Building a Framework for Workplace Accessibility

Published November 16, 2022

Today’s top businesses have embraced inclusivity and accessibility as company-wide values. In fact, it’s becoming challenging for corporations that ignore the evolution of inclusivity-minded workplaces to compete for talent or consumers.   

While many larger companies have full-time roles or departments focused on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA), even smaller businesses need to get on board. Initiating an accessibility plan is one of the first steps, but it’s only the start. Companies need to create accessibility frameworks and offer solutions in order to build a company culture that celebrates differences and leaves no one out. Here are a few actionable considerations for business leaders looking to get started.   

Let go of assumptions about how people communicate  

Part of creating an accessibility framework is acknowledging that there are diverse ways that employees work, and that’s a good thing. Business leaders can take a big step back and look at the assumptions they’re making about their employees. In many cases, improving communication from an accessibility standpoint will also improve communication overall. 
“There are numerous ways that communication can take place, but what happens typically is that the way that we communicate becomes the norm. We expect everybody to match our norms to be successful and that's just not the case,” said Verbit’s Global Head of Accessibility & Inclusion, Scott Ready.   

Ready has been working in accessibility for decades and has watched the culture surrounding inclusivity shift. He explained that communication is diverse, and we need to recognize that our default is just one of many possible methods.   

“If you have somebody who is Deaf, as an example, having live captioning, using an interpreter, having many other ways of being able to enable that individual who is a contributor to the company to be successful provides a greater perspective within the company,” he said.   

Ready’s example of captions is great because captioning boosts overall retention and focus for everyone. In many cases, people might not even know that they could benefit from having the captions on during their meetings and events.   

However, accessibility is a broad topic and one that may involve unique requests. An accessibility framework needs to include a process for accommodations.   

Make accessibility easy  

During a recent webinar that Verbit hosted, Walmart’s Senior Director of Global Culture, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, Russell Shaffer, described how that company made asking for accommodations easy. Walmart created a “centralized accommodations funded service center.” Managers can use that center to provide accommodations that come with little or no cost quickly.   

Removing the barriers to accommodations and creating a process that removes red tape gets people the resources they need faster. There is no reason to gate-keep small, inexpensive specific asks. In fact, most accommodations do come at little or no financial cost.  
Solutions that help employees are more about creativity and flexibility than expensive equipment. Giving managers the authority to make those decisions is a great way to showcase respect for employees while giving them the tools they need to be productive in their roles with the company.   

Encourage employees to flag their needs 

It can be challenging for a person to speak up if they feel alone or like their issues are unique. In reality, one out of every four adults in the US has a disability that affects their daily lives. In many cases, companies will have people who share common experiences as employees with disabilities.  

One way to give power to these employees is to create an employee resource group (ERG) focused on the needs of employees with disabilities. While speaking up alone can be intimidating, doing so as a collective group is much more empowering and effective.   

However, for an ERG to have much influence, it will need to have participation from people higher up in the company. The ERG should have the ears of people who are in a position to implement positive changes when the group identifies something important.   

ERGs for employees with disabilities can help companies improve accessibility and fix their shortcomings. In some cases, these groups may even point to potential adaptations that could benefit the company as a whole.   

 Create an environment that works for everyone  

“Accessibility needs to become a part of their system because they want to engage with all of their employees, not just a sub-segment of their employees,” said Doug Karlovitz, General Manager of VITAC, a Verbit Company.   

Karlovitz went on to explain that when companies talk about accommodations, they are having a limited, narrow conversation. Instead, the goal has to be to make accessibility “a natural part of the companies' workflow.”   

It’s some of the largest companies that are leading the way in this approach. When working with Fortune 500 companies, providing something like captioning proactively is “just part of the overall experience and not an accommodation.” The aim, Karlovitz explained, is more about the “overall experience for all of the employees.”  

It’s not just captioning, either. These larger companies are now embracing other accessibility features and incorporating them into their events and content without requiring that anyone request an accommodation. For instance, Karlovitz says many of the Fortune 500 are now using audio description.   

At today’s events, Karlovitz, these leading businesses just provide audio description and captioning automatically. The approach seems to be a smart one.   

“The companies who are doing this are also some of the fastest growing companies because they're engaging all their employees,” said Karlovitz.  

 Move toward Universal Design  

The true goal of any accessibility initiative should be to exclude the need for accommodations. The best way to do this is by removing barriers that make them necessary in the first place. Many companies are taking this approach and working to incorporate universal design principles into their workflows. Whether that means providing universal captioning, audio description or developing a user-friendly website, the benefits of these approaches continue to exceed expectations.   

People are constantly learning that the accommodations designed to help one group are useful for everyone. The time and resources businesses invest in building their accessibility frameworks can also help them attract talent and consumers. As a result, investing in accessibility is an all-around good business decision.   

As an essential partner for businesses looking to boost their inclusivity, Verbit is helping create more accessible environments online and in person. Learn more about Verbit’s captioning, audio description and other accessibility solutions to find out how they can support your company.   

Event: How Do You Know You're [Still] Accessible?

Join us Tuesday, November 15th at 1 PM ET for our next event on how to maintain accessibility as your company matures through strategies, processes, and maturity models.  Register by clicking here.

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