Diversity and accessibility in the workforce can help your business unlock a competitive advantage. Diverse companies are 45% more likely to have an expanded market share and 70% more likely to have captured a new market in the last year, and to have achieved a 3% increase in revenue. Those are figures your business can’t afford to ignore.
Yet accessibility to the workforce remains an issue, with just over 46% of disabled people currently in employment in the UK. If diverse teams give your business an edge, then you need to unlock that creativity and innovation through a digitally inclusive workplace.
Built in accessibility?
The chances are at least one person in your organisation has a disability, including spectrum disorders like dyslexia. As we become increasingly more reliant on search and applications in the digital workplace, are some employees at risk of being digitally disenfranchised by software and hardware that doesn’t meet their particular needs?
The digital workplace is about so much more than the social intranet. It is a significant and fundamental change in the way we work that should tailor business processes and applications for each employee and their individual role and tasks within the organisation. But whereas organisations take the opportunity to engage with external customers using accessible features on websites and apps to make their product accessible to all, the same adaptation is often missing from internal processes making accessibility an additional challenge, not an opportunity.
Guidance and accessibility
Under the impulse of Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is developing international web standards including the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) which develops support materials to help organisations understand and implement web accessibility.
Focusing on web content, the software that is used to access web content including voice browsers and other assistive technologies and the authoring tools that are used to produce content and the way these three critical components inter-relate, the WAI has created internationally recognised guidance for web accessibility.
Going beyond the webpage
But accessible digital workplaces are about more than superficially accessible web pages. Consider the kind of self-service that your HR department provides including leave requests and online training. Are these systems optimised for accessibility or are they overly complex? It’s an opportunity for HR and IT departments to take the lead on testing and standard setting with disabled users who may otherwise be prevented from fully undertaking their duties, locked out by inaccessible software.
Developing truly accessible systems involves getting to know the accessibility issues within your organisation and working with user groups to create solutions and strategies based on lived experience. One size never fits all when it comes to benchmarking social intranet usability and accessibility should always be more than a box-ticking exercise.
Technology vs content
When it comes to accessibility, is it your software or your content that creates barriers to inclusivity? The WAI sets guidelines for robust content that is easy to see and hear but often colour contrast is insufficient to render content usable for employees with dyslexia or colour blindness. Another common mistake is neglecting to provide alternative text or captioning for images/rich media that exclude disabled employees from understanding the meaning and context of a piece of content. Links also need to be unique and descriptive and configured for use with a screen reader.
When editing content, the emphasis should be in compliance with the guidelines and understanding how they impact content. Working with assistive technology users across the organisation will enable your content creation team to understand any issues and develop collaborative strategies for creating content that is easy to find and to navigate, that is predictable in the way it operates and is compatible and future proof.
The benefits and challenges of compliance
While WAI guidelines provide a model of good practice, there is no legal requirement for accessibility to the digital workplace beyond EU wide legislation on workers’ rights and equal opportunities. Nevertheless, compliance is something that your disabled employees will expect as part of a package of support that should include powerful information technology.
However, if a voice-activated digital assistant fails because the user has a stutter or can’t hear its responses then that application will only cause unnecessary frustration. In organisations where compliance is implemented in a joined up and thought through fashion, productivity and performance increase and user satisfaction ratings improve across the digital workplace.
Building the inclusive digital workplace
Establishing a digital workplace that is fully inclusive sends a powerful message to your employees about your company values and serves to attract and retain the best available talent. Intentionally building diverse teams is a conduit to innovation and creative thinking which in turn enhances customer and employee experience. Challenge the norms by creating true accessibility and inclusivity through your social intranet and you’ll deliver the creative edge that every business needs to stay ahead.
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