Accessibility in the Workplace
Creating Accessible Workplaces
“I have a disability. I am legally blind … being legally blind doesn’t define who I am. Ask me how to best support me and let’s have an ongoing two-way conversation. Ask me what can be done so I’ll never be a burden. We have to never be afraid of speaking up. The more we talk about accessibility, the more it becomes normal.”
These words were spoken by Australian Paralympic goalball player, Michelle Rzepecki, at our recent forum on Accessibility in the Workplace. The event provided great insight into the lived experiences of people with disability, and an opportunity to share the progress employers have made towards more inclusive workplaces. Our speakers were:
Majella Knobel, Director Accessibility & Inclusion, Westpac Gabrielle Bartlett, Marketing Coordinator, Job Support Michelle Rzepecki, Australian Paralympic goalball player and part of the HireUp team Amy Whalley, Deputy CEO, Australian Network on Disability Renata Zanetti, Accessibility and Inclusion Consultant, Intopia
Here are some of the key questions our speakers addressed on disability in the workplace.
How do you make the accessibility business case?
Majella Knobel: I think of it as getting people on the train journey. If they are not so sure the first time the train pulls in to the station, we will collect them on the second or third time around. It’s about changing mindsets and relating accessibility and inclusion to everyday life. It is not about me and having a vision impairment but it is about you - I ask questions like “Would your mother or elderly neighbour know how to use this device or product?” Such questions allow people to think beyond their own environment and bring everyday life into their workplace. The way Westpac approaches accessibility business case is by linking the accessibility agenda (Accessibility Action Plan) to the broader customer and business strategy so outcomes are tailored to making a real influence and significant difference.
Michelle, what are some of your job challenges?
Michelle Rzepecki: I am legally bind. All I see are blurry little blobs and shades of grey. If I can walk into work, find the toilets and meeting rooms, that’s all I really need. Being part of a culture where I know that people at work will help me out makes a huge difference – it means I don’t need to worry as much. We are starting to see a shift in society around awareness of disability where everyone, not just D&I people, understands the impact of disability on the way a person is able to perform a job.
What are the recent trends in accessibility technology?
Renata Zanetti: There are many acronyms like a11y (accessibility) and WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Over time, there is a greater awareness of accessibility in the technology community. In the US, there is much more litigation around web accessibility than here in Australia.
There is a positive trend with mobile accessibility being part of WCAG 2.1. Everyone expects mobile-responsive websites and this supports designing in an accessible way.
There is more uptake of usability testing (UX) during, rather than after launching technology. Previously this may have been informal, for example, a web designer tested the design of her website with a family member and got some valuable feedback that it was not accessible for colour blindness. Now this is becoming more of the standard process.
There is screen-reading technology, which continues to advance. A few years ago the only option was JAWS. Now there is also native assistive technology built into mobile devices.
There is also a screen-reader called NVDA. Designed by two Australians, it gives people with visual impairment access to technology for free or donation.
It’s important that people think about accessibility when they select, procure and design technology. While we have seen a big increase in the number of apps being created, many developers haven’t thought about the accessibility of their systems, but this is slowly starting to improve.
What should accessibility look like in Australia?
Amy Whalley: There needs to be a ‘whole of business’ approach with specific action plans and sponsors, not just projects driven by D&I. We need ongoing commitment to evolve products, services and internal processes to provide long-term sustainable change. Organisations new to the accessibility journey can also consider using the Access and Inclusion Index to map out what they need to do. They can self-assess against ten areas, including employee processes like recruitment, communications and marketing. The results provide a score, benchmark data and a roadmap of what’s next.
Amy Whalley: Purple Space speak about the Magic Three: champions or executive sponsors, D&I who implement, and employee resource groups. All three should have efforts aligned and regularly report on the impact of their actions.
How open are organisations to engaging employees with intellectual disabilities?
Gabrielle Bartlett: Organisations have greater familiarity with D&I, but we still have a long way to go. At Job Support, it can take up to 200 conversations with an organisation for them to commit to take on our clients. The success of the match between employer and employee is very important. We have 800 clients on the Job Support program and some of them have been in roles for up to 30 years. We find that 52% of our placements are from organisation who have already participated. Access and Inclusion Plans help us with the ripple effect, but ultimately it comes down to the commitment behind the words in the plan to bring them to life.
What skills are required to design and build organisation systems accessibly?
Renata Zanetti: It can depend on the tech team’s know-how. What technology are they currently using and what technology will you procure in the future?
Does the software or hardware accommodate accessibility standards without major modifications or retrofitting? In our experience, retrofitting often costs more in terms of time and budget.
Some organisations draw on a panel of people with disability to give feedback. Some people with disability may be invited to focus or testing groups to give feedback on top of their existing role. It is important to provide compensation for people’s time. We help facilitate this through Intopia Connect.
How does your organisation recognise individuals for their time and effort?
In which areas do organisations still miss the inclusion and accessibility mark?
Renata Zanetti: Around 15% of the global population has a disability. 80 % of disability is not visible. Sometimes there are assumptions. Hiring managers don’t ask about accessibility requirements or accommodations or have a clear process in place so that a staff member does not have to disclose more than once.
My challenge to you is to make 15% of the examples in your marketing reflect people with a disability.
How can traditional recruitment agencies change to be more inclusive and aware of accessibility?
Majella Knobel: From a personal experience in the past recruiters believed that if you have X disability, you could only do certain roles related to that disability. The shift from looking at someone’s disability and focusing on their skillset and how they can make this role work for them through understanding their accessibility requirements. By that I mean never assume because they have X disability, they can’t do the role but ask the individual about their skill set and their interests. Often many individuals with disabilities don’t have extensive work experience to talk about in interviews, thus instead of limiting questions to a work context broaden the question to ask about their life experiences and how they have overcome barriers providing rich information.
Renata Zanetti: Recruitment agencies can run training and make sure their advertisements and application systems are accessible, at least to screen-reading software.
It’s important to be aware that Artificial Intelligence in automated screening tools may put people with disabilities at a disadvantage. For example, speech to text software may not favour candidates with accents or speech impediments. The algorithms may not pick up vital life-based examples because they don’t contain key phrases related to the job’s context.