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Accessible ICT as a Productivity Tool

sitecues by Ai Squared

Today’s information age requires that a company’s electronic information and communication technology (ICT) be accessible to all individuals in the workplace – including individuals with disabilities. Ensuring that a company’s website is accessible means that content can be provided in alternative formats and is compatible with commonly used assistive technology. Accessible websites are only the beginning; society is increasingly using more convenient mediums, such as mobile Apps and Kiosks.

(Editor’s Note: Read our related blog, “Role of Accessible Kiosks and Mobile Apps”).

For example, making a website (including any Intranet) compatible with screen readers such as Job Access with Speech (JAWS), will allow employees who are visually impaired to gain access to important information, and as such remain productive in the workplace. Creating items such as employee handbooks and staff directories using accessible ICT not only allows individuals with disabilities to gain access to information, but also increases a business’ bottom line.¹  

It is an important point, best summarized by Albert Rizzi, President & Founder of My Blind Spot, who argues accessibility must be non-negotiable as society becomes more dependent and reliant on digital offerings and technologies. He believes that people with disabilities need to request, most likely demand that reasonable adjustments to digital environments be made so people from the disability community can compete for employment alongside their nondisabled peers.

Said Rizzi, “We delivered on that core value and belief through our partnership with Intuit, Inc., and now, for the first time, the power of QuickBooks for Windows is accessible and usable to the blind and print disabled communities. Accountants, bookkeepers and small business owners are able to independently manage the finances of their own businesses or the businesses of others. They are now able to rely on their adaptive technologies and work, independently, alongside their nondisabled peers where QuickBooks is a requirement. Now that one more virtual door has been unlocked, people of ALL abilities can pursue employment in the field of financial management and can choose to calculate a brighter future for themselves and their families. At My Blind Spot we believe that access to the right tools promotes ability and restores infinite possibilities.”

Implementing the use of accessible ICT for employees with disabilities means forming collaborative relationships with companies that provide assistive technologies. One such company that is commonly used by customers and employers, alike, is sitecues by Ai Squared. The sitecues technology provides intuitive zoom and speech functionality for people with print disabilities. It builds zoom and speech capabilities right into websites, so people with low vision and other visual and print difficulties can more easily see and hear content.

The sitecues technology has been part of the efforts for the last year by the National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) at The Viscardi Center to improve the accessibility on its website. As an organization, NBDC has also collaborated with key accessibility thought-leaders to promote accessible ICT.

Debra Ruh, CEO of Ruh Global Communications, wants to ensure that workspace and accessible ICT continues to be an important priority in the employment of individuals with disabilities: Ruh summarized her philosophy:

"I have created several businesses over the years. One of these companies was TecAccess (merged with SSB BART Group in 2011), a technology firm that helped clients comply to Section 508 and assure that their websites, services, and products were fully accessible to everyone. Over 80% of our team was technologists with disabilities. One of the most popular accommodations that we provided was telework, also known as a virtual workspace. It allowed the team to be more productive, innovative and creative. The benefits to us as employers were numerous. It gave us a competitive advantage over our competitors, access to talented employees, better retention rates, and productive and loyal employees. I firmly believe that Virtual Workspace is an integral part of the future of work."

Some of the latest accessible ICT’s come in the form of wearable technologies. Wearable technologies have variety of applications, which include healthcare & medical, fitness & wellness, industrial & military, and entertainment. According to a recent study, in the next 5 years the wearable technologies global market is expected to reach approximately $33.4 billion.²

(Editor’s Note: Read our related blog, “How wearable technologies can change the lives of people with disabilities”).

One such product known as OrCam, helps those who are visually impaired by reading text aloud to them using a tiny “smart camera” and earpiece that attaches to an eyeglass frame. The user points their finger at the item; the OrCam then “speaks” to the individual via the earpiece, which uses bone conduction to carry sound through the bones of the skull to the inner ear.³  For some individuals with severe disabilities, an assistive technology (AT) evaluation may be necessary in order to determine the most effective type of accessible ICT tool needed by the user to ensure he or she remains productive in the workplace. An individual with progressive muscle weakness for example, may need to learn to access their computer using a head-controlled mouse or joystick mouse to minimize fatigue while working.⁴

There are key components to ensuring that a company is using the most effective accessible ICT tools for its employees to remain productive in the workplace:

1. Provide ongoing training on the latest and most effective accessible ICT’s that meet the needs of the company
    and its employees.⁵
2. Involve individuals with disabilities and disability service organizations as part of the evaluation and
    implementation of accessible ICT to be used by the business or company.⁶
3. Develop company guidelines on the use of accessible ICT in conjunction with Human Resources and/or
    Accommodations Department.⁷

The employer is an important resource in making sure that employees have access to accessible ICTs. Whether an individual is starting a new job or changes are needed to due to circumstances and/or disability, successful ICT strategies that promote accessibility ensure better productivity in the workplace.⁸

Disclaimer: The content of the ICT Blog does not serve as an endorsement of any commercial product or service, but rather an outlet to share information and opinions about accessible information and communication technologies.

¹Simple Strategies for Providing an Accessible Workplace for Blind Employees (accessed January 11, 2016);
 available from http://www.afb.org/info/accessibility/accessible-workplaces/25
²PR Newswire, “Global Wearable Technology Market - Expected to Reach Approximately
 $33.4 Billion by 2020,” January 25, 2016. 
³How Wearable Technologies Can Change the Lives of People with Disabilities (accessed
 January 11, 2016); available from http://www.viscardicenter.org/resources/blog/wearable-technology.html 
⁴Accessible Workspaces (accessed January 11, 2016); available from http://quest.mda.org/book/export/html/546 
⁵Equal Access: Universal Design of Physical Spaces (accessed January 11, 2016);
 available from http://www.washington.edu/doit/equal-access-universal-design-physical-spaces 
⁶Equal Access: Universal Design of Physical Spaces (accessed January 11, 2016);
 available from http://www.washington.edu/doit/equal-access-universal-design-physical-spaces 
⁷Equal Access: Universal Design of Physical Spaces (accessed January 11, 2016);
 available from http://www.washington.edu/doit/equal-access-universal-design-physical-spaces 
⁸Accessible Workspaces (accessed January 11, 2016); available from http://quest.mda.org/book/export/html/546

Beatrice Schmidt

Beatrice Schmidt

Corporate Services Specialist

Beatrice Schmidt joined the National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) at The Viscardi Center in September 2014. As a licensed social worker and a graduate of Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service, with experience in the field as well as her diagnosis with cerebral palsy at the age of 6 months, Schmidt has extensive knowledge on the service delivery system, individual and family advocacy, as well as inclusive emergency planning for people with disabilities. As a self-advocate, she believes in the motto shared by the late Mattie Stepanek, “remember to play after every storm.”

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