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Employers are in a constant tug-of-war: Make the workers happy and make the clients happy simultaneously. While most would agree that they are not mutually exclusive, it is easy to be pulled in two different directions with a limited number of resources. Want to do more for less? Consider some easy accessibility and inclusion tips.
Twenty percent of Americans identify as having a disability, according to 2010 census data. More than one-third have a person with a disability in their circle of family or friends. Truly, it is a demographic that everyone can relate to. Somehow, it is not always considered in the workplace, or for clients.
With just a few tricks, you can begin connecting more effectively to employees, constituents, and clients with disabilities. Not only will you enjoy higher workplace satisfaction, but you’ll have repeat customers who love to talk about their experiences.
One easy tip is to consider your documents. We live in a world that is marked by a flurry of document uploads and file-sharing. Sometimes the message can’t get across in an accessible manner. For people with visual disabilities, items like graphics, charts, graphs, images, and maps are not discernible. Many use what’s called a screen reader: an assistive technology software that audibly ‘reads’ what’s on the screen. This is a wonderful resource, but it is only as good as the text behind it.
Beef up your document accessibility by adding textual descriptions, or what’s called ‘alternative text’, to those visual items. Alternative text describes the purpose behind the addition of the item. It includes pertinent information about why that element is in the document. Easy-to-follow directions for the Microsoft Office suite can be found here.
There are other disabilities to factor in when you share material. What about videos or audio files? Sometimes, webinars are uploaded or there are interviews with sound. This is helpful for many people, but not so much for those with hearing disabilities. In fact, a benefit of accessibility is that you don’t necessarily need to have a disability to benefit from it.
Have you ever been in a loud public space, like a gym or a bar that has many television screens? You might be able to hear all of the din around you, but focusing on the sounds you want to hear is difficult. The TVs would battle for dominance of sound, but luckily subtitles and captions exist. These aren’t just limited to social spaces. You can easily add captions to your videos and audio files, and consider adding transcripts for other audio items. If your videos are hosted on YouTube, here’s a resource to help you start captioning your content quickly.
Adding transcripts provides great textual equivalents for purely audio files that don’t have a visual component. As you get more advanced in your quest for accessibility, you can also add audio description. This aids people with visual disabilities. Essentially, audio description consists of a narrator clearly talking throughout the video. They discuss what is happening, perhaps describing settings, actions, or appearances on the screen during the natural pauses in the audio. If you’re interested in learning more, read up on the Audio Description Project.
Make your space open and welcoming. An example of a free accessibility offering is to advertise that you offer accessibility accommodations for your events and meetings. While this might consist of hiring a professional sign-language interpreter, there are also other requests that do not cost so much to provide a patron with a disability. Some might request materials in alternative formats, like Braille or in Large Print. Local printers and those in large chains can provide the Large Print service (if you are unable to do it on your office copy machine), and it costs significantly less than you might imagine. For some frequently requested materials, having additional copies on hand could save you money, and also benefit your workers and clients immediately. It promotes equality and inclusion from the get-go and makes it look like less of a special request.
An easy and unique way to add accessibility to your workplace is to think about your first impression. Often, when meeting either an industry colleague or a potential new client, you might hand out a business card. This is an excellent way to exchange information if the recipient can see it. We recommend picking up an inexpensive Braille embosser and imprint your business cards with company name and contact information in Braille, for about $125. It’s a fast way to make a good impression and makes your business card accessible to people who are blind and read Braille. Also, while some people might be able to see, it can exist on different variants; factor in large print on the reverse side.
Finally, similar to your offering of accommodations for events, consider advertising your newly inclusionary company on your website. A website has two purposes – to be your “brand” and welcome mat out to the public and to be a tool for your users to gain information. With each of these issues, you want your website to be welcoming and accessible to all – especially those with disabilities.
Ensure that your website’s “About Us” section and mission statement include language about being inclusive of people of all abilities. Don’t limit inclusion to disabilities – celebrate welcoming other differences as well. Put photos of people with disabilities that are related to your industry, or even ones of your actual clients and employees. A picture really is worth a thousand words and sends a clear message that you are an inclusive organization. When you take your own photos, you should know that the photos that work well are of people with disabilities side by side with peers without visible disabilities; people want to see equality and respect in practice.
A little bit can go a long way, and disability inclusion is truly a corporate differentiator. Make yourself stand out in a sea of exclusion, and welcome people into your inclusionary space. Accessibility is the spice that you can bake in just a little in the recipe for a successful workplace.
Dana Marlowe is an architect of inclusion and accessibility. She is the Principal Partner and co-founder of Accessibility Partners LLC, a disability and accessibility advocacy IT consulting firm. She has been featured in countless national and international industry publications and media platforms to promote inclusive technology, and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, area.