COVID-19 has thrown up many challenges for those with disabilities. One is accessibility, especially in videoconferencing. For some, the chat function can be difficult to take in, likewise, there can be difficulties for those with hearing loss and neuro-diverse conditions, so it’s important that meeting chairs think about how to be as inclusive as possible.
Other issues include stress of many kinds, mental health problems, and the additional isolation for those with conditions that increase the risk from COVID or make them clinically extremely vulnerable. It is crucial that we support all disabled people in addressing these difficulties.
There are lots of different actions that can be taken by businesses of all sizes to help make accessibility for employees with disabilities in a post COVID world better. Actions that could be taken include:
- Captioning and, where possible, sign language for all live and recorded events and communications. This includes things such as Team Meetings, organisation’s Director updates, podcasts, and live social media such as Instagram TV.
- Convert public materials into “Easy Read” format so that they are accessible for people with intellectual disability or cognitive impairment.
- Develop accessible written information by using appropriate document formats, (such as Microsoft Word), with structured headings, large print, braille versions and formats for people who are deafblind.
- Include captions for images used within documents or on social media. Use images that are inclusive and do not stigmatise disability.
- Work with disability organisations through charitable work set by businesses, including advocacy bodies and disability service providers to disseminate public health information.
However, with this said, we are all aware too of the opportunities the pandemic is creating.
The much-increased use of MS Teams, for example, has enabled much better communications within our teams more generally, allowing for accessibility for all. A study by the Civil Service showed that the use of Microsoft Teams made it easier for those with visual impairments and was a more helpful way of conducting meetings. Director for the Overseas Territories (OTs) in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ben Merrick commented,’ It’s also made it easier for me to see who’s involved in a call, and my visual impairment, as so often, has been quite helpful [when using “Teams”], since I’m used to chairing meetings where I can’t see everyone’.
By incorporating accessible adaptations, like Microsoft Teams, businesses make room for all. Studies show that, more than ‘one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will experience a disability before they retire’, and with vulnerable populations increasingly at risk during the pandemic, responsiveness to the needs of the disabled community are even more important.