With remote working increasing across the globe, employers may find that remote employees require consistent and accessible access to applications such as employee portals, customer service management software, and online meeting spaces. Whether those applications are accessed online or in the office, it is important to note that providing accessible online content can be considered a reasonable accommodation.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), any employee disclosing their disability to their employer can request reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations include accessible equipment, flexible working hours, parking spaces, and more. Here are some considerations for remote employees and accessible online content.
It goes without saying that someone living with a visual disability may require alternatives to user interfaces that are not accessible in the first place. Many people with visual difficulties use screen readers, but some require adapted computers, screen guards, or other equipment. Avoid heavy use of complex structures in web content, digital documents, and employee interfaces. Screen reading technology relies on consistent structure and clean code to perform optimally.
Test your employee interfaces and online content with assistive technology and incorporate persons with disabilities in the testing process if possible. Assistive technology users can provide fresh perspectives and identify barriers that automated testing technologies and manual testers without disabilities often cannot.
Employees who are color blind may find content that relies on color to convey information difficult to interpret. Employees may find screen readers or accessible settings on their computers helpful. Be mindful not to develop content that relies on color alone to convey information. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides the following guidance on color use:
While color can be useful to convey information, color should not be the only way information is conveyed. When using color to differentiate elements, also provide additional identification that does not rely on color perception. For example, use an asterisk in addition to color to indicate required form fields, and use labels to distinguish areas on graphs.
This means that interactive content should not rely on color alone. For example, a red button may imply "stop" or a green button imply "go." Employees who are color blind may not have the ability to distinguish the difference between the two. Always include text for context for any interactive content that involves color.
Hearing loss and deafness
Employees living with hearing loss and deafness may request auto-captioning software or transcripts for lengthier audio-visual material. Remote working often means that meetings are conducted via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or Google Teams. Meetings conducted online can be challenging for persons with hearing loss or deafness if housekeeping rules are not established and enforced. When multiple people are talking at once, it can be difficult for persons with hearing loss to follow along or read lips. Maintain order in online meetings and identify solutions such as captioning and sign language interpreters for employees with hearing loss and deafness.
Using a computer or other technological equipment can be difficult for some employees with physical disabilities. For example, employees who have limited mobility may use Microsoft's Speech Recognition (this links to a document) function to navigate online content. Such functionality works best when online content is consistent and static. Speech recognition software often performs poorly when content is dynamic and continuously changing. For example, a carousel that populates new user options every 5 seconds − may look and feel modern − but the continuously changing user options can be difficult to interact with for users who rely on assistive technology.
Note: the ability to navigate interfaces by voice is also helpful to people with visual impairments and neurodiverse employees. Deaf or hard-of-hearing employees may find voice-to-text functionality beneficial as well.
People with neurodiverse conditions often benefit from visual search engines, less text, and cleaner interfaces than other employees.
Some people find search engines like Google Lens useful, so they can search by image instead of typing in text and reading. Combined with a screen reader, this removes the need for reading or writing and can be vastly valuable to employees with dyslexia or other types of neurodiversity.
Create accessible user stories
When developing online content, encourage designers, developers, and content managers to create accessible user stories. Accessible user stories put the outcome above the technique. For example:
- As a <employee with a hearing impairment>.
- I want to <have the ability to turn on captions>.
- So that I can <understand what information is being conveyed video content online>.
The outcome of this user story is that the user has the ability to activate captioning for video content; the technique used to accomplish this is not as important as the underlining expected functionality of the content.
Alternative ways to access content
Another consideration for online content is the incorporation of alternative access points. While online content can be designed to be compliant with standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, that doesn't mean it will always be accessible for everyone. Providing alternative ways to access information, such as requests for accommodation processes and text alternatives to complex information contained in maps and images is a great way to ensure your content can be accessed by assistive technology and provides users the ability to request alternatives when content online is not accessible.
Personal hardware and equipment
Employers should also consider providing ergonomic tools or adaptable equipment. For example, employees who use speech-to-text software may require a microphone that picks up the nuances in their voice. Employees with mobility impairments may benefit from having adapted headphones that are integrated into both their computer and phone system so they do not have to continuously switch from one input and output device to another. Employees that read and write in Braille may require specialized keyboards and switches to input and consume data.
Employees working remotely should be provided the same access to accommodations and accessible content as those working in the office. Employers should work closely with the employee population to identify the needs of their workers, the types of accommodations that may be required to effectively communicate and perform the essential functions of their jobs, and be flexible in how that objective is achieved. Engage employees with diverse perspectives and work to develop content that is accessible to assistive technology while maintaining the infrastructure needed to provide accommodations that are effective for the employee.