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Accessibility Should Be an IT Imperative

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Image: Andriy Popov - Alamy Stock Photo
The story that most stuck with me from Enterprise Connect 2022 came out of our Enterprise Summit, a keynote panel made up of representatives from enterprise user organizations. Gary LaSasso, senior director of global IT at Amicus Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company, shared a story about a remote-working colleague with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who kept his audio muted throughout calls out of self-consciousness over the background sound of his ventilator.
LaSasso noted that this employee’s colleagues weren’t concerned about the noise, but the employee’s reluctance nonetheless caused him to be less involved than he could have been. When Amicus’s IT team learned about the situation, they were able to provide the employee with background noise suppression—not yet a standard feature at the time—and he was able to participate more fully.
“It made his experience so much better,” LaSasso said, adding that the employee “literally said, ‘[it] changed my life.’”
At Enterprise Connect, we believe that every enterprise IT organization is in a position to make a similar difference in the lives of its employees with disabilities. We also think that a dedicated focus on accessibility through communications technology can open up opportunities for enterprises to hire more people with disabilities and make these employees’ experience better than anyone might have thought possible. That’s why we’re going to put a focus on accessibility at Enterprise Connect 2023 (EC23).
For a good introduction to the issues around disability and communications technology, check out this No Jitter post by Claudio Luis Vera, a disability consultant who is also the guiding force for EC23’s programming in this area. “Most disabled people would agree that it’s not the medical condition that disables you,” Vera writes. “It’s that the world isn’t designed to work with your body or abilities. If there’s a mismatch between your abilities and the task at hand, that’s where the disability arises.”
Vera goes on to write that we don’t lack assistive technologies (ATs) that aim to mitigate disability barriers: “Instead, it’s that the systems, the websites, the apps, and the content we build don’t play nicely with existing AT.”
That means enterprise communications professionals need to understand how the systems they deploy and manage actually perform in the world of employees with disabilities. In some cases, as Vera suggests, the key to accessibility is better technology integration or development. But in some cases, as in the Amicus Therapeutics example above, all it takes is for IT/communications to know the specific nature of the problem, from which they can research and deploy existing technology to mitigate.
This is very much in keeping with the greater focus that IT/communications professionals are being asked to have when it comes to the employee experience overall. It’s more important than ever to understand how the new ways of working create barriers to communications and productivity for all workers, especially for employees with disabilities.
To help you understand how to think about accessibility and communications technology, Vera will be leading two sessions at EC23: a general session taking a strategic view, in which he’ll be joined by members of the disability community as well as tech experts; and a breakout session in which he’ll offer more tactical advice.
We also know that many of the vendors in our space are working hard on accessibility technology to help improve the experience you can provide your end users with disabilities. That’s why we’ve added a category to our Best of Enterprise Connect awards this year, Best Innovation for Accessibility. I really hope to have some great results out of this category when we announce the awards at the show during the last week of March.
Accessibility is where the vendors’ innovation and enterprise IT/comms pros’ dedication and expertise are both required. Enterprise pros need to understand how the technology can enable accessibility, but even more important, they need to understand how to apply existing technologies to solve accessibility challenges and constantly be looking for new ways to advance the effort. At EC23, we plan to inspire you and your colleagues in this area.
“Accessibility needs to be a long-term sustainable initiative on a par with privacy and cybersecurity,” Vera puts it in his No Jitter article. I hope you'll agree that this is a challenge worth accepting.