By now, most of us are aware of the need to ensure that workplaces are accessible. This goes beyond the legal requirements set out under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and our ethical responsibilities. When we ensure inclusivity in the workplace, we are empowering a more diverse talent pool. This not only makes for a more positive environment, but it provides businesses with different perspectives that can lead to innovations.
In essence, this means human resources (HR) professionals are on the front line of inclusivity. They are involved in locating and attracting talent, and making certain that employees’ time with the business is positive. Keeping companies’ inclusivity standards high is not always an easy task. However, our digital age provides tools and processes that can help along the way.
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We’re living at a great time for HR technology in general, but accessibility technology is rising right alongside it. So we’re going to take a closer look at where we are now, and how it can make a difference. What are the specific tools available at the moment? Why should HR professionals push for their adoption?
One of the keys to the success of any company is good communication. So many of the problems that occur arise from a failure in this department. Misunderstandings can occur, and it can make employees feel more distant from the organization. The problems here can be exacerbated when we don’t consider hurdles to communication with those valued employees with accessibility challenges. Technology can help us here.
Let’s face it, most company-wide communications are likely to come in electronic form. This is usually by email or SMS, but there is a growing trend of using apps and collaboration platforms. Slack, Skype, and Microsoft Teams are identified as among some of the most popular here. These multimedia software products can be agile tools, facilitating communications best suited to the needs of the recipient. Instead of group audio calls, video chat can take place with translators for American Sign Language (ASL). Audio messages can be sent in place of text-heavy emails. Indeed, many of these platforms are equipped with common chat room areas that can be used to help those with social anxiety or mobility issues to engage in “watercooler” moments and build relationships with employees from across departments.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that HR professionals have a responsibility in the selection and utilization of these tools. Other departments — information technology (IT), accounting, development — will generally have technical and business priorities in adopting platforms. HR has to be the arbiter of the human element, ensuring that the productivity advantages don’t present additional hurdles for inclusivity. Research whether color schemes can be changed to reduce the white space that can be challenging for those employees experiencing dyslexia. Look into compatibility with voice-to-text software.
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It’s important to provide resources for those who are already with the company but don’t forget that one of HR’s key roles is in hiring. Aside from your legal obligations to ensure every qualified candidate can apply, taking an inclusive approach to hiring can result in better quality candidates. By focusing on the tools that make your hiring more inclusive, you’re casting a wider net to attract the diverse talent that perhaps your competition doesn’t have access to.
This starts with your company’s website. Ensure that the section that deals with careers and hiring is accessible. Offer audio descriptions of text and alternative text for any images. Make certain that any online assessments provide extended time limits for users who have to use assistive technology. Provide videos that don’t just showcase the culture of the business but also how office layouts are designed for those with limited mobility. Inclusion isn’t just about showing how you can make allowances to suit individual needs, but how these considerations are just part of everyday operations.
Interviews, too, should be adapted for inclusivity. Provide the option for online interviewing using platforms such as Zoom or Skype. Use remote technology to practice the hiring process to demonstrate your ability to be flexible about working practices. This is particularly relevant during this pandemic, in which many of us — including those with pre-existing medical conditions — are keen to reduce the risk of exposure. Use secure cloud platforms to share important documents during the process, and reassure the candidate that you have tools in place that allow them to function to the best of their ability.
Workplaces’ increasing dependence on technology means tools are often subject to upgrades. It is therefore vital that HR professionals ensure that the physical tools of the workplace continue to meet inclusivity standards. There must be an open culture that encourages staff to raise concerns that certain tech will be challenging, and that this will be met with a positive dialogue about solutions.
Part of this approach should also include a commitment that the company will invest in assistive technology. Where possible you should aim to predict need. Stores can install alerting devices that vibrate alongside their audio chimes to inform employees of customers entering the building. Provide portable amplifiers for telephones so that those who are hard of hearing can be as mobile in their activities as other employees.
However, don’t underestimate the fact that those employees with accessibility challenges are likely to have more insight into their needs and technological solutions than you do. There are smartphone apps that they may already have on their personal devices — such as VoiceBrief that reads notifications for the visually impaired, or Be My Eyes that connects users to volunteers. It’s a much more inclusive approach to work with them to use the tools they’re already comfortable using, rather than dictate to them what you’re willing to provide.
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While inclusivity is a legal and ethical responsibility, it’s also vital for the success of your business. Our digital landscape has produced tools that help to foster accessibility and encourage a more diverse range of employees to contribute to our enterprises. With a few additional steps, yours can be among the most inclusive companies in your field.