#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