Your Company Culture Can't Be Inclusive Without Accessible Internal Tools6 min read
No company’s leadership can truly champion diversity, equity, and inclusion without providing their own employees with digitally accessible internal technology. While many employers are well intentioned and seek to create an equitable workplace for all, many miss out on taking tangible, actionable steps towards inclusivity by becoming internally accessible. Taking these steps will not only support your employees with disabilities, but of all your employees—while also benefiting your business as a whole.
Digital Accessibility Is Close to Home
While investing in internal products that are digitally accessible will make a clear statement about your support of inclusivity, your company’s lack of digital accessibility speaks volumes in the opposite direction.
Your employees spend day in and day out with your internal tools. They need them to do their jobs and do them well. If you’ve ever experienced system down time, you know how difficult your day can get when the tool you need isn’t working for you. For those with disabilities, every day is that difficult if their organization hasn’t created or procured digitally accessible internal tools for them to use. Tasks that would take mere seconds can wind up taking minutes or even hours to complete, all because internal tools are not set up to support their needs.
The need for internal digital accessibility is right in front of you every day at work, even if you don’t recognize it. Internal needs related to digital accessibility are far more prevalent than you might realize.
Your company employs people with disabilities.
When you think about disabilities, you may picture someone with blindness or deafness. And if you don’t know or work with many people who happen to have those two disabilities, you may not think you work with anybody who has any sort of disability.
In actuality, people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority. Approximately 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of reported disability. That’s a huge portion of the population—and that number only gets larger in the United States. According to the CDC, 26% of adults in the US have a disability.
That means, worldwide, a 20-person staff would include at least 3 team members with disabilities (and that number rises to 5 team members in the United States). Likewise, a Fortune 500 company with an average of ~60,000 employees employs about 9,000 people with disabilities (and a whopping 15,000 people in the United States).
These people rely on internal tools and systems to get their jobs done, same as everyone else. The only difference is that creating and acquiring internal digital products is rarely done in a way that considers these employees’ needs to get their work done as easily and efficiently as everyone else.
Not everyone identifies with or reports their disability.
The numbers for those living with a disability only reflect those who have self-reported having a disability. The true numbers are much, much higher. Likewise, any numbers you might have regarding how many people at your company have a disability will almost certainly be underreported. Many people either don’t identify with their disability or don’t report having a disability, for various reasons of their own.
Take color blindness. About 8% of your male employees probably have color blindness and it’s common enough that it’s easy to forget that it’s a form of disability. It’s also disability that is completely imperceptible to other people. Unless your color blind teammate mentions it directly, you would never know that certain color combinations in digital displays would make information inaccessible for that employee, aka impossible for them to interpret and understand.
Or take photo-sensitive epilepsy. You wouldn’t be able to identify that someone had this disability outside of a team member having a seizure. It’s as likely as not that the person with the disability hasn’t mentioned it to anyone or even identifies it as a disability. You still don’t want your internal tools to cause an epileptic seizure. And if you build internal products for digital accessibility, they won’t.
Anyone in your company could need to live with a disability at any time.
Digital accessibility doesn’t only apply to permanent and long-term disabilities, it also applies to temporary and situational disabilities. A temporary disability might be a broken bone, concussion, or short-term impairment following a surgery. A situational disability is created by a person’s environment like someone trying to listen to audio in a noisy place or trying to follow written instructions while performing a task they can’t look away from.
Anyone can potentially find themselves in need of accessible digital tools that allow them to access information in an alternate way when they are in these shorter term situations. Someone with a broken arm might prefer to tab through a page instead of using their mouse—but they can’t do that if the pages weren’t built to be accessible via tabbing. Our teammate listening to audio in a noisy room—or even someone whose first language is not the language the speaker is using—could benefit from captions or transcript to understand the content.
These situations can arise for anybody at any time. That means that digital accessibility isn’t for 15% of your employees and internal stakeholders, it’s for 100% of them.
Making Internal Products Accessible Boosts Your Bottom Line
Paying attention to digital accessibility in the internal products you ask your employees and internal stakeholders to use will not only help those with disabilities, it will help your business as a whole.
Internal accessibility improves efficiency.
Digital accessibility empowers your employees to work smarter, faster, and more pleasantly. For those with disabilities, internal accessibility will massively boost their efficiency by minimizing time wasted wrangling an inaccessible system, allowing them to better use the skills and experiences you hired them for. Your other employees will also have more options for interacting with your internal technology, meaning they can choose what makes them fastest and most accurate in their daily work.
People can work and learn the way that’s best for them.
Different people learn and complete tasks in different ways. Providing accessible internal technology allows each person to complete tasks and interact with content in whatever way works best for them. With the freedom to access and work with information differently, you might inspire new ways of thinking that weren’t possible before.
You can truly work anywhere.
Remote and hybrid work environments are far more common today than two years ago, and many leadership teams are considering options for sustaining better work-life balance with long-term remote work options. Rather than working in a quiet office behind a closed door or a walled off cubicle, many employees are finding themselves working at home with young children, on the road, or in coworking spaces with other teams. Accessible internal technology gives teammates the flexibility to adapt to many different settings with ease and without missing a beat.
It’s legally required.
While becoming internally accessible certainly is better for business, it’s also mandatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Externally facing digital products aren’t the only ones that come with noncompliance risks—a lawsuit filed about an internal tool could be just as costly and reputation-damaging as a lawsuit for an externally facing digital property.
Digital accessibility means better usability for all.
Most of the time, improving digital accessibility also improves user experience. Accessibility issues also tend to be cumbersome spots for other users. Addressing digital accessibility for all of your internal technology will make day-to-day digital interactions more user-friendly for everyone.
Lead your industry—with words and actions.
The beauty of all this is that you can start on the path towards internal digital accessibility today. You won’t become accessible over night—and that’s okay! Each step you take will benefit your employees, internal stakeholders, and company overall. And your work won’t go unnoticed. Adopting a commitment to digitally accessible internal tools is a concrete, tangible step in your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion journey that everyone can experience for themselves.