Smart Workplaces Use Accessible Technology
By Sharron Rush, Executive Director, Knowbility, Inc.
Untapped, loyal workforce
Employers need to know about a relatively untapped pool of prospective employees who are intelligent, educated, and eager to work. People with disabilities in the workplace have been studied by the US Department of Labor, the Hamill Institute on Disabilities, and many other institutions. Studies have indicated that this group overall has a higher degree of company loyalty, lower rate of job turnover, and nearly identical job ratings as employees without disabilities. Nevertheless, the employment statistics for people with disabilities point to a significant opportunity gap when compared to the general population. Despite being willing, ready, and sufficiently skilled to meet the requirements of many jobs, people with disabilities continue to be overlooked in the work force resulting in unemployment rates of over 60 percent. As we seek ways to raise employer awareness and capacity to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities, technology considerations are of utmost importance.
Accessible technology in the workplace is an effective way to address this persistent problem. Modern communications technology can enable people with disabilities to contribute in ways never before possible in human history. For example, with the use of screen reader assistive technology it may no longer be necessary for a blind employee to be provided with braille documents or to have a reading assistant assigned as a work accommodation; a staff member with mobility impairments may be unable to use a pen or a typewriter but can accomplish job functions – in some cases more efficiently than the traditional mouse user – by voice input and operation of the computer; and for an employee with attention deficits, dyslexia, or any of a number of cognitive disabilities, there are highly effective assistive technologies that seamlessly mitigate those conditions and support worker productivity. An intelligent and eager group of previously untapped workers is thereby made available to savvy employers. The key is technology accessibility. Digital communications, like physical space, must be designed for accessibility in order to empower all workers.
An accessible workplace now requires more than the provision of wheelchair accessible physical spaces. To meet ADA requirements and ensure a disability friendly workplace, ask yourself:
- Do our workplace policies include a reference to digital technology accessibility?
- Is staff trained to be aware of creating digital content to meet accessibility guidelines?
- Does procurement staff understand and have the tools to ensure that your company buys accessible technology products and services?
- Are policies and practices reviewed and updated periodically to keep pace with changing technology?
If you are unsure of the answers, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the W3C has great resources to help you build a digital accessibility program. Their Guide to Planning and Implementing Web Accessibility is a great place to start. Don’t delay, there is a group of outstanding employees ready to contribute to your company, agency, or institution if you allow digital accessibility to open the doors to them.
Editor’s note: During National Disability Employment Awareness Month the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities invited partner agencies and organizations to contribute to our state’s conversation on employment of people with disabilities. Our leading partner for accessibility of information technology is Knowbility, Inc. Knowbility is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of improving technology access for millions of youth and adults with disabilities all over the world. Knowbility’s core values convey the strong belief that accessible technology is a key to providing equal access to educational, employment, and social opportunities for people with disabilities. More information about their programs and services is available through their website at: http://www.knowbility.org/.
The Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities (Committee) provides GovDelivery updates for informational purposes on a variety of disability related issues for a diverse audience. Updates may include information provided by external sources. The inclusion of this external information does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the Committee or the Office of the Governor of any information, policy, product, or service offered by an external source.