By Lucy Walsh
There are 2.1 million Australians of working age with a disability but only 1 million of them are employed according to the Australian Network on Disability. However, even after getting employed, people with disabilities or mobility issues may face accessibility issues in their work environments. To enhance accessibility and mobility safety in a workplace, you may have to build accessible features and adopt assistive and accessibility technologies.
Make reasonable changes in the workplace that allow disabled people and people with mobility issues to move easily in the workplace and do their work. Things you can do include installing ramps at entries and exits, making doorways wheelchair accessible, adding accessible operating buttons, and installing accessible toilets or bathrooms. You can also go a step further and modify the machinery in the workplace. Modified machinery means you have to adjust training materials, policies and systemic procedures for people who are disabled. Different technologies can be used to complement the new building features in giving more independence to those with disabilities.
The first thing people think of when you mention technology for people with disabilities is assistive technology. Assistive technology does enhance accessibility but only when performing a task in a computing environment, and is particularly designed for people who are disabled. For example, on-screen keyboards, screen readers and screen magnifiers are listed under assistive technologies.
However, there are smart devices that also enhance accessibility but they are designed to be used by everyone, not just disabled people. For example, anyone can use a personal smart assistant to turn on the television at the workplace. Personal smart assistants allow you to use your voice to control lights, coffee makers, televisions, and more. Smart devices can also communicate with Bluetooth devices that give directions to people who are visually impaired. For example, people who are visually impaired can wear smartwatches that vibrate or use voice notes to give directions for navigating around a workplace.
The ICT products and services used in the workplace should be easy to use for employees who have physical, emotional, sensory and cognitive disabilities. For example, company websites should have algorithms that can read out what is written on the website page, and videos that have subtitles. All external assets like invoices and proposals should also be accessible so that anyone can review them.
Other things that should be accessible include email conversations and meeting software such as Webex and Zoom. Use meeting software that allows people who are disabled to mute, turn off the camera and sign off instead of relying on inaccessible navigation tools.
Many PDFs, Word Documents, PowerPoint and Excel documents are created at the workplace in any given day. These documents can be made accessible for anyone to understand the scope of important information. For example, during a project presentation, using accessible documents will make it easier for disabled employees to understand what the project is about and the timelines for the project.
Making the workplace accessible not only makes employees with disability more capable of delivering in their work but also increases employee satisfaction. Fortunately, any company not sure about how to begin to begin implementing accessibility in their companies can consult the Australian Network of Disability for guidance.