Identifying the barriers
For a significant proportion of people, as many as 1 in 5, the barriers to accessing workplace systems are so great that they need extra help.
Although disability takes many forms and covers a wide range of impairments, up to half of all workers may experience a degree of difficulty in using IT and need some assistance.
Some companies view accessibility as almost a necessary evil, which they pay lip service to, so that they satisfy legal requirements. But they are missing a huge opportunity to employ, motivate and retain all staff, and to attract and retain customers. Reasonable adjustments break down barriers to employment and make everyone’s life easier, not just those with a disability.
Removing barriers to work for disabled people is a key aim of the Government’s Disability Confident campaign, and understanding the benefits of an accessible workplace, whatever the size of your business, can help you recruit and retain disabled people.
Taking solutions seriously
Organisations that take IT accessibility seriously stand to gain in a number of ways.
Firstly, they will make it easier to recruit and retain people, especially older and disabled staff who may encounter problems with IT, but bring a huge wealth of skills and experience to a business.
Secondly, companies will open up more of their goods and services, particularly those that are web-based, to a wider market, worth around £240bn per year.
Finally, it will ensure that the business is operating within the law.
So how can we do this? The task is huge!
Where to start
Quite often, companies just don’t know where to start, but like any problem, break it down into manageable chunks. Some will be quick wins, some will take a little time, but all will help. If you have the budget, but not the in-house skills, then a consultant can help you to understand how to target your efforts.
For smaller companies, and those without the budget for this, here are some tips on where to start:
Policy: An accessibility policy is central to creating awareness of accessibility issues and in guiding the actions of staff.
Management: Managers are critical to creating and driving policies and procedures to make the workplace accessible. Get them on board.
Training: There are many types of disability confidence training: 1-1, 1-group, and web-based flexible solutions. All have their place.
Standards: International standards are available to help developers. More are on their way. Use hardware and software products that promote disability access.
Consolidation: Encourage people who may need help with IT to come forward by appointing an accessibility officer.
Enable: IT departments love to lock down systems, but employees should be able to make adjustments to their systems without having to talk to the boss or involve IT specialists.
Consultation: Ensure that people with disabilities are involved in all design activities, starting at the concept stage and going on through all phases of development.
Purchasing: Specify to your suppliers that accessibility is a priority and include accessibility as a requirement in all systems you buy.
For more on how to create an accessible workplace, visit the Disability Confident LinkedIn page.
Chair, British Assistive Technology Association