Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) carries the important message that everyone should be aware of accessibility and how by doing so, we can change the world. The spirit of this is widely embraced, but what does this really mean in-the-wild, when applied to various aspects of our work lives?
Aira has a strong focus on employment accessibility. Our professional visual interpreters provide a secure and confidential way to get the visual information needed to perform job duties, and also take part in company activities and accomplish daily tasks. A data entry specialist may call on an Aira Agent to read hand-written forms while someone operating a vending machine route may use an Agent to read labels on cases so they can accurately sort inventory. An attorney might work with an Agent to navigate a conference hotel and a school administrator might use Aira to fix the jammed copy machine and then grab a cup of tea from the touch-screen-only machine down the hall.
Blind and low vision people use a range of assitive technology to access information from screen readers and magnifiers to labeling systems and GPS apps. People with disabilities have developed a range of skills, hacks and problem-solving strategies to handle the routine lack of accessibility in the world. So what does it really mean to have a natively “accessible” experience?
Here are some examples of ‘operationalized accessibility.’
The weekly company meeting is held via a platform with functions that work for both screen reader and magnification users. That platform also enables live captioning and a text-based chat feature that allows everyone to save notes and conversations. People routinely take turns speaking during the meeting and avoid multiple people talking at once. Someone is appointed at the beginning of the meeting to describe any photos or charts.
A working group has a meeting to discuss their annual budget. They choose the meeting platform detailed in the previous example. They also provide all documents referenced during the meeting in several formats that can be read easily, accommodating font and background changes. The meeting is recorded and live captioning and chat are available for download.
When purchasing new break room equipment, employees with various disabilities are brought into the process to speak with vendors. Specifications require machines to be usable by all employees as independently as possible. Controls are tactile and labeled.
In a warehouse environment, notice boards and other announcement posting areas can be accessed independently via apps rather than only displayed on a large screen or bulletin board. And job tasks take into account each person’s capabilities rather than prescribed assembly time matrices. And in the case of blind and low vision team members, co-workers readily communicate their positions when moving around the warehouse.
None of these techniques nor technologies replace lost vision or hearing, lack of mobility or any other condition deemed disabling. Even when as many accessibility enhancements as possible are built into a workplace, they do not make an employee with a disability, suddenly no longer disabled. Accessibility enhancements allow someone to do their job, perform tasks and participate in the workplace in a similar manner to all other employees.
What employers and coworkers gain from what we are referring to as operationalized accessibility involves autonomy. People with disabilities can showcase their skills beyond assistive tech or rehabilitation type actions. Knowing the person, rather than the accommodation request makes career advancement possible.
So on this Global Accessibility Awareness Day, let’s be aware that people with disabilities aren’t “fixed” by accessibility. They are empowered by it.