Accessibility Best Practices for Remote Workplaces

The sudden rapid transition to remote work has brought about many benefits for employers. Among these benefits are happier employees, greater cost savings, and access to a more diverse talent pool. However, remote work also comes with its own set of challenges, one of which is digital accessibility.

In the United States, one in four adults lives with a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, and these laws extend to remote workspaces.

The following accessibility best practices for remote workplaces, while not exhaustive, will help you create a work environment where everyone can benefit equally from digital products, services, and content.

Choose accessible remote work products

Audit the tools you currently use for remote work and become familiar with their accessibility features. The following remote work tools are a good place to start:

  • Audio and video conferencing (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
  • Document management (SharePoint, OneDrive, etc.)
  • Email (Google Workspace, etc.)
  • Project management and collaboration (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc.)
  • Office suites (Microsoft Office, etc.)

When evaluating a new remote work product, confirm that the tool supports commonly used assistive devices, including screen readers and refreshable braille displays. Also, look for built-in accessibility features; for instance:

  • Keyboard accessibility
  • Display preferences, such as resizable text and color filters
  • Speech-to-text capabilities, such as real-time captioning and live or automatic transcription

Many top vendors, like Zoom and Google Workspace, provide documentation about native accessibility features, as well as how to integrate their products with third-party accessibility tools.

If you need a feature that isn’t built into the software you currently use, check to see if there’s a compatible third-party app. For example, Krisp is an AI-powered app that removes background noise during virtual meetings.

Host accessible virtual meetings

Virtual meetings, while convenient, come with their share of technical challenges. A bit of preparation can go a long way in ensuring that your meetings adhere to accessibility best practices.

Before the meeting, determine what your staff needs to participate equally. For example, will you need an ASL interpreter? Some conferencing tools, such as Zoom, can be configured so that interpreters are always visible.

Also, provide instructions to staff on how to adjust conferencing settings, including video, sound, chat, and display options. Let employees know who to contact if they have any technical difficulties during the meeting.

Limit meeting attendance to key stakeholders and give staff the option to call in instead of using their computer. The moderator should ensure that only one person speaks at a time, that all other mics are muted, and that everyone identifies themselves before they begin speaking.

If you’re sharing your screen, describe the content on the screen for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Instruct staff on how to access closed captions, live transcripts, and/or subtitles during the meeting. If your conferencing solution doesn’t provide for real-time captioning or live transcription, consider using a third-party app like Web Captioner, which offers free real-time captioning in over 40 languages.

Always record live events and have them professionally transcribed afterward so you can share the recording and transcript with your team.

Create accessible content

Use the following tips for accessibility best practices.


Use heading styles in Microsoft Word to create subheads (instead of bolding text and increasing the font size, for example). This helps screen reader and braille display users understand the hierarchy of the document and navigate it more efficiently.

Microsoft provides an Accessibility Checker tool for making sure your Office content, including Word documents, spreadsheets, and email, is accessible to people with disabilities.

Video and audio

When creating audio and video content, use professional recording equipment and record in a quiet location. If you must have background music, keep it at a low volume for the benefit of people who are hard of hearing.

Transcribe, caption, and/or describe audio and video content. Poorly done captions are just as frustrating as no captions at all: For audio with multiple speakers or any background noise, it’s best to hire a professional typing company instead of using an auto-transcription tool.

Images, graphics, and presentations

Alternative text should be provided for descriptions of images, which can be read using screen readers.

Use good color contrast for the benefit of visually impaired and colorblind users. Make use of whitespace and proximity to help users understand the relationship between elements of the content. Ensure that the text in charts and graphs is large and clear enough to read.

Avoid the use of flashing, strobing, or flickering content, which can trigger seizures in people with PSE.

Social media

The major social media platforms are continually evolving to make sure their platforms align with digital accessibility best practices. For example, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have an option for adding alternative text to your images.

Additionally, many social media sites now let you caption video content by uploading captions as a sidecar file (that is, separate from the video itself).

Website and email

Use a responsive design for your website and emails and test them to make sure they function as intended on mobile devices and screen readers. Choose clean, easy-to-read fonts of adequate size and line spacing, and use good color contrast throughout for the benefit of people who are colorblind or have other visual impairments. Provide plaintext versions of emails for people who use screen readers.

On your website, make use of HTML markup like headers, which can be read by screen readers, instead of simply styling the content–for instance, by bolding text or increasing the font size. Whenever possible, use HTML to create charts and lists instead of posting them as images. If you use images to complement the text, provide alternative text using the HTML alt attribute. Choose semantic HTML elements that describe the content (e.g., <table>) instead of non-semantic elements (e.g., <div>).

For more information on how to make web content accessible, review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, which is the universal standard in web accessibility.

Accessibility best practices will evolve along with your business and workforce. You can streamline the process by creating a simple system for your employees to put in requests or give feedback on your current tools and procedures, as well as by providing digital accessibility training to staff. As more software developers and vendors adopt accessible technologies, businesses will encounter fewer challenges when creating an accessible remote workplace.

#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 Corporate Brands Need to Tell Their Inclusion Story and Join the Global B2B Conversations

As the CEO of Ruh Global Communications, I am honored to be able to work with corporate brands all over the world on strategies to fully include persons with disabilities as colleagues, employees, and clients by assuring their services and products are accessible.  Since early 2000, we also have also been blessed to be able to leverage social media and other marketing channels in an effort to tell the stories of these brands to consumers who care about social impact and inclusion.

It has been interesting to watch the global landscape change as these conversations have taken place over the years.   While many U.S. corporations have been making efforts to include persons with disabilities fully—as employees, clients, and stakeholders— the bottom line is that litigation in a lot of these circumstances has helped and hindered these efforts. While, the U.S. is one of the most accessible countries in the world, it still has a lot of work to do with the inclusion of persons with disabilities in its workforce and customer base.

In late 2014, I set out to write a book that would discuss this very topic, “Uncovering Hidden Human Capital: How Leading Corporations Leverage Multiple Abilities in Their Workforce” Published by G3ict in 2016.

At that time, I asked approximately ten U.S. based multi-national brands to be part of the best practice sections of the book. I was shocked by how many of these corporations came back and said, ‘Debra, we would love to be featured in the book, but our legal team has said no.”

They were nervous that being featured in my book as demonstrating a best practice may have made them a target for additional lawsuits.

This inspired me to write a blog post back in 2012 about Walt Disney Parks & Resorts called ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

It explored the class action lawsuit filed in 2011 against Walt Disney Parks & Resorts over something similar.  The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) lawsuit in this case both confused and surprised me.

Why the surprise? Well, earlier that year The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) awarded Disney with a 2011 Access Award, one of the highest honors a brand can get from the community of persons with disabilities in the U.S.

I am not here to debate the merits of the case, but you have to admit that it doesn’t make much sense for Disney to win this award and then immediately get sued for violating the ADA.  Are they horrible, wonderful, or maybe just trying their best?

I understand there are many moving parts that must exist when dealing with disability inclusion and accessibility.  However, the litigious approach can—and almost always does—send the wrong message to brands.

On the other hand, when I asked major multi-national brands in the U.S. in 2014 if they were willing to be included in my book, they quickly said, “Sorry, Debra we have not done enough.”

Again, I was confused because I knew that many of these U.S. brands have been working on disability inclusion and accessibility for several years.  Are they perfect? NO!  Are they trying?  Absolutely. Is it enough? Maybe.

For the past year or so, we have used various communication channels to encourage our community of persons with disabilities to reward brands that are doing their best and help us to begin ‘voting with our wallets.’  As an active participant on social media, I have been able to then turn around and talk about brands that are seeking to include us (and gain our support) all over the world.

Why Corporate Brands Need to Tell Their Inclusion Story and Join the Global B2B Conversations

Debra Ruh Quote

For example, a well known fashion brand, Tommy Hilfiger, supports our community by creating an Adaptive Clothing line for children with disabilities.  Based upon the initial success of this line— Hilfiger now wants to expand his effort to adults and help the rest of the fashion industry understand that it’s a win for everyone to do so. Hilfiger also offers clothes at all price points—which means it’s accessible to everyone.  I have become a loyal Tommy Hilfiger customer and love that they have clothes for all members of my family and friends— including those with disabilities.  I am always on the lookout for other brands that are supporting my community so that I can show my support for them in return—and you should be, too!

In early 2016, I was still hard at work on my book. To my surprise, several of the U.S. brands that had declined in late 2014 came back and asked if they could now be included. What had changed?  The central theme to their answers was simply that inclusion of persons with disabilities was now a bigger part of their efforts.

They now understand that operating in the U.S. means facing lawsuits. So, instead of focusing on being perfect, they decided that they wanted to share their stories of inclusion and accessibility with the community of persons with disabilities.  Telling the stories of the brands that are working towards full inclusion can hopefully educate the entire ecosystem about how greatly the benefits of inclusion outweigh its complexities.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of the world’s population has a disability. While the National Organization on Disabilities (NOD) state that 54 million people in the U.S. identify as having a disability under the definition provided by the ADA.

While those alone are pretty big numbers, other people—those not impacted by disabilities—also care about a company’s inclusion efforts.  The millennial generation has clearly stated in various studies that they are willing to pay more money to do business with brands that have a positive social impact.

It is hard to ignore that size audience and brands should take notice of the impact their efforts can have on their bottom line.  However, our community needs to know which brands are trying making those efforts so that we can help to boost their Return on Investment (ROI).  And it is critical for everyone to understand that this is NOT simply about it being ‘The Right Thing to Do’. After all, it is naïve to think that corporations should not want to make money through their inclusive efforts.  That’s what they are in business, to make money.

Instead, making these much needed changes is more about changing the world in order to assure that we all have a place to contribute and work— and that we—as a community—know which brands are trying.  If these brands do not make money by creating products and services that include our community, then we all fail.

Their efforts will lead to better employment outcomes and options for the community of persons with disabilities around the world.  Full inclusion of a diverse workforce that includes individuals with disabilities should an important part of every brand’s identity.

Many of the brands already involved in the efforts are multi-national corporations that are headquartered in the United States or ones that have a national presence here.  I have also noticed many U.S. brands that are only in national conversations, but not in global discussions, when it comes to their efforts with disability inclusion and accessibility.

It is critical for US based corporations to join the global conversations about best practices, case studies, risks, and innovations.  Why?  Because many of these US based corporations have employees and customers living outside the US.

Corporate brands need a place that is safe to learn from other brands and share their successes, fears, and ideas. These brands are multi-national so having a global network to ask questions about disability employment and inclusion in other countries is an invaluable resource.

If you are a corporation that wants to join the global B2B conversation, please consider joining the United National ILO Global Business Disability Network (GBDN) and contacting us at Ruh Global Communications.

The world needs all stakeholders’ voices to be heard in these global conversations.  Brands will also find their ROI grown when the community of persons with disabilities and the people that care about this community to learn about their efforts.

Thanks to the global brands already involved for their leadership and efforts to include the community of persons with disabilities.

To learn more about Ruh Global Communications, please visit our website:

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