#WorkTrends: How to Make Your Organization Accessible for Everyone

If you want to keep your company away from the wrong side of a lawsuit, you need to work on creating both an application process and a workplace that are truly accessible. In news from the world of HR: DISH Network just settled a lawsuit for $1.25M regarding an inaccessible online job application process. The company will have to work to make its application process much more accessible. One of the key lessons in this lawsuit is that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) isn’t just for employees. It’s for applicants as well.

So I’m thrilled we have a terrific guest on #WorkTrends this week, Neil Milliken, to speak about how to make your organization accessible for everyone. Neil is the global head of accessibility at Atos and the cofounder of AXSChat, an online platform focused on disability, inclusion, and accessibility.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. And don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

[00:32] Accessibility is something a lot of us in HR are thinking about
[05:54] Actually, disability is not a dirty word.
[13:01] Providing assistive technologies benefits the entire organization
[16:32] Two sides to the future of work: The human side and the technology side.

What does it truly mean to have an accessible workplace?

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion lately, but we don’t talk enough about one key area, which is accessibility. What does it truly mean to have an accessible workplace? It means a lot more than physical changes like a wheelchair ramp or having a sign language interpreter on hand, though both of these are certainly important. It’s more a total approach to ensuring that everyone is included in the candidate and the employee journey — whatever their state of disability. It has to do with anyone you interact with, actually, from customers or visitors to colleagues to new hires. And as the DISH settlement makes clear, this is of legal as well as ethical importance.

Disability is Not a Dirty Word.

Neil Milliken has some terrific strategies to pay attention to, and first off that means changing our entire attitude towards the nature of disability. He’s experienced it firsthand. He describes himself as dyslexic and talks about how technology has transformed his life, enabling him to do things he hadn’t been able to do before, making his life easier and sparking a lifelong passion for sharing that passion with others. And as he says, “disability is not a dirty word.”

Talk to most people who experience life with a disability, he reminds us, and they’re happy to talk about their disability. But here’s a good practice: always ask the person, “How do you wish to be addressed, and tell me about whether you need help and, if so, how you want me to help you?” Milliken believes it best to ask upfront, be open, be friendly, and treat people as people.

We’ve Made Progress in the Last Ten Years.

Milliken points out that we’re doing better in the past ten years than we ever had. In the last decade, while we are not where we need to be yet, we are making headway. In the UK, for instance, the disability employment gap is still at around 30%. In Canada, it’s 31% and as Neil said, it’s “something similar” in the US. There is definitely a challenge in terms of accommodating people at work who actually don’t disclose their disabilities, but keep them hidden. But as we become more aware and open about issues of accessibility, that is starting to change. And businesses are starting to have conversations about disabilities and accessibility issues.

Providing Assistive Technologies Benefits the Entire Organization.

Providing assistive technologies isn’t just about helping a select group with disabilities. As Neil pointed out, it benefits the entire organization. In addition to making the workplace disability-inclusive, it may also help a whole range of other employees. For those who are not native speakers, assistive technologies can help them be more productive.

And diversity is a valuable mindset shift: As Milliken says, “If you see the value in diversity, if you can see the richness in having lots of different types of people, then can’t you understand how important it is also to have diversity of thought? With people whose brains are different, you’re going to reduce groupthink. You’re going to introduce creativity and different perspectives on life.” And we know more creativity and more perspectives create a far more innovative workplace.

Predictions for the Future of Work.

None of us have a crystal ball on the future of work. But Milliken imagines that the future of work will have two sides: human and technology. In the rush toward technology, AI and process automation will likely create certain disruptions but will also create new roles and jobs.

On the human side, Milliken notes that aging will have a significant impact on the future of work. We have five generations in the workforce now, and people are getting older and retiring later. Older employees with age-related disabilities will certainly populate the workforce in greater numbers. That means there will be a massive number of people with disabilities in the workforce. It’s going to be increasingly important to continue making workplaces accessible for everyone. So, as Milliken says, “Let’s be sure that we’re going to roll our sleeves up and get it done.”

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Why I Won’t Play Pokémon Go

Do you struggle to maintain concentration? Technology and its foreboding “nowhere to hide” mindset has certainly not helped. Thankfully, there are ways we can limit workplace distractions without having to abandon our smartphones.

Unlike most smartphone owners, I have not downloaded the app sensation, Pokémon Go. While I am typically first in line to consume pop culture, I’m familiar enough with my bad habits to know that the minute this game is uploaded to my phone, I would become obsessed to the point of atrophy. Case in point, I am still haunted by the wasteful Candy Crush summer of 2012.

My refusal to play Pokémon Go certainly puts me in the minority. A recent study from MFour Mobile Research, has found that a third of U.S. Android smartphone users have downloaded this game, surpassing Twitter as the most popular current mobile app. For those of you who are not familiar, Pokémon Go is a virtual scavenger hunt. Players explore the real world with their smartphones, hunting for 151 different cartoon characters at grocery stores, parks, and coffees shops. Did I mention that they are also playing Pokémon Go at work, as if our team needs another distraction.

Office workers are interrupted approximately every eleven minutes, academic studies have found. Once distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California.

Another study, published by Carnegie Mellon, measured the amount of brainpower lost when someone is interrupted. Two subject groups were tasked with reading a passage and completing a test—one merely did the assignment, while the other was told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message. When the second group thought they were going to be interrupted but weren’t, they were 14% less likely to answer correctly. When they were interrupted, their scores dropped another 6%.

Distractions steal our time, hurt our productivity, impede our creativity, and damage our efficiency. Even worse, many of our distractions are our own fault, making them wholly avoidable. Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, states that these self-induced distractions are becoming more prevalent and difficult to manage. There is a compulsion to check email, text, social media, and games like Pokémon Go. “We might be in the middle of a meeting but if we don’t check in we start feeling anxious,” Rosen says.

To effectively manage self-inflicted interruptions, we must build our ability to concentrate and minimize distractions. Here are a few tricks that (along with discipline) may work:

  • Take tech breaks. Give yourself a pre-determined amount of time to read through social media or hunt down a Pikachu. Then, silence devices and set the timer. Until the buzzer sounds, you work on that one assignment. No flipping through emails, responding to tweets, or switching screens.
  • Be less accessible. Close your door and tape a sign saying “Do Not Disturb. Genus at Work?” Do this at a set time throughout the week to ensure you are allowing yourself time to work undisturbed.
  • Hide. If your workspace is too distracting, find somewhere else to work. Leave your phone in your desk and retreat to a less visible area.
  • Stop pop ups. On your smartphone, tablet, and laptop turn off the notifications that interrupt you throughout the day. This includes banners, sounds, vibrations, and badges.
  • Get help. If motivation is the issue, download apps like Freedom and Zero Willpower that will block alerts and social media access at the times of your choosing.

Don’t fall victim to the Pokémons lurking around each corner. They want to break your concentration and take you off task. If you can control the urge, you remain the hunter; however, if you succumb to their temptation, they are now hunting you. You and your team do not have to become prey to a bunch of pocket monsters. Fight the distractions so you can spend time on things that really matter… like Tetris.


Photo Credit: Like_the_Grand_Canyon Flickr via Compfight cc