Technology, like video conferencing tools and online messaging systems, has gained prominence in workplaces across the country, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as many businesses have switched to remote and hybrid models. In fact, more than half of U.S. workers rely on technology to complete their jobs. For workers with disabilities, tools for accessibility, like screen readers and subtitles for video meetings, are extremely important and necessary for workplace inclusion.
2021 was a prominent year for DE&I efforts across businesses nationwide, as 77% of workers with disabilities say their employer has done a better job supporting them since the pandemic started. But there is still progress to be made, and technology accessibility is a great place to start.
For quadriplegic lawyer and community relations manager, Josh Basile, accommodations in tech have been "life-changing."
"I was injured back in 2004. We didn't have the technology and the scalable solutions that we have today to make the internet more accessible. And watching how our technology has advanced and evolved, I see more and more independence for myself," he tells CNBC Make It. "Technology, like AI-powered applications on websites, gives me another way of being able to access the world around me and be included."
According to The Employer Assistance and Research Network, a resource hub for workplace disability inclusion, technology accessibility means "tools that can be used successfully by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities." This allows everyone in the workplace to interact with different systems and programs in a way that best suits their needs and capabilities.
Basile, who is a community relations manager at AccessiBe, a web accessibility hub, says that technology accessibility in the workplace has allowed him to be more "efficient and refined."
"It's incredible what you can do with the right technology or the right accommodations," he says. "It's created an even playing field in many ways. It allows you the opportunity to contribute at your highest level. And, over the years, it's helped me continue to improve my output and contribution in the workplace." For example, Basile uses a QuadStick, a mouth-operated controller, to surf the web and edit word documents with his voice.
"There are tools like AI-powered solutions that can create customizable experiences for different disabilities," he says. "So it's not just for persons that are paralyzed or that are blind. It's also for people that have cognitive disabilities like ADHD and epilepsy."
EARN lists several areas where companies may need to improve their technology accessibility efforts, including email and other electronic correspondence; "self-contained" products like calculators, printers, and copying machines; and software applications and operating systems.
Promoting inclusion through accessibility is proven to have several benefits for businesses. Not only does it increase productivity and boost corporate image, but it also aids in employee retention and recruitment. A recent Adobe study found that, amongst millennials with and without a disability, almost 3 in 4 say that accessibility and inclusivity are deciding factors in evaluating a job opportunity.
Basile looks at it as a "domino effect."
"Disability employment is becoming more attainable and less complicated. And you're having more people, as they're entering the workforce with a disability, have success stories, and then all of a sudden, other people are saying "if Josh can do it, I can do it, too."
77% of workers with disabilities say their employer has done a better job supporting them since the pandemic started
43% of employees say they have little opportunity for mobility at work
35% of women who left or lost their jobs during the pandemic are still unemployed