Blind people stagnate at work due to inaccessible technology, new study finds


Bringing “your whole self to work” has been a prominent mantra in diversity circles for the past few years.

However, according to a new study by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), employees with sight loss continue to be hampered in doing most of their jobs by lack of knowledge and commitment. of their employer in terms of digital accessibility.

For those with limited knowledge of the subject, digital accessibility is, more often than not, purely framed by the narrow lens of a lack of access to consumer-facing websites.

To date, insufficient attention has been paid to the employment barriers to entry faced by employees who are already working full-time and the effect these may have on career progression.

The AFB research published last month is titled “Workplace Technology Study” and collected data from 323 participants with visual impairment in employment as of February 2021, with 25 of the participants having undergone in-depth interviews.

Areas studied and discussed included the use of technology for hiring and onboarding, day-to-day productivity and training, and interactions with IT staff and managers, including requests for accommodations. workplace related to technology.

The study was funded by Google, Microsoft and JP Morgan Chase, among others.

Important challenges

Among the key stats was that 59% of participants said they experienced accessibility issues when completing paper onboarding forms, while 48% reported issues with electronic onboarding forms.

Another 25% of participants said they could not fully access the training modules required for their job. This had an impact on their productivity and their sense of inclusion in the workplace.

Among the self-employed, 17.8% said they had been deprived of a contract or had their contract terminated due to the impossibility of using inaccessible software such as screen sharing, PDF documents or databases. proprietary data.

Shockingly, especially considering that workplace accommodations are enshrined in law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the study included an account of an employee who was terminated by his CEO for bringing out his own magnifying glass during a meeting with a client because the CEO didn’t want the client to know that the employee had a sight problem.

Commenting on the research, Stephanie Enyart AFB, Director of Public Policy and Research, said: “The results of the Workplace Technologies study show us that many technological barriers still exist for workers with visual impairments. , despite non-discrimination laws and advice.

“We hope this study will provide a foundation for understanding where many current workplace practices and protocols have fallen short of their goals. The study can be used as a basis for identifying and filling gaps in order to create a more inclusive workplace.

Workplace Essentials

A hitherto underestimated area that the study addresses is the lack of accessibility to basic documents for integration and routine work tasks.

As one participant explained: “When I can’t read the documents [at work trainings], I can’t participate. Sometimes people assume that I can’t participate because I’m blind, when the real problem is that materials weren’t provided or not accessible. All of this hinders my career advancement and my ability to learn new skills and technologies.

“It causes stress and frustration. I feel like I’m behind in my work and not up to par due to lack of information. I know I did my best and it’s not my fault, and I had to repeatedly ask supervisors and other officials to resolve issues.

It’s a scenario that Adam Spencer, CEO of AbleDocs, a global organization specializing in document accessibility and proofreading, knows all too well.

“When it comes to accessibility, almost every organization starts with their website when tackling digital accessibility,” says Spencer.

“They think docs are an afterthought, but the reality is that docs reach far more employees, and even customers, in a personal way than any website ever will.”

He continues, “I can’t tell you how many organizations specializing in the disability space have published reports like ‘State of the Union on Accessibility’ and they haven’t taken the bother to check if the PDF is accessible.

“I always ask them – ‘How come you don’t talk? The level of ignorance that takes is beyond anything I could imagine. It’s just ridiculous.

Another important area the report went on to highlight is the fear some employees with vision loss have about asking for accommodations, despite ADA protection.

According to one respondent, an Asian American woman in her twenties, “When I ask for an accommodation, my supervisor says that I cannot have special treatment compared to other colleagues, even if it is an accommodation. She thinks about what other people would think if I got accommodations.

On the positive side, many participants noted the benefits of a shift to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it created a more level playing field.

Among the report’s recommendations for a fairer experience for visually impaired workers, organizations are recommended to take a more joint approach to accessibility in the workplace, with HR and IT departments working much more closely on the issue.

Companies should also be encouraged to be more open and take positive steps to meet their commitment to workplace accessibility by publishing and implementing both an accessibility policy and an accommodation policy to current and future employees on their website.

While such measures are likely to be helpful first steps, the proof of the pudding will always be in the eating and there might be a few important things software developers can do early on to avoid some of the problems. described above do not occur in the first place.

“Every student of computer science, computer science, etc., should have their screen and mouse taken away for a week and use screen reader or other adaptive software so that accessibility is taken seriously,” said urged one study participant.

This is the kind of visionary thinking needed to ensure that as many disability inclusion actors in the workplace as possible, regardless of their level of perspective, get the big picture.


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