As the talent marketplace has evolved to include a broader, dispersed and remote workforce, an entirely new challenge has been brought to the forefront around workplace accessibility. What does accessibility mean in the world of remote work? Remote work is more than just a perk for high-performing teams. It’s fundamental to making work accessible.
The New Remote Workforce
A report from FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics found that there has been a major upward trend in the amount of people working remotely in the U.S. In the span of one year, from 2016 to 2017, remote work grew 7.9%. Over the last five years, it grew 44% and over the previous 10 years it grew 91%.
One in four Americans has a disability (CDC), also this 2017 Center for Talent Innovation report found that 30% of white-collar employees have a disability. The numbers are similar across gender, race, and generation.
There are clear business incentives for transitioning to remote teams—less office space overhead, employing people in lower cost of living areas—but remote work impacts more than just the bottom line. Remote work makes work more accessible for one of the most underserved groups of people in America, and by doing so, gives employers access to a potential talent pool of more than 10 million people.
The ADA and Accessible Technology
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a broad, anti-discrimination law that protects people with disabilities. This law guarantees equal opportunity for those with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
If an employer offers a remote work option to its workforce, it must also allow employees with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate. Additionally, the ADA’s reasonable accommodation obligation, which includes modifying workplace policies, might require that employers modify a remote work program for someone with a disability who needs to work at home.
The key to maintaining ADA-compliant remote workspaces is to provide accessible technology and communications for teleworking. Accessible technology is technology that can be used successfully by people with a wide range of functional abilities. This may include providing captioned video conferencing for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or ensuring that any remote communication technology is screen reader-friendly. With digital devices, platforms, and documents becoming the primary methods used by remote workers, digital accessibility becomes a high priority.
Digital accessibility is different from physical accessibility, but the fundamentals remain the same: Regardless of the medium, accessibility should remove barriers. This means that employers should make every effort to ensure that commonly-used work-from-home tools are accessible to promote ADA-compliant remote workspaces.
Making Virtual Meetings & Presentations More Accessible
In remote work settings, virtual meetings and presentations are common. Remote coworkers have impromptu or planned meetings to check in on projects and assignments, just as they would in a face-to-face meeting. Presentations, whether for small groups or company-wide, are still held virtually to share information and knowledge.
Ensuring that your meeting platforms support full accessibility for people with disabilities is the same as the process for choosing any other technology: Incorporate accessibility into the procurement process and then evaluate what technology providers promise and how they deliver. Features that make virtual meetings accessible are closed captioning, sign language interpreters for company-wide video conferencing, and transcription.
The same evaluation applies to virtual presentations. Presentations should allow all remote participants, including those with disabilities, can effectively understand and engage with the presented content.
It’s also important to provide staff training sessions to all employees on digital accessibility basics. These basics should include primers on how to plan and host an accessible remote meeting with specific guidance on the accessibility features of your selected platform.
Content and document sharing tools are crucial for a remote workforce, but companies must consider how this type of collaboration can be accessible. Captions ensure that internally-shared videos are accessible to all employees. Written documentation should have WCAG compliant color contrast and alt text should be provided for all images, particularly graphs and charts. Google provides useful and accessible content-sharing tools, such as Docs, Slides, and Sheets. Continue reading here…