Diversity is the key to a healthy, thriving community. Indeed, the concept that the success of our economy is carried on monocultural shoulders is a falsehood that can be a road to disaster for businesses, and for the continued development of our contemporary landscape. As such, businesses need to better understand how to make their operations more diverse, and how their activities can be obstacles to those in marginalized populations.
Aside from the strong ethical duties that are evident, there are also cold hard financial incentives to inclusivity. One of the primary groups for focus here are those with disabilities, who represent an annual disposable income in the region of $490 million. That’s not to mention how employees from different backgrounds can offer their unique perspectives and experiences in ways that tend to breed the kinds of innovation that give their companies the competitive edge.
That said, it’s not always clear how businesses can best approach becoming more accessible to both customers and employees. Let’s review some of the prevalent obstacles, and how these can be addressed.
Your business premises are the physical hub through which you welcome staff and customers alike into your company. However, it also happens to be a key area that those who live with disabilities can find challenging. As such, in order to embrace inclusivity, you need to develop your environment.
This should include:
Ensure that all areas around your office, store, and warehouse areas can be easily navigated. This includes removing any obstructions, maintaining a reasonable width on straights and turns alike, and keeping all wires and potential trip hazards tidied away. This should also apply to bathrooms and supply areas, too. These efforts help support consumers with a wide range of potential challenges — visual impairments, mobility limitations, and service animal use among them.
- Signs and Materials
When producing information materials, businesses tend to have a distinct bias toward staff and customers who enjoy uninhibited vision. However, this ignores those who may have difficulty with viewing and interpretation of visual materials; not just those who have visual impairments, but also those who experience color blindness and dyslexia. Make certain all materials — from marketing to emergency instructions — are designed with contrasting colors between background and text for clarity. Also provide alternative forms of these media; audio options, and braille.
Accessibility isn’t about tacking some superficial measures onto your current business model. You have to go through every element of your operation to understand what the extent of the challenges are, and what needs to be improved. While this can be achieved internally, it can be wise to get input from external expert consultants, who have a more nuanced perspective on the extent of accessibility issues, and how to improve them. This auditing needs to be taken regularly, particularly when your operations or premises layouts change.
The digital age has offered some incredible opportunities for businesses to expand their reach locally and globally. However, without ensuring that your site conforms to web accessibility standards, you are not just ignoring a duty to include those who experience challenges, you are also seriously truncating your reach. The same goes for your staff members’ ability to use internal information technology (IT). It’s also important to note that there is a civil legislative obligation here. As highlighted in the linked resource, there is precedent as a result of the Robles v. Domino's Pizza LLC lawsuit, that websites are defined as public places under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As such, there’s an expectation that they must meet accessibility requirements.
Some of the steps to take can include:
- Simple Navigation
Your user interface (UI) and menus should be clear and, where possible, intuitively designed. Users should also be able to access any part of the site by only using the tab and enter keys; this makes the site accessible to those who either can’t use a mouse or find pointers difficult to see.
- Assistive Technology Compatibility
Some users with disabilities will be using software and hardware designed to help them overcome their challenges. Therefore, you must make sure that text is easily translatable through text-to-speech technology, and that forms on both websites and mobile apps can be completed with speech input software.
- Adaptable Features
Your website should still be functional however users choose to adapt their devices to suit their needs. Make certain that all text makes sense even when the size is changed via the browser. Similarly, text should be distinguishable from the background for those who need to use devices in high contrast. Even ensuring that your site is responsive to mobile devices improves accessibility to those in low-income families who are more likely to only use mobile internet, rather than home broadband.
Accessibility is not a static issue. Not only are we always learning more about different challenges people face. We are also beginning to understand that how people experience difficulties — whether wellness-based or socio-economic — can be subjective. This means that in order to be as accommodating as possible for customers and employees, businesses need to maintain flexibility.
In essence, this comes down to embracing a culture of making operations easier and more convenient for everyone. Even invoicing should be flexible enough to accommodate elements such as online invoice payment or mobile bank transfers that reflect not just the accessibility needs but also the financial preferences of consumers. Remember that accessibility shouldn’t require consumers or staff to ask for accommodations, or explain why they need them — rather a flexible infrastructure facilitates equal opportunities for engagement.
From the perspective of employees, this flexibility should extend to working methods where practical. Make remote working, or a blended schedule, available to all staff; this includes ensuring basic equipment, and the assistive technology to operate it, is available. This can not only make your business accessible to workers with mobility issues, but also those who have family commitments that require them to stay close to home.
When your business embraces accessibility, it is not just consumers who benefit. Diversity also improves the reputation, growth, and bottom line of the company. Attention must be paid to improving inclusion in both physical and online environments and exploring how flexible operations can be a positive force for equality in our society.
Guest post courtesy of Beau Peters