Monthly Archives: May 2013

Digital workplace accessibility

A blog for Global Accessibility Awareness Day

The purpose of this day, May 9, is to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities.

In New Zealand consideration of web and digital accessibility most attention is paid to public-facing websites that offer public information and services. We need to broaden the discussion, as digital applications have penetrated most areas of our daily life, accompanied by accessibility questions.

The workplace is increasingly digital. Some years ago I wrote an article for the Human Resources Journal, subsequently published on the Neon web site, An Accessible Work Wide Web.  Since then a great deal has changed, although some of the same accessibility tips I outlined then are still useful. It is time for Human Resources (HR) people to explore digital accessibility again. A few questions, by no means comprehensive, might help the discussion get started.

It is important to note that accessibility issues affect a range of disabled people, not just those using screen readers.

The recruitment process

  • Most recruiting is done online. How accessible are these processes, the web sites carrying the advertisement, the job descriptions, the forms for completion, responses and so on?
  • What happens if someone asks for information in an accessible format?
  • How easy is it for an applicant to discover what digital tools they need to be familiar with, to meet work requirements?

At the interview

  • Are people asked appropriately about their digital accessibility requirements as well as their physical access needs?
  • Is a test task accessible to all candidates?
  • How are interview questions about assistive technology handled?

In the workplace

  • When a disabled person starts work can they “hit the ground running” with their assistive technology?
  • Is your workplace truly inclusive or is there a scramble to cobble together an individual accommodation?
  • When tendering for intranet development and social media platforms what weight is given to accessibility?
  • How closely do you work with communications, web and IT people to achieve the best accessible outcomes for everyone in your organisation?
  • Do you know how and where to get help on digital accessibility?

Of course the whole thing would just go away if you rejected all applications from disabled people, (that you know about,) as too much trouble, but the risk is that you might just miss the best person for the job. That won’t solve the question of an ageing work force, or staff who acquire disabilities either. They might need digital accessibility so you can retain their skills and experience.

Like anything else, good planning and strategy will bring positive, productive results and prevent costly mistakes in terms of lost productivity, clumsy workarounds, or at worst human rights complaints or personal grievances.

Introducing accessibility using the concepts of universal design is a win-win in the workplace.

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Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility

Women, disableism and literature

In my last blog post I analysed why disabled women are invisible in New Zealand. This time, since I am joining other bloggers around the world on Blogging against Disableism Day, I have selected a subject which, as a disabled woman, is dear to me.

Being denied something which is generally of value to others is disableism, (discrimination,) at work, intentional or not. This is particularly true for those of us born with disabilities growing up.

Children and young people as they grow see similar life experience to their own life experience reflected around them through all kinds of media. It helps them find out who they are, and how they want to be in the world, good or bad. If they love reading good books they will probably meet a range of life experience, similar and dissimilar to their own in books.

Disabled children are denied this experience. Problematic “inspiration porn” and other negative media depictions aside, there are few, if any, good books written from their perspective by disabled authors who understand this experience of growing up with a disability at a very deep human level. Disability is constructed differently in different societies. It is constructed from a generally unchallenged non-disabled perspective in western literature. There is no body of literature or debate beyond a struggling academia to support any change, at least in New Zealand.

I do wish I could find similar life experiences to mine reflected in our literature. It was bad enough growing up without New Zealand books as my generation did. But I often experienced feelings of isolation as I didn’t know anyone like myself. Nor could I read about anyone like me, except Helen Keller, whose life experience was light years away from mine, in ways other than time, geography and personal circumstances. Even her impairment was promoted as a non-disabled construct and largely remains so.

Mental illness does seem to be an exception to the rule of silence. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a powerful example. Closer to home I have of course read Janet Frame’s early books. But there is now a climate of denial around her experience. Whether or not she was mentally ill, she still had the searing experience of being labelled and treated as disabled. I am also interested in the experience of Robin Hyde, although some of her writing is out of print and not accessible. At that time she probably would not identify as disabled, a fairly modern concept.

Disabled Women’s experience is starting to be reflected in dance, and in art and crafts, although disabled artists are often referred to as “outsider” artists, which I don’t like. Another less discriminatory term should be used.

Literature seems to be more difficult to infiltrate here. While I can find some international non-fiction about disabled women’s experience, often academic, I long for some general well-written, thoughtful, crunchy, insightful and satisfying everyday accounts of lives lived in the modern everyday world of disabled women, whatever that might be.

Self-publishing may not be the answer either, as I have seen too many poorly written edited and presented books telling “inspirational” life stories. They are frequently self-absorbed and undisciplined.  Doris Lessing’s description of the writing process is my favourite. She says,

“The whole process of writing is a setting at a distance. That is the value of it – to the writer and to the people who read the results of this process, which takes the raw, the individual, the uncriticised, the unexamined, into the realm of the general.”

Has no New Zealand publisher ever seen such a manuscript written by a disabled woman on the subject of the lives of disabled women? Has none ever been written, or do publishers think there is no market for such books? This situation needs to change.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Media, The Arts, Women