In an article about accessibility in the workplace, there is always an argument to be made for making digital tools accessible for people with disabilities. However, depending on the circumstances, people’s abilities, and the limits to those abilities can vary greatly. Everybody’s interactions with technology – with or without a permanent disability – depends on the degree that they can use their senses.

According to the Inclusive Design kit from Microsoft, disabilities can come in three different types: permanent, temporary, and situational. Permanent disabilities such as vision impairment or losing a limb are what come to mind when designing for accessibility. Temporary disabilities only affect people’s interactions with technology for some time, such as having an arm injury or being in a country where they can’t speak the language. A situational disability depends on a person’s context. A parent carrying a baby not being able to use their hands, or a driver focused on the road not being able to look at the phone, are examples of situational disabilities.

This more careful consideration of disabilities highlights the importance of focusing on digital accessibility in the workplace for tools that employees have to keep using every day for many hours. Companies must go beyond the ADA’s minimum requirements to help employees participate fully and contribute value at a high level. In our day and age, this includes digital accessibility. The Center of Development Expertise (CODE) for Accessibility Task Force, defines as digital accessibility as “The ability for a user to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with hardware, software, websites, and documents regardless of age and ability.”

The following tips will help you get started improving digital accessibility in the workplace.

Tip #1:
Provide alternative formats for information

Providing information in multiple formats – visual, audio, video, paper – makes information consumption more accessible for everyone; employees with reported disabilities or temporary and situational disabilities as well as those without any limitation.

Including captions with videos, providing slides with clear notes, and ensuring that explanations and repetitions support visuals, can help make information more easily accessible.

photos, video and audio examples

Tip #2:
Ensure images and charts have appropriate, contextual alt texts and captions  

To make images and charts assistive technology compatible, alt text and captions are needed. Alt texts and descriptions not only make visuals consumable via screen readers, but they also provide an additional layer of information. An image can be described in multiple ways, but you must consider them in context to the surrounding content. Generic alt texts without useful explanations or context make the content harder to consume for everyone. The alt texts are also helpful in cases where the image or chart isn’t visible for any given reason, such as a video function breaking down in the middle of a conference call.

Doctor greeting patient with a handshake

Tip #3:
Design documents and presentations using color palettes and color contrast that meet the visual needs of everyone.

Approximately eight percent of men and half of one percent of women are color blind. While this may or may not be a reportable workplace disability, it affects an employee’s ability to comprehend data, warnings, and other instances when color is the primary method to communicate information. The most common type of color blindness is red-green color blindness. Unfortunately, red and green are also the most common colors that people use to signify ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ or ‘profits’ versus ‘losses.’

For a person with red-green color blindness, the graph below could look like the second picture. To improve digital accessibility in your workplace, choose colors carefully to ensure that they are accessible and readable to a substantial part of the population.

Pie chart showing norma and colorblind color spectrum

Tip #4:
Tools should be navigable using multiple input methods like mouse or keyboards

Using a trackpad or a mouse is only one way of navigating software. Depending on their preferences or disabilities, employees might be relying solely on keyboards or different types of input methods. Power users of software use shortcuts and other techniques of input for speed or comfort. A person with hand tremors could use the keyboard to navigate software. A robust tool would be able to support these choices and allow employees to utilize tools as it best fits their needs.

When purchasing tools from third-party vendors, organizations should keep these digital accessibility needs in mind to ensure that users can maximize each device and piece of content to their fullest potential.

input methods - keyboards

Ensure that your technologies are serving you and your customers.

As a business and technology consultancy, providing a full complement of Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design expertise, we can help you assess and improve your systems, software, and user experiences to enhance digital accessibility throughout your workplace. Contact us to speak with our leader of Human-Centered Design.

application layout ad flow sketches
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selin insel
Selin Insel
User Experience Designer

Selin is a user experience (UX) designer at SDLC Partners. She applies human-centered design to discover and solve the problems people face. For each project, her goal is to thoroughly understand the user's context to ensure that technology serves their needs. She believes in improving people's lives by improving the way they work and the tools they use.

She joined SDLC after finishing her Master of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, having worked previously as a game designer in Istanbul.

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