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Eliminating Barriers: Supporting the Employment of People with Disabilities through Accessible Communications
For engagement, enjoyment and employment, accessing information and being able to communicate is essential and very empowering. In today’s working environment, this translates to being able to access information on mainstream technology, including web content, and the various digital platforms and mobile devices.
For people with disabilities, it’s important to overcome any potential barriers to communication as these can directly reduce an individual’s control and independence.
Dr Scott Hollier*, Media Access Australia’s WA Manager and a strong advocate for technology-enabled media, discussed the evolution and significance of accessible communications in the support for the employment of people with disabilities at the National Disability Summit in 2015.
He detailed recent technological improvements and the significance of the National Disability Insurance Scheme for employment accessibility. Dr Hollier also highlighted the importance of an ‘accessibility culture’ in the workplace and provided practical guidelines for job seekers and employers on eliminating barriers to modern communication.
Here is a summary of the key messages and guidelines provided by his presentation.
There has been considerable improvements to the accessibility of mainstream technology.
While before, people had to spend a lot of money on assistive technology, the features now available in Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android have made computers and mobile devices more accessible for people with disability.
Similarly, website accessibility for people with disabilities has definitely undergone substantial improvements in the past few years with the government’s transition strategy implementations on making websites comply with accessibility standards
The Australian Human Rights Commission has also long recognised the more-than-a-decade-old Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium that lay out the authoritative international standards for practices in accessible website designing.
More recently, there’s the role of the National Disability Insurance Agency and its overseeing processes on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As set out in section 118 of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013, the NDIA must deliver the NDIS to support the independence (as well as the economic and social participation) of people with disability and enable them to exercise their right of choice and control in the pursuit of their goals as well as in planning and delivery of their required support.
On Finding Employment: Help and Advice for Job Seekers
Scott’s experience has helped him arrive at the following comprehensive list of great tips and important points for job seekers and disability employment:
Make sure that the office’s operating systems such as Windows, Mac, and Android have the key accessibility features for people with disabilities and that these people are fully aware and familiar with the features so they would know with a fair degree of certainty what is in the office and what their capabilities are.
If the existing features and tools aren’t good enough, people with disabilities should understand the types of specialist assistive technologies they will need and how they can get up and going quite quickly.
Disability employment providers are now trying to find out in advance what the office set up is. Windows 8.1 has better accessibility features available, especially with the screen reader and devices being touch enabled, compared to the Windows 7. Any heads-up for those potential job seekers about what is in the office and what is available will be really helpful.
It would be helpful for job seekers with disabilities to be prepared to answer the question on how they will be able to use a computer with their disability. However unfair that question may seem to be, it would make a big difference if one can actually take away the fear of cost and time from a potential employer.
There is also the crucial need to provide free assistive technologies such that a blind person who wants to use a computer can get a free NVDA reader on a USB stick, either as a permanent solution or as a stopgap measure.
Looking into the Other Side of the Table
As for the employers’ perspective, these are the crucial things that must be addressed:
Topping the list is the difficulty people with disabilities have with scanned PDFs. While everyone understands the need to ensure there is a sign-off process and thus the need for the signed PDF, there should be an accessible version that can be signed-off online.
It is imperative to ensure that interviews with people with disabilities provide them with opportunities to enumerate their special ICT needs (Information Communications Technology) in terms of technological accessibility and how the employers can support and provide these needs.
To be able to cater to the special accessibility needs of people with disabilities, employers should be able to provide an extensive selection of interview techniques. For instance, hearing impaired job seekers should be able to communicate in the interview through phone, TTY or a written application.
It is not enough that employers provide assistive technology and mainstream operating systems for job seekers with disabilities, they too must also ensure that they keep these facilities and features updated on a regular basis.
On ICT Accessibility at Work: An Overview on the Different Operating Systems
Current versions of Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android are all very accessible, which makes for a great advantage for job seekers with disabilities.
Windows 8.1 has some excellent accessibility features including the on-screen keyboard, screen reader, free NVDA, magnification and the toggle and sticky keys.
For the most part, Macs are the same as, if not more accessible than, Windows. They take pride in their excellent Braille display support and screen reader feature with full supports across captions and other accessibility features.
iOS and iWatch
iPads and iPhones have their very own accessibility options that are quite a big help for the hearing and vision impaired, including the ability to invert colours, the magnifier and the voiceover screen reader. The Apple Watch likewise includes some iOS features such as audio in one ear, zooming, and the VoiceOver.
The advent of Android has piqued the interest of a number of employers and due to its price, Android is the most popular mobile platform in the world. Android features for the vision and hearing impaired include the talkback screen reader, global caption playback, colour contrast adjustments, magnifier, zoom and third-party apps like BIG Launcher.
With Google naming their Android versions after desserts—4.2 is jellybean, 4.4 is KitKat, 5.0 is lollipop—mobile devices are now even adding more fun into the world of accessibility for those with disabilities.
On ICT Efficiency in the Workplace: Preparing the Workplace for the Employment of People with Disability
Dr Hollier explained that ensuring the effectivity of the ICT in the workplace is just a matter of identifying the different roles that everyone involved has to play.
“The key thing is to make sure that every organisation has an accessibility culture from the top and, from there, different roles can take different responsibilities for accessibility.”
He further discussed that,
“it’s not the case that everyone has to know everything about accessibility. It’s really about making sure there is that culture within an organisation and that the relevant roles understand their part in terms of making accessibility happen.”
Support in the Workplace: Policy
The worldwide web consortium’s web content accessibility guidelines or the WCAG 2.0 is the definitive international global standard of accessibility when it comes to accessibility policy. WCAG is a comprehensive set of guidelines that serves to help developers on how they can strategically incorporate accessibility into websites, web content, and other Internet-related presence.
With the federal government recently completing their transition strategy, the WCAG standard level AA is now an intermediate requirement with which all government websites should comply with. It is critical to note that the WCAG is not just a WC3 standard, which is the benchmark for global web organisations, it is also an ISO standard.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has also formally confirmed that the WCAG2 level AA is now a requirement across all sections of the Australian industry.
“Make sure that your organisation complies with the regulations or you may check the issues around section 24 of the DDA and the United Nations’ rights of people with disabilities on the repercussions for not doing so.”
Support in the Workplace: Web Presence
It is also the role of organisations to have the web team apply the WCAG2 to all the processes involved in their job descriptions in terms of web presence.
One of the highlights of the WCAG2 guidelines is putting in place alternative texts for images to ensure that people who are hearing impaired will understand the images used. The same is true with the essential need for captioned video support.
For vision-impaired employees, colour contrast is absolutely essential. This can be tricky as businesses need to comply with branding requirements and colours play a critical role in this. In this regard, organisations have to do the best that they possibly can to accommodate accessibility without jeopardising their branding tactics.
Scott also expressed his concern over time limitations on web activity, especially with regards to online shopping.
“It often takes longer, when you are using assistive technology to make sure you can get everything in your shopping carts and get to the other end of the process. It is frustrating when you have a time limit to do something, it takes a bit longer, you finally get to the end, you click on the checkout button and it says time out, which is an absolute killer. That is something which has been a particular problem recently: the need to ensure that we can actually avoid and correct mistakes, most particularly with filling out forms.”
Support in the Workplace: Documents
There is an indispensable need for organisations and workplaces to write and archive documents, making all these documents accessible is equally important. Here are some significant points people in the workplace must keep in mind:
HTML files are more accessible than those saved in Word or as PDF
Avoid simply saying “Click here” as it results in confusion for many people with disabilities. One should be sensitive with the needs of vision-impaired employees and should instead say “For more information, go to the ——— website” and have the quoted material hyperlinked to the website.
Microsoft gives more accessibility on their platform including a built-in disability checker that gives you a heads-up of any existing accessibility issues that might be found on your Office 2010 or 2013 document and you can go about fixing them.
Keep PDFs as accessible as you possibly can.
Make sure documents are appropriately tagged. All the employees should diligently practise being fully conscious about using accessible documents on all instances in the workplace.
Support in the Workplace: Social Media
The advent of social media has brought about many changes and one of the most significant is its enormous role in reaching out to people with disabilities. Over the past 12 months, Twitter and Facebook have grown with massive improvements in terms of providing accessible platforms for people with disabilities.
Seeing this importance, Scott commented,
“It is absolutely critical for all our organisations that when we have personal communication, changing the net from being an information resource to a more personal experience, it is done in an accessible way.”
Use relevant hashtags when tweeting. #A11y is accessibility. Why #A11y? There are 11 characters taken out between the A and the Y in the word “accessibility” so that’s the way to shorten it.
Facebook’s assistive technology Help Desk really makes for an accessible help for those who need them.
YouTube now offers automated captioning of your videos. It should be noted however that the quality of the video will affect the ease for which the feature can be used. YouTube have however just recently updated their free caption editor, which lets YouTube do all the captioning and where a feature was added to fix the captions that aren’t exactly correct.
The impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme on Employment
As the NDIS fully supports people with significant and permanent disability considerably affecting their capacity to perform and handle the average daily tasks, the organisation focuses on working directly with people to help identify their needs and provide them control and choice as to where, when, and how their supports are provided, making certain that they receive them promptly and over the course of their lifetime.
These supports normally help people with disability achieve goals across many areas of their lives including independence as well as active involvement in the community, health and well-being, education, and most significantly, employment.
For participants (or people who access the NDIS), they should be able to clearly indicate the supports they are currently receiving and assess how well they are working and whether or not they are answering their needs. Equipment, mobility equipment, home modifications, therapies, and facilities for participating in community activities should also be provided.
As for their employment needs, participants should be able to assess and consider all their ICT needs. The NDIS should also ensure that service providers responsible for the assessment are fully aware of the personal specifications and preferred solutions of the ICT needs of their clients.
Go towww.mediaaccess.org.au to grab a free copy of the “The Service Providers Accessibility Guide,” which was exclusively created to provide support to disability service providers in their goal of fulfilling their roles at work and with the NDIS.
About Scott Hollier
Being legally blind and largely dependent on assistive technology, Scott has a very personal understanding of the significance of improving web and media access.
Having earned his PhD at Curtin University of Technology for his thesis “The Disability Divide” – a comprehensive study on the effects of computing and web-based technologies on people with disability particularly the blind and vision impaired – Scott has also written Media Access Australia’s Service Providers’ Accessibility Guide, which serves to provide practical guidelines for National Disability Insurance Scheme service providers on designing and developing accessible communications for people with disabilities.
He is also the author of “sociABILITY: Social Media for People with a Disability,” which is now being used by the government of the United States to help agencies and organisations develop social media accessibility.
Media Access Australia is the country’s only independent non-profit organisation fully devoted to providing support for people with disabilities particularly in increasing access to media and Scott is also the organisation’s representative to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Advisory Committee (W3C).