare and contrast accessibility features of video conferencing platforms, such as this article from The Big Hack: Best video conferencing apps and software for accessibility.
Meetings/training provided using conferencing or meeting platforms can all be supported using CART services. Remote CART can also be provided by a private service via direct URL to support other types of virtual, video, and audio meetings. Access vendor information via the Job Accommodation Network’s Remote CART services page. Video remote interpreting (VRI) could also be a way to make these platforms accessible if the VRI provider can either access the videoconferencing platform as a participant (with video access) or provide service in another window through a VRI platform. For more information, access JAN’S VRI page.
Other CART-related resources:
- #COVID19 Creates Opportunity to Curate Real Inclusion, article by Marc Safman about accessing CART for online meetings.
Remote work means more reliance than ever on file sharing, telephone systems, and other collaborative tools. As with conferencing software, become familiar with the accessibility features of your organization’s tools. Understand compliance obligations. Solicit feedback from employees with disabilities and give high priority to remediating known barriers.
Find and share across teams the accessibility information from collaboration tools, telephony, and other software vendors. Some accessibility information on popular tools can be found here:
- AT&T: Accessibility Information
- Charter Communications: Spectrum Accessibility Center of Excellence
- Google: Accessibility of Google Docs
- Microsoft Teams Accessibility Support and Accessible Learning Webinar Series on Microsoft Teams
- Salesforce: Contact Salesforce about Accessibility
- Slack: Accessibility Information for Keyboard Users & Information for Screen Reader Users
Whether work takes place remotely or on-site, it is critical that the technology you purchase can be independently used by employees with disabilities. Purchasing inaccessible products and software is akin to buying something broken or incomplete or something with known security gaps. You are not getting your money’s worth.
Disability:IN’s Accessible Technology Procurement Toolkit can help bake accessibility into your procurement processes. And it can help you educate your vendors, who may be unaware of your accessibility expectations or uncertain about what is required.
The Toolkit includes best practices, practical tips, resources, and documents from Disability:IN partners on all aspects purchasing accessible workplace tools including:
- Defining accessibility requirements in terms of functional needs, legal requirements, and standards
- Testing protocols and vendor meetings focused on accessibility
- Inventory and prioritization ideas
- Contract language to ensure accessible products and services
- Evaluating bids for accessibility
- Working with your vendors to develop a roadmap to accessibility
- Creating internal processes to make sure accessibility doesn’t fall through the cracks or get unwittingly dropped at the end of a contract negotiations
- Developing a culture of accessibility that builds relationships among and between all aspects of your organization
- Involving employees with disabilities and ERGs in the procurement process
- Post-contract processes to address bugs, updates, and ensure that accessibility sticks throughout the life of the contract
The switch to remote work due to the global pandemic offers organizations an opportunity to focus on accessible procurement. Disability:IN’s Accessible Procurement Toolkit can help, whether you are at the beginning of the journey or seeking to strengthen an ongoing program.
Software vendors should be available to assist your disabled employees with accessibility features of their products. For example:
- Microsoft Disability Answer Desk (DAD) is a free service for people with disabilities in need of technical support with Microsoft products. DAD is offered in multiple languages, in ASL, and through chat.
- Apple Accessibility Support, also free, is available through phone and chat in English and Chinese.
- Google’s Disability Support Team, also offered at no cost, is available via chat, email (in multiple languages), ASL and Be My Eyes.
Make vendor accessibility support information, as well as internal accessibility support options, available to your employees wherever they are working.
An accessible digital platform does not guarantee an accessible meeting. Tips for ensuring that everyone can fully participate in virtual meetings include the following:
- Train all organizers, presenters and participations in how to ensure that meetings are accessible for everyone.
- Provide instructions and training on how to make videos, images, documents, emails, and surveys accessible for all, including adding captions and audio descriptions.
- Make it a habit to offer reminders of accessibility options and other best practices (including proper use of cameras, headphones, chat, etc.) at the start of virtual meetings.
- Consider the recommendations in the Rooted in Rights post How to Make Your Virtual Meetings and Events Accessible to the Disability Community
- Use the recommendations from the Partnership for Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) included in the below resource blogs and posts:
- Share resources for running an inclusive meeting. Here are some examples:
- Jessica Rafuse, Senior Program Manager for Microsoft Accessibility, published a blog entitled Accessible Events, Climbing Toddlers and Barking Dogs.
- The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Rehabilitation and Engineering Research Center has published Accessibility Tips for a Better Zoom/Virtual Meeting Experience
- Minnesota IT services has published a useful resource titled Accessible Remote Meetings/How to Have Digitally Accessible Remote Meetings
- The University of Minnesota has published Good Practices for Accessible Virtual Meetings with many practical tips for the private as well as the public sector.
- Drake Music published Accessibility in Video Conferencing and Remote Meetings.
Workplace accommodation policies, like digital accessibility, are part and parcel of a diverse workforce that includes disabled people. In the switch to remote work don’t overlook that accommodation needs may change:
- What accommodations do employees with disabilities rely on when working on-site, and are those accommodations available when the workplace is the kitchen table?
- Check in with employees who have requested accommodations for on-site work. Do they have what they need to be productive at home?
- Some employees who were not receiving accommodations before the switch to remote work may need home-based accommodations now.
Be sure everyone in your organizations is aware of your company’s accommodations policies and procedures and make accommodation adjustments as needed.
Accessibility of social media and email always matters, both for employees and the public. It is especially important as people search for connection during a time of social distancing.
- Become familiar with the accessibility options of all social media platforms your organization uses.
- Train employees about how to make social media posts available to the widest audience possible.
- Social media accessibility resources include the following:
- How to make images accessibility to blind people on Twitter
- Closed Captions on Facebook Live. Other Facebook Accessibility information is also available
- LinkedIn’s Disability Answer Desk
- Adding image description to Instagram images
- The Social Media Accessibility Resource from RNIB has practical tips for making posts on various social media platforms accessible
Stay-at-home orders and the global pandemic will naturally cause employees to focus on certain types of employer-provided resources. These may include:
- health and retirement benefits
- mental health resources (Visit Disability:IN’s COVID-19 Response: Mental Health for additional resources to support employees’ mental health during this challenging time.)
- leave of absence and sick leave policies
- organizational response to the coronavirus crisis and employer-provided government information
Confirm that all the information provided on these subjects by your organization and its vendors has been designed, developed, and tested for digital accessibility. If accessibility barriers exist that cannot be immediately remediated:
- develop a roadmap for full accessibility
- provide alternative methods of communication if needed in the interim
Involve employees with disabilities and ERGs to help identify barriers and prioritize remediation. In a time of a global pandemic, access to certain types of information becomes a matter of safety and health, making accessibility a stronger business imperative than ever.
Digital accessibility is important throughout the employment lifecycle. During this pandemic, with its significant economic impacts, retirees may have urgent questions about retirement plans and health benefits. With rising unemployment, applicants are scouring online work opportunities.
- Be sure all job portals have been designed, coded and tested for accessibility
- Have processes in place to provide accommodations to employees and include that information on job-related applicant websites. For example, Wells Fargo’s hiring process web page includes a section titled “Job seekers with a disability.”
- Understand and share accessibility information impacting employee retirement accounts. Find public accessibility information and share it with employees and retirees. An example of financial services public accessibility information is Fidelity’s Accessibility Page.
As one of our corporate partners said in a recent Disability:IN COVID-19 response meeting:
“Accessibility is not optional, especially right now. More important than ever that internal and external websites are accessible to all.”
Having an accessible public-facing website is a compliance issue for global organizations. But corporate leaders recognize that accessibility is much more than that, especially during a time when more customers are forging greater digital connections. As one of our partners noted:
“Accessibility as a requirement or compliance is the ‘old way.’ The ‘new way’ is viewing accessibility as an opportunity to engage new customers.”
Wherever your organization is in its accessibility journey, the shift to stay-at-home work for both employees and customers is an ideal time to focus on digital accessibility. Many Disability:IN corporate partners have shared their journeys publicly. For example,
- In Driving the Accessibility Advantage at Accenture, the company describes how it “formalized a Global IT Accessibility practice and defined an accessibility program charter, created a virtual Accessibility Center of Excellence and mapped out a multi-year plan of initiatives.”
- Microsoft’s accessibility portal includes a section about the company’s Disability Inclusion Journey.
- Intel’s accessibility page talks about the company’s goal of “driving a sustained culture of accessibility.”
Wherever you are in your organization’s journey is where to start. While detailing tools and strategies for developing a robust accessibility program are beyond the scope of this resource, Disability:IN is here to help.
It may seem counterintuitive to begin or grow an accessibility champions program during a massive shift to at-home work. But this might be the perfect time to consider such a program in your organization.
Champion programs can establish connections, grow accessibility learning, motivate employees, and change the culture of an organization to make accessibility and inclusive design business as usual. When people are forced to be physically distant, a champions program can help bring people together for good.
The need for physical distancing has created opportunities for greater connection through technology. Make those silver linings available to everyone by ensuring that technology is accessible.
Here are a few silver linings from our partners. What silver linings have been revealed as your organization has moved to remote work?
- Planned live events are now offered digitally to a wider audience.
- Digital gatherings can be recorded and converted to online virtual resources with evergreen content, accessed by all.
- Online meetings present an opportunity to teach people to be better listeners. With video platforms, people are unable to talk over each other, which will be particularly helpful for the deaf/hard of hearing community.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) provides companies an opportunity to showcase accessibility programs externally and build internal awareness of ongoing efforts.
- This year GAAD is on May 21, 2020
- Use GAAD as a key conduit for the accessibility team to get new information out to employees across the organization
- Make GAAD fun! One Disability:IN corporate partner is creating a company-wide trivia contest as a means of sharing accessibility knowledge
- Consider expanding GAAD beyond a single day
- Use GAAD to build accessibility muscle across the organization.
- Share readily available tools like Microsoft’s Accessibility Insights that give a quick overview of web accessibility issues.
- Invite employees who typically rely on a mouse or trackpad to spend 15 minutes without those tools. An accessible interface will allow all tasks to be completed using a keyboard only.
The current emphasis on remote work is a good time to consider new technologies and services that may assist employees with disabilities as they work from home. The following may be of interest:
- Be My Eyes and Aira are live visual assistance apps connecting blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers for visual assistance through a live video call. Aira is a paid subscription service offered in English. Be My Eyes is free and offers assistance in a variety of languages.
- Seeing AI from Microsoft is a free app for blind users that relies on artificial intelligence to narrate the user’s surroundings. It is available in several languages in addition to English.
- Google Live Transcribe performs real-time transcription of speech and sound to text on screen.
- Google Voice Typing is built into Google Docs and Google slides when used in certain browsers. Microsoft Dictation converts spoken word to text in Microsoft products.
Health care providers creating and expanding their telehealth services must ensure that both employees and patients with disabilities can participate. A coalition of deaf and hard of hearing consumer advocacy organizations, deaf healthcare providers, and other experts worked together to provide the below guidelines for deaf and hard of hearing people and healthcare providers to use during the coronavirus pandemic. Visit Telehealth during the coronavirus to access two helpful documents, including COVID-19: Guidelines for Healthcare Providers – Video-Based Telehealth Accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Patients.
The coronavirus crisis gives organizations an opportunity to improve the remote work experience for everyone, including employees with disabilities. The following resources focus on universal aspects of working from home:
- 15 Tips to Manage Remote Employees
- How to Get People to Actually Participate in Virtual Meetings
- How to Work from Home with Kids Around
- How to Work from Home with Roommates Around
- Accessible Remote Working Environments – Free Webinar Series
- Making the Virtual Workplace Accessible (Future of Work Podcast)
About the COVID-19 Response Series
As we work together and learn during this unprecedented time, we are guided by two broad principles:
- Designing and implementing responses to COVID-19 that are based on facts, objective evidence, and science; and
- Ensuring that our responses are genuine, effective, and meaningful by taking into consideration the functional needs of all employees, including individuals with disabilities through the provision of reasonable accommodations, including accessible websites, online systems, mobile apps and other forms of information and communication technologies.
Disability:IN has compiled the following resources to support your disability inclusion work during COVID-19. Please know that more resources will be added as they become available. If you have a resource that isn’t listed but should be, please email Kate Calcutt.