Brewing a Perfectly Balanced Cup of Inclusion 

Recently, as part of my job at Aira, I wrote a tweet hoping to promote the use of our service in the workplace. The tweet described a company that had purchased a new coffee machine that was operated by touch screen. Oh no. What to do? This fictitious company did offer Aira as an accommodation for employees, so even though this inaccessible touch screen was there, people could get assistance from our agents to make their coffee. Unfortunately, I left out one crucial point in my example. 

The coffee machine should have been accessible in the first place, said some responders to the tweet. It’s too easy to say “just use Aira to handle inaccessible equipment” rather than purchasing devices that are in fact accessible from the start. These responses got me thinking about the many things that go into creating an inclusive workplace. Let’s use this coffee machine as an example. 

In a truly inclusive workplace, employees with disabilities would be consulted prior to purchasing any new equipment whether communal like the coffee machine or individual for a person’s work station. Sometimes the Employee Resource Group (ERG) is involved. Other times, when there’s no ERG or the business only has a small number of employees who identify as being disabled, decisions like these can get tricky. 

All too often departments charged with purchasing equipment may not consult with anyone but the finance people on what to buy. Once the purchase is made, it’s too late. That’s probably the first lesson. It speaks to the saying “Nothing about us without us” and applies to all who use the equipment, not just the people with disabilities. 

The next step, assuming that an ERG or individual is brought into the purchasing process, is to find an accessible device that meets the need. In the case of the coffee machine, is there a machine with actual buttons rather than a wall of membrane with no tactile landmarks? Is there a machine that speaks, or one that can be accessed using an app on a smartphone? Sadly, in many cases the answer is no but that’s a whole other discussion and blog for another day.  

So let’s say that the group purchasing a new coffee machine finds several models. One has buttons. It is smaller in size and capacity than the other choices which are both touch screens. It also has fewer features. It is determined that There is no class of machine at the level they want that has accessibility features. What are the choices now? 

They could, of course, just buy the accessible one and be done. Then no one gets the caramel macchiato, just plain coffee with limited selections of creamer. They could make a deal with the supplier to throw in the accessible one if they buy the one they want. This sounds way too much like “separate but equal” and isn’t equal. 

Wait. They could offer to assist the people with disabilities by calling someone to come and help brew coffee when they want to use the machine. Oh, this is brilliant! 

No, it’s not. We know that finding a truly autonomous solution is best and that expecting a coworker to deviate from their job just to push on a screen so someone else can get their mocha half-caf mix, isn’t at all inclusive. What to do? 

This is not a commercial for Aira but if the employer did have our service as an accommodation, while they lobbied for accessible coffee machines, people wanting their caffeine could work with  an agent to guide them through the touch screen, when they wanted coffee, not when someone else was available. It’s not optimal but in so many workplaces, it’s the better choice than expecting coworkers to help.  

Aira strongly promotes full accessibility of devices and processes everywhere. When that is not happening or while it’s in process, we can be the stop-gap. That’s stop-gap, not stop. The problem of inaccessibility isn’t solved by one simple fix. It’s a complex blend, kind of like that caramel macchiato. 

So, the next time your company gets a new coffee machine but it’s a touch screen, while you’re advocating for better accessibility, Aira Agents can give you the visual info you need to make it work.