Everyone must have the opportunity to progress, and have as much assistance where possible

It’s not just about ramps and wide doors

Catering for the multitude of disabilities which employees and customers is probably the hardest area to cover. Physical and mental disability tends to be a very sensitive area and people can get very passionate about it. We were delighted to help a client with its disability policies and to help them with a particular issue they had in the software domain.

We have got direct experience with caring for the disabled, so were perfectly placed to help.  

The problem was being too agressive

Like any business, the client had taken good care to cater for the physically disabled. Complying with regulation is quite difficult, and trying to comply with every part of legislation is very difficult. Reasonable adjustment is a phrase which is a double-edged sword. The word ‘reasonable’ can be interpreted in many ways, and setting the level of what seems reasonable can bite hard if you get it wrong.

We looked at the particularly thorny issue of software accessibility. They had to cater for both visually and auditorily impaired users. The policy on software had to be carefully crafted to ensure the user needs are met, while considering the effort developers will need to meet the requirements.

Further investigations revealed something that would cause serious reputational damage if software wasn’t accessible. Employees can enter a scheme where they can be promoted to senior positions. To do this, they will spend up to two years in departments, specially selected for the role they wish to get to. This will bring them into contact with software and if they are unable to use it because of their disabilities, then they can possibly sue the business for lack of support, causing possible reputational damage. Developers were forced in spending inordinate amount of time and money trying to make every application fully accessible by everyone with every sort of disability. This added time to the delivery of key software capabilities.

We needed a different approach.

Reasonable Adjustments

We looked at the problem from a slightly different angle. Seeing it from the position of the users, we had to take into account that not every piece of software can possibly be accessible by everyone. For example, a mapping software doesn’t work with screen reader software, therefore it would be inappropriate for someone with visual impairments could use the software effectively.

However, if it was possible for the software to have a statement as to its compliance with accessibility, then any potential users who need to use it will understand their position. Reasonable adjustment doesn’t just refer to changing software. It can also mean that if someone needs to use the software and needs visual assistance, then someone with good eyesight could help the disabled person.

We also looked at the entry requirements for departments. It is obvious if the requirement needs someone with good eyesight and hearing because a large part is involved with driving, it is obvious visually and auditorily impaired people wont be able to join.

For a long time, disability statements have been available for licenced software, and these show the position for use of assistance software. The current position was to ignore these and for the business to do their own with the hope some configuration will make it more accessible.

We convinced the client to actually set an expectation instead of trying to boil the ocean and make 100% of software 100% accessible. We proposed two approaches:

  • Bake accessibility into the software development lifecycle, and
  • Test both developed and COTS products as they prepare for production

This will then create the basis for the accessibility statement. Setting an expectation, even if the software is not accessible, gives incoming users the expectation of what they can or cannot do. 

Keeping the process going

It is now the position that every new development has an accessibility statement showing the position, offering an expectation. A strategy for doing statements for legacy systems was put in place and is on-going. We were pleased with a global change in approach to accessibility, resulted in a good outcome for both the developers and the users who need to be included, regardless of their abilities.