Compliance vs. Accessibility: What More Can We Do In The Workplace?

All public and private sector organizations with 50 or more employees are required to be WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 AA accessible by January 1, 2021.

If you read that line, and went ‘huh?’, I don’t blame you. To simplify it, all organizations with 50 or more employees are required to have their websites be accessible to a certain extent by January 1, 2021 in order to be AODA compliant. This deadline is enforced by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

I think that this push for organizations to become more accessibility compliant is amazing. However, after being in the workforce for almost three years, I don’t think that being compliant is enough. It’s a step in the right direction, but for an organization to go above and beyond compliance, you need to become truly accessible, which leads to being more inclusive.

Being compliant means that you met the minimum of what is considered to be accessible by the AODA, but that doesn’t mean that you (the organization) are considered to be accessible by the people with disabilities that work for you.

Providing accommodations means making a change so that a person with a disability is able to do their job with little to no restrictions. Becoming accessible means having an environment that is set up to be fully accessible from the start to all individuals so that they can participate to the fullest extent, just as those who do not have disabilities.

For example, as an individual with hearing loss in the workplace, I requested having someone in the room with me when I am leading a conference call, just in case I need a recap of what is being said. That request is an accommodation, which my company happily provided me with. If they refused my request, then they are not being compliant with AODA practices.

Accessibility in the workplace, and as a concept in general, is still fairly new. There is a lot that needs to be understood – such as how there is no one-for-all type of accommodation for everyone. There are different accommodations for different disabilities, and even then, various levels of accommodations depending on the person and the severity of their disability.

I am grateful that I work in a place where I can ask for accommodations and have them granted to me (within reason). What would be even better is if I don’t have to ask for accommodations at all.

I imagine walking into a conference room, and leading the call, but having live captioning on my computer screen, or a video of the person speaking on the other end so I can read their lips.

I experienced that in one meeting at work, and my level of participation and interest in the meeting skyrocketed. Any doubts I had – such as what if I didn’t hear the person correctly and say the wrong thing? or I missed the first half of what they said, do I slow the meeting down and ask them to repeat it? – disappeared.

I was able to confidently participate because being able to read that person’s lips on the screen increased my confidence. I was able to focus on the participants in the room without having to dedicate 100% of my attention to simply trying to hear the person on the call.

And it’s not just conference calls, it’s other things that happen in the workplace too.

I imagine being able to go to a town hall or a work conference, and not have to worry about trying to find seats at the very front row because I can’t hear the speaker that well, because the event is being live captioned.

I imagine being able to complete any work task without having to worry about my hearing loss being restrictive in any way.

It’s a lot to imagine, but with the increase of awareness around accessibility, it’s entirely possible. By making workplaces fully accessible, every employee will feel like they belong.

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belong is having that voice be heard.” – Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

It will take time, but the best way to start is by having conversations.

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If you are an employer, talk to your employees. Ask them, what can be done to be more accessible? If you are an employee, what would you say to your employer?

It’s time we start being more inclusive. It’s time we start talking about it.

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