by Natalie Chambers
by Natalie Chambers
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working was something that many employers and employees had limited experience with. Since then, the number of Americans working from home has doubled, with 62% of employees now calling their dining room their office. In response, companies are striving to make working from home easier. Some companies put their employees first and proactively invested, and others decided those steps were not worth the capital. This is a dilemma employees with disabilities are all too familiar with—they have grappled with companies’ willingness to make work accessible on a daily basis. Workers with disabilities have advocated for remote work accessibility for years, but it took a pandemic and widespread adoption for it to happen.
The reality is, accessibility is a worthwhile investment: people with disabilities represent approximately $490 billion in disposable income. They are more likely to spend that money on brands that accommodate and support them and employ people with disabilities. As a result, integrating accessibility into your business, investing time in upgrading current accessibility efforts, and increasing visibility of the disabled community can all yield positive dividends.
People with disabilities are just as capable of performing their work as anyone else, but many assume that accommodating them is a herculean task. It isn’t, and neither is ensuring your communications materials are accessible. Small changes in type and color contrast all increase the accessibility of communications materials. Similarly, multimedia assets must also be made accessible. This includes adding closed captioning to all video-based materials and providing transcripts for audio materials.
Americans are relying on digital platforms to stay connected with work, school, friends, and family. It’s often taken for granted that everyone has the same ability to see, hear, read, and understand the information shared with us digitally, when this form of communication can actually be one of the most inaccessible. The federal government has already made communications accessibility a priority by instituting section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires all electronic and information technology used or created by the federal government to be accessible to people with disabilities. Another landmark law, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, guarantees that all public websites are made accessible as well.
While 508 compliance is not required outside of government agencies, it’s still a good rule of thumb to follow. Ensuring that websites, PDFs, and digital events are accessible through recordings, closed captioning, transcripts, and other methods give wider audiences access to your messaging.
Talking About People with Disabilities
It’s difficult to talk about subject matter you’re unfamiliar with. If you don’t have a disability, it won’t come naturally to talk about disability or about people who are disabled. It’s important to focus on the person themselves: their characteristics, personality, life, and history, rather than their disability. To reflect this, it’s common practice to use what is referred to as “people first” language. For instance, saying “Sarah is disabled” is not preferred. Instead, say “Sarah has a disability.”
It’s also important, when discussing disabilities and/or people with disabilities, to include a range of abilities, visible and invisible. This means including portrayals of individuals who are wheelchair users as well as individuals with cognitive impairments, for example.
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