Ever since I worked as an equal employment opportunity specialist I have felt conflicted about IT in the workplace as both an enabler and a barrier for disabled people.
My concerns at that time, which was a while ago, were centred on the development of new stereotypes. A person who uses a wheelchair can be given a job where they sit at a computer and voila! ‘Problem’ solved. The other stereotype is a blind or partially sighted person just needs a computer with a screen reader and/or magnification and voila! That ‘problem’ is solved. Of course life is not that simple. A piece of technology is not an excuse to opt out of any other workplace considerations.
As time went on another barrier began to appear, and this was largely before emails and the Internet became everyday tools. Accessibility of software and applications became a more urgent consideration as they became more sophisticated, especially when the graphical user interface became the default option. It also took assistive technology a while to catch up.
Today most large organisations have their own intranets. There is an increasing amount of specialist software and applications for particular industries and sectors, contributing to a whole set of new barriers presented to a disabled job seeker.
While attention has been given to making web sites more accessible, at least in the public service where adherence to government web standards is mandatory, there is no compulsion to make internal applications and systems such as intranets more accessible.
It was interesting therefore to find a UK survey of attitudes to accessibility in both the public and private sectors
The Survey of attitudes to accessible ICT was conducted by Bloor Research in conjunction with HeadStar and Ability Magazine. Researchers investigated current and future attitudes to ICT accessibility and the drivers and barriers to improvement.
They found that
“There appears to be a significant variation in attitudes with the bottom fifth of organisations having little or no accessibility at present and no plans to improve in the future whilst, at the top end, about 50% of organisations claim that more than 70% of their systems are accessible, and this number increases through the end of 2010. Variation was also found between internal and externally facing systems with external systems, in general, being more accessible.”
Our experience at AccEase within New Zealand would certainly support this finding.
“The survey also compared the public and private sector and found some variation. The public sector external systems were more accessible than the private sector but the opposite was true for internal systems. These differences are probably caused by the e-gov pressure for citizen access on the one side and inaccessible internal legacy systems in the public sector on the other.”
I wonder what would be the situation here. I suspect it might be similar.
It went on to say
“When looking at the drivers for accessibility improvements the clear leaders were legal directives and corporate social responsibility. On the other hand, increased revenue or cost savings were not seen as drivers. The biggest single barrier to accessibility was legacy systems; this was particular true of the public sector. This was followed, not surprisingly, by budget constraints. These were followed by lack of management support, inadequate tools and lack of training.”
Perhaps simple ignorance is part of the equation. It always surprises me that people are very reluctant to accept that 20% of the population, plus the 14% or so of people who are over sixty five might actually need access, and that the community generally might benefit from their having it!
Readers of the paper, (which is freely downloadable) are invited to please login and post a review.
It would be interesting to see similar research conducted in New Zealand.