Recently I have started building some new habits and understanding how I can be a stronger ally when it comes to disability and accessibility needs in the workplace. In doing so, I discovered a few things we can all do across our working day to drive inclusion with our work.
The detail I have captured below is to get you thinking about how you could change some of the way you work and drive some habits in yourself to help others. This is not an exhaustive list, but key tips across the major parts of how we work – our email, documents, and meetings. Review the information below and when you have time, dive deeper the links I have included to help you learn more about accessibility needs and features. Try to make some change and be a role model to help drive broader awareness.
Firstly, to really understand more about this, I completed this LinkedIn course – Importance of accessibility (linkedin.com). I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to know more. And for workplaces to incorporate this content into their induction or ongoing awareness training.
Why is accessibility important?
Some key takeaways from the LinkedIn course and the other research I have been doing in general:
- 70% of disabilities are hidden – people with disabilities worry about what others will think.
- 1 in 6 people on the planet has a disability.
There are many forms of disability, with the online Microsoft content dividing into 6 key categories:
- Motor/ dexterity
- Cognition/ learning
- Mental health
- Many people with disabilities try to find ways to hide their challenges.
- The more you understand accessibility features, the more you can model them, pay it forward and share.
In your workplace, it is important to recognise that disabilities can exist at many different levels. Don’t assume that because you cannot see anyone with an obvious physical disability that there isn’t anyone with accessibility needs in your workplace. You must be careful of all the things you don’t know or cannot see.
There can be many people with partial disabilities which are not obvious, such as hearing challenges due to age or damage to their hearing. And remember disability can be acquired gradually or suddenly. Someone who has always been fine could be hiding a new and gradual challenge, or have a sudden temporary need.
Also, don’t think of it in the singular. Some people have multiple disabilities – such as a person who has a physical disability and also a hidden disability such as severe anxiety, or Dyslexia.
This is a delicate, complex area and one I don’t even pretend to know much about. Personally, I am just beginning to dive deeper to understand what I can do and how I can be a stronger ally, and you should too.
So, let’s review some of the places to start. The ways you can make some adjustments to your own work habits that flow on to help other people.
What can you do differently in your daily work to be more inclusive with technology?
Email is a core part of the way we work. Some like to think it’s going away, or reducing, but the reality is we all send and receive email every day.
What can be done at the individual level?
For people who use Outlook, here are some suggestions of things to change or tweak for your emails to be more accessible.
Use the Outlook Accessibility checker.
When you create a new email, in the ‘review’ tab there is an option to ‘Check Accessibility’. Click on this and review the results to make some changes and ensure your email is more accessible.
Using this feature will:
- Give updates and warnings
- Fixes are in line
- Corrections can be made before sending
- Amend auto text for image descriptions
- Change your template.
If you have control over your email template, consider how easy it is for people to read. And are there any possible challenges. Avoid the colourful visual templates you can use. It may look creative, but can cause issues for some recipients.
Do you have:
For visual content like all the above, add descriptions so people know what is in your email and possibly not visible so that they are not missing critical information.
More things to consider:
- Increase font to 12 – simple task with big impact.
- Check the colour contrast and update to be more accessible.
Make your Outlook email accessible to people with disabilities (microsoft.com)
- Review your email signature. Are there images that need a text description?
Push for more accessible content. Did you know there is a tip in outlook so people sending you email can know that you prefer inclusive content? You can tick a box to have a setting on that advises senders you prefer accessible content. I turned this on not because I have specific needs, but just to be a role model and show senders they can do more and drive awareness.
You can make this change in the browser in OWA, selecting the option highlighted below.
See the steps to do so in this article: Accessible email made easier (office.com)
Remember, if you cannot make these changes speak to your internal communications or IT and consider helping drive changes organisation wide to help drive bigger change.
I am pretty sure most of us work with documents at some point, if not every single day. So what are some things we can all do to be more of an ally?
- Use the accessibility checker in Office documents when you create or finalise things to share and work with others, or send to someone to read.
- To extend that, you can also try and ensure your templates are accessible.
Some key things to consider ensuring your documents are more accessible:
- Include alternative text with all visuals
- Ensure colour is not the only way to convey information
- Review colour contrast for text and background
- Create easy navigation for people tabbing around the content
Learn more about ensuring your documents are accessible with this link:
Create accessible Office documents (microsoft.com)
It is fantastic that the Office apps have an in-built accessibility checker. You don’t need to learn and remember all the little things to ensure a document is more accessible, you just need to use it!
You can also review Best Practice’s at this link:
Make your Word documents accessible to people with disabilities (microsoft.com)
And, speak with your communication team, or IT, to ensure any organisation wide templates and communication is accessible.
Remember not all colleagues with a disability will, or need to, disclose it. So there is a chance you have people attending meetings that are hiding challenges.
If someone is open about a disability, ask them how to work together to meet their needs.
To be an ally and try to help everyone, consider the following during online meetings:
- Turn your camera on. This can help people who rely on lip reading.
- Use a clear or blurred background, reducing cognitive load from the visual noise on the screen, and try to fill shot with your face (not too close).
- However, don’t force the use of camera – this can increase anxiety or cause challenges for attendees, such as people who need to lean in close to read the screen may be uncomfortable on camera.
- Captions – remind people at start of your meeting that it is being used and available.
- Consider recording meetings so people can view later with full captioning and to pause, slow down or just watch at a more suitable time.
- Control noise – specifically to help with clear captions and for ease of listening. Ask people to mute if they are creating an issue with their own background noise.
- Describe your shared screen – for blind or low vision attendees
- Be careful with chat functions – chat is not for side bar conversations, this makes it hard for people focusing and for screen reading software
- Use image descriptions for gifs or photos
If you want to know more so you can model great inclusion, review this link for detailed tips to run inclusive meetings and events: Accessibility tips for inclusive Microsoft Teams meetings and live events
Remember, doing some of the above actions can make a difference to someone’s day. It may not impact you and some things only take a moment, but can leave a lasting impact on a person who could be facing challenges you cannot see.
Remote work has put a focus on accessibility, and our work patterns. There have been people struggling due to things moving into an online world which were much easier in person. And there may be colleagues who have been hiding their disability and challenges for a long time.
Accessibility is an opportunity to create a better experience for everyone. To be more inclusive and be an ally, change some habits. We all need to do so. Let’s get started!
Where can you learn more:
Dive deeper into features for people with disability and learn more that you can do: www.microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility
This Microsoft Disability and Inclusion Journey: Our Disability Inclusion Journey (office.com)