Considering Accessibility in the Workplace

After the pandemic, accessibility became an important issue. Here, you can learn some characteristics to make your workplace more accessible for everyone!

With the outbreak of the pandemic, the question of access to resources became a crucial one as many of us began to navigate working remotely. Flexible schedules, deadlines, access to technology, and more are all part of the conversation we’ve had to collectively engage in this past year. Tellingly, the conversation around access in the workplace is not new and existed well before the pandemic, lead by people with disabilities. 

In a Forbes article titled, “On The Pandemic And Accessibility,” Steven Aquino powerfully notes that, “To have one’s lives so utterly disrupted and summarily scrabble to adapt is not dissimilar to the challenges people with disabilities face every single day — even before ‘Covid-19’ became an indelible part of the American vernacular.” 

So, when we’re thinking about accessibility, we have to center those who have long been advocating for access to basic healthcare and workplace resources for decades and who have heretofore been denied such assistance. Aquino went on to say, “Jaipreet Virdi, Historian of Medicine, Technology, and Disability at the University of Deleware put it well in a recent tweet. She quoted disability activist and writer Riva Lehrer, who said: ‘Disabled people are experts in finding new ways to do things when the old ways don’t work. We are a vast think tank right in plain sight. A bottomless well of ingenuity and creativity.’” Especially for those of us operating within the wellness community, we have to consider all our diverse and complex audiences. 

Accessibility in the Virtual World

As many of us transitioned to working from home, access to Zoom, Slack, and other forms of communication became daily aspects of the workplace environment. Even schools began utilizing things like Google Meets and a whole host of online learning platforms. So, what does accessibility look like in the virtual world? Let’s consider this set of user characteristics that UW-Madison Information Technology put out in order to shed light on web accessibility:

  • Unable to see: Individuals who are blind use either audible output or tactile output. For reading the printed page, people who are blind use scanners with optical recognition (OCR) that can read printed material and store it electronically to be read by a screen reader. Some videos may need to include an audio description to describe any actions not described by the narrators or speakers in the video.
  • Is colorblind: Individuals with colorblindness have difficulty seeing the contrast between background and foreground colors and may be unable to see certain colors or color combinations especially if color alone is used to convey information. 
  • Has a cognitive or learning disability: Individuals with learning disabilities such as dyslexia may also use audible output, along with software that highlights words or phrases as they’re read aloud using synthesized speech.
  • Has low vision: Individuals with low vision may use screen magnification software that allows them to zoom into all or a portion of the visual screen. Large monitors and anti-glare screens, color and contrast adjustments, speech output systems and scanners with optical character recognition are also used to navigate web and print media. Many others with less-than-perfect eyesight may enlarge the font on websites using standard browser functions, such as Ctrl + in Windows browsers or Command + in Mac browsers.
  • Has a physical disability: Individuals with physical disabilities that affect their use of hands may be unable to use a mouse, and instead may rely exclusively on keyboard or use assistive technologies such as speech recognition, head pointers, mouth sticks, or eye-gaze tracking systems.
  • Unable to hear: Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing are unable to access audio content, so video needs to be captioned and audio needs to be transcribed.
  • Using a mobile device: Individuals who are accessing the web using a compact mobile device such as a phone face accessibility barriers, just like individuals with disabilities do. They’re using a small screen and may need to zoom in or increase the font size, and they are likely to be using a touch interface rather than a mouse.
  • Limited bandwidth: Individuals may be on slow Internet connections if they’re located in a rural area or lack the financial resources to access high-speed Internet. These users benefit from pages that load quickly and transcripts for videos. 

So, if you’re truly wanting to make your workplace accessible for all current and potential employees, consider the above user characteristics. Are your virtual meetings captioned? Is your ice-breaker matching game inclusive? Where can you adapt company policy so that your employees don’t have to constantly advocate for the tools they need to do their job? How can you be proactive? 
This is also true for those of us in the mindfulness app world. Is your content accessible? Does it consider users who may not feel comfortable dwelling on particular body parts or sounds? What about users who speak multiple languages? How much choice or agency does your content allow its users? Like the mindfulness journey itself, accessibility is an ever-evolving topic that will need to be revisited again and again in order to make sure we’re being as inclusive as possible.

Leave a Reply