Google has been around for nearly 25 years. YouTube for 17 years. Countless internet tools, from calorie counters to digital banking, have been commonplace for decades. And yet, many companies are just starting to invest in digital accessibility.
According to the 2022 State of Digital Accessibility by Level Access, 40% of companies (out of 1,000 surveyed) have worked toward accessibility compliance for less than three years. More than 60% of companies have worked toward accessibility for less than six years.
If your organization is like most others, you might be behind on your digital accessibility efforts for your internal and external channels. The first step is to evaluate your internal systems to increase their accessibility. Here are five parts of the company experience that might be isolating employees with disabilities and preventing them from thriving in their roles.
The employee intranet is a source of information and communication for your team members. However, many companies need to pay more attention to their intranet tools and this valuable resource. Only 13% of employees say they participate on the intranet daily, while 31% say they never do.
Now may be a good time to overhaul your intranet with a focus on accessibility. Here are a few steps you can take:
Survey your employees to see what features they want from a new intranet.
Ask which features are the most outdated, confusing, and ineffective.
Identify which tools and features you want to prioritize – it’s understandable if you are limited by your budget right now.
Approach each intranet update through an accessibility lens. This makes your improvements proactive rather than reactive.
You might even want to create a dedicated intranet hub for accessibility and accommodations. This is where your team members can learn about their rights as workers with disabilities and take steps to request accommodations through their managers or HR.
If you create a positive company culture, the majority of your employees will want to keep working with you. One survey found that 68% of workers would stay with their employers throughout their careers if they made an effort to upskill them.
Consider your internal processes to request training resources and the existing resources you offer. Are these materials accessible to all employees? For example, many companies rely on recorded training videos asking digital questions at each segment's end. Could someone who is deaf navigate this content? How do the questions appear on screen readers?
Updating employee training resources could be a strategic project by your HR team to create a better learning environment for everyone involved.
Along with improving employee training programs, you can increase internal growth by making your internal application processes more accessible. Many job listings (internal and external) have inaccessible elements – especially as companies add more quizzes, virtual interviews, and required files to the application process.
Justin Yarbrough, an accessibility consultant, shared his experiences applying to various positions. In one instance, his screen reader blocked links for uploading resume and cover letter files, so he could not apply. In another case, the issue was a post-application survey.
“I tried to apply for an accessibility-related job,” says Yarbrough. “I could complete the application without a problem, but then had to fill out a culture-fit quiz. The quiz was completely inaccessible, and my screen reader could not even read the questions or answer choices provided.”
Your employees with disabilities should not be held back from advancement due to a lack of accessibility.
Meeting best practices
More than 11 million meetings are held daily across the United States. These range from quick scrums in the hallway to all-hands quarterly meetings. However, many companies lack best practices for standardized, accessible meetings. If your company is working to evaluate what meetings look like in the post-pandemic era, now might be a good time to establish ground rules for scheduling these events.
For example, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network published a series of best practices for inclusive meetings. They cover ways to make meetings more inclusive before, during, and after the event. If you need to schedule a marathon two-hour meeting, build in breaks between topics. Understand the nature of stimming and how it helps people with autism focus and participate.
You can establish these best practices company-wide, so every meeting is inclusive.
ADA accommodation and leave requests
Most Americans don’t want to broadcast their disabilities to their coworkers and managers. One study found that only 3.2 percent of Americans disclose their disability to their employers. This is a shockingly low number considering one in four Americans has a disability. Many people have invisible disabilities that they mask throughout the day and only disclose to essential parties.
Keep this in mind when you develop processes for ADA accommodation and leave requests. Employees might want to avoid becoming the center of workplace discussion just because they need a few extra tools to get the job done. Managers don’t necessarily need to know everything about their workers.
"Sharing employee medical information with the employee's supervisor results in a risk to the employer," says Abigail O'Connell, senior counsel at Sun Life Financial. "An employee whose information has been shared may allege that their supervisor engaged in disability discrimination or that the supervisor interfered with their leave rights or retaliated against them for taking leave."
Establish confidential accommodation processes and that objective parties within the company manage them. It’s not up to an employee’s boss to decide whether they deserve accommodation. Also, these processes should create digital paper trails for all parties involved and be accessible to anyone who needs to use them.
As an employer, it’s your job to create an accessible workplace for all employees. The steps you take to improve your internal digital systems and processes can help your team members’ grow their skills and advance their careers. By investing in your employees, you are investing in your company’s future.