Developing an Accessible Technology Plan
Although each organization is unique and has unique requirements, common steps are involved in developing a good accessible technology plan. Following is a proven five-step plan used in many technology development plans that has simply been applied to accessible technology. Many of the themes described here are based on the steps in Susan Conway's and Char Sligar's book Unlocking Knowledge Assets. (Conway, Sligar 2002).
Thinking through your strategy and requirements will reduce costs and increase efficiency—reducing false-starts, ensuring compatibility with existing technology, and accurately addressing your organization's unique situation and needs.
The five steps are:
- Define the accessible technology strategy. In this critical first step, you define how accessible technology fits into your business by identifying a vision and objectives that set the groundwork for the next steps.
- Identify requirements. In this step, you develop a comprehensive set of requirements by describing the scope of the accessibility needs of your organization and evaluating the current technology being used.
- Design, develop, and purchase technology. This next step involves the design and development of technology based on the requirements outlined in Step 2. This step might also include purchasing accessible technology and assistive technology products and identifying internal technology systems that need to be updated to increase accessibility.
- Implement and Train. Once the accessible technology is in place, including new technology, it is rolled out to the organization. This step also involves increasing awareness among employees about the availability of accessible technology and training employees on how to use the accessibility features.
- Maintain technology and continue learning. In the last step, you increase awareness of the accessible technology vision in your organization, support employees in their use of technology, and evaluate success and opportunities for improvement.
In this important first step, you describe how accessible technology fits within your organization—specifically, how it fits with your business and competitive strategies, objectives, and measures of success. This information will help you integrate accessible technology into your business plan and ensure that your accessible technology strategy is aligned with your business needs. What you produce in this first step provides the framework for the rest of the planning process.
Elements of an Accessible Technology Strategy
An accessible technology strategy should both stand alone and reinforce your organization's overall technology plan. The two plans should be complementary. If your organization has an overall technology plan, review that plan as you begin outlining your accessible technology strategy to make sure there are no conflicts and to strengthen how these two plans can work together.
An accessible technology strategy should include the following elements:
Vision statement. Create a unique vision statement that defines the role of accessible technology in your organization and how it will support the organization's overall vision of accessible technology objectives. If your organization's overall vision statement already provides the proper foundation for creating accessible technology objectives, restate that vision statement. This was the case for UnumProvident, whose vision statement reads, "Be the number one provider of services that help our employees and our customer's employees get back to work when they become injured or ill."
Objectives. Define success metrics and clarify the specifics of the vision. Using the vision statement, create accessible technology objectives that also align with business objectives. You'll use these objectives to measure success in Step 5. For example, RBC Financial Group estimates that 40 percent or more of Canadians have trouble using financial services because of disabilities such as mobility impairments or literacy skills. In order to be a leading financial institute in Canada, RBC Financial Group wanted to improve the accessibility of its branches to ensure it was reaching these customers. Therefore, a sample business objective for the bank might be, "Ensure that 90 percent of branches are accessible to customers with disabilities such as mobility impairments or low literacy."
Expenses and budget. Clarify how expenses will be covered and describe funding sources. For example, determine which expenses are part of the overall technology purchases of the organization versus which expenses should be part of a separate budget that might be used only for assistive technology products. Some organizations choose to have all assistive technology product purchases come out of a centralized accommodation budget, whereas other organizations deduct these expenses from the individual technology budgets of each department. It is important to clarify these budget decisions at the outset and to allocate funds appropriately.
Ownership and next steps. Clarify responsibilities and plan execution. For example, outline who or which groups will be responsible for completing the next steps of the plan, which are to identify requirements (Step 2); design, develop, and purchase (Step 3); implement and train (Step 4); and maintain technology and continue learning (Step 5). This will require strong partnerships among various groups. One technique is to form a council or committee that meets regularly to ensure that the plan is moving forward and that the next steps and responsibilities are clear. You might even find it helpful to assign a person within the organization to project manage the accessible technology plan. RBC Financial Group developed such a position called the Accessible Technology Consultant. Responsibilities of this position include educating IT staff about the business value of accessibility, selecting assistive technology products, and advocating employee accessibility needs.
Whichever unique approach your organization takes, two elements are critical to success: support from senior management and alignment with business objectives and the organization-wide technology plan.
As with any strategic planning process, the leaders and senior management in your organization must clearly understand the business value of accessible technology. Only then can they stand behind the plan, be spokespersons for the strategy, and help ensure support from other key stakeholders.
It is important to gain the support of those responsible for executing the plan and other key stakeholders including those who manage the budget. Although some resistance is normal with any change or new idea that has not yet been implemented, one key to success is ensuring that stakeholders fully understand and embrace the strategy because these stakeholders will be responsible for carrying out the next four steps.
With a number of steering committees that oversee the use of technologies within the bank, RBC Financial Group also created an accessible technology committee headed by its Accessible Technology Consultant. This provided a natural way for the accessible technology strategy to be integrated with the rest of the technology planning. Each committee head advocates for his or her technology area when evaluating new products, testing, and doing long-term planning. This process ensures that key stakeholders are more informed about the importance of accessible technology when making decisions.
In this step, the owners and stakeholders identified in the accessible technology strategy are asked to do a needs assessment, evaluate the current state of technology, and create success measures.
The needs assessment involves outlining the accessibility requirements from the perspectives of employees, your organization's processes, and current technology. Ideally, you should integrate the requirements you outline in the needs assessment with your organization's existing technology plan so that technology evaluations, purchase decisions, and development of new technology will take accessibility needs into consideration.
Also in this step, it is important to gather information about the current state of technology and prioritize needs if your current technology is out of date. In addition, at this stage you determine success measures to help your organization clearly evaluate and measure results. The outcome of this step is a document that includes a comprehensive set of accessibility requirements and measures of success that owners can use to execute the design, development, and implementation steps.
The needs assessment task identifies the organization-wide accessibility needs, which include specifying collaboration and communication needs among all employees "regardless of abilities" and identifying the assistive technology needs of individuals with specific disabilities. Even if your organization does not currently employ people with visible disabilities, you should still define your accessibility requirements. In the future, you might find much greater use and desire for accessible technology than is initially apparent. A proactive accessible technology plan can offer:
- Increased performance and productivity through enhanced process flow
- Reinforcement of your organization's diversity vision
- Accommodations that will expedite employees' return to work after injuries and illness
- Organization-wide ergonomic (or human factors) benefits by reducing the impact of repetitive stress injuries
As part of your needs assessment, list the specific accessibility needs employees have, the processes in your organization, and the technologies you want to support. Ask how your employees and customers use technology. For example, if most employees in your organization need to use a sales data entry application, that application needs to work well with a variety of different assistive technology products. That way, an employee who is blind, for example, can access the application with a screen reader and keyboard (rather than a mouse), and an employee who has a mobility impairment can access the application with voice recognition software.
To gather your list of requirements, consider conducting surveys of employees. During this process it might also prove helpful to provide lists of possible needs or requirements because many individuals won't understand what you mean if you simply ask them to list their accessibility needs.
Determining Your Organization's Assistive Technology Requirements, includes a sample list of accessibility requirements.
Evaluate State of Current Technology
As part of identifying requirements, it is important to describe your current technology and compare it to the information gathered in your needs assessment. This evaluation will help establish priorities and show where changes can have the greatest impact.
Plan to evaluate the following:
- Operating system(s). Do operating systems used in your organization have built-in accessibility options that allow individuals with visual, hearing, mobility, learning, and language impairments to adjust options to their needs? Is the operating system compatible with a wide range of assistive technology products?
- Office productivity and communication software. Is office productivity software such as e-mail, word processing, and presentation applications accessible? Are accessibility options available consistently among these applications?
- Assistive technology. Are compatible assistive technology products available for your current operating systems and office productivity software?
- Proprietary or legacy systems. Consider whether you have overlooked accessibility options you already have. Are you utilizing built-in accessibility options, features, shortcuts, and toolbars in your current systems? Consider the state of your proprietary and legacy systems. Do you have legacy systems that employees with disabilities have difficulty accessing? Can all employees use your proprietary systems?
- Internal systems. Are internal technology systems, such as intranet sites and internal purchase applications, accessible to all employees?
- Customer systems. Are the systems your customers use such as your organization's website/e-commerce site, touch screens, or automated teller machines, accessible?
As part of your technology evaluation, ask the following questions about your current technology:
- How does your present technology meet your employees' and customers' accessibility needs?
- Can employees effectively collaborate and communicate regardless of their abilities?
- Is the technology flexible and does it allow customization so that individuals can be more productive?
At the end of this evaluation, you should have an understanding of the current state of your technology as measured against needs.
Leveraging Legacy Technology
Most organizations will want to take advantage of the improved accessibility in the most recent releases of products including Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. But many organizations are not able to upgrade every employee simultaneously to the latest operating system and software, so they need to plan for scalable solutions.
In recent years, software and operating system upgrades have become more streamlined, and today, employees using different versions of products can continue to collaborate effectively. For example, if the majority of employees in an organization use an old version of Windows, and an employee with a develops a disability that requires the use of a screen reader that works best on the most recent version of Windows, that employee can be upgraded to the latest version of Windows and still effectively work with his coworkers. Or, if an employee simply needs to change his or her font settings and sound options, Windows provides these accessibility options.
Each organization needs to set its own priorities and, with the help of an accessible technology consultant, make the most of the accessibility in legacy technology.
Compare Accessibility Features in Various Versions of Windows. This chart shows you the accessibility options available in different versions of Windows.
At this point in the process, you should create success measures based on the objectives outlined in Step 1 and the baseline information gathered in the needs assessment and evaluation of current technology. In Step 5, you'll use these success measures to evaluate progress and highlight areas of improvement.
Examples of success measures include
- Increase the retention rate of employees who develop impairments by 15 percent in two years
- Increase the employees' awareness of accessibility by 25 percent within 12 months of implementation
- Increase reported improved collaboration and communication among employees to 50 percent within 18 months
- Increase the job satisfaction of employees with accessibility needs by 35 percent in 24 months
- Increase the satisfaction of customers with accessibility needs by 25 percent in 12 months
- Broaden the customer segment that includes a disability demographic within two fiscal years
In this third step, the focus is on designing and developing the technology based on the accessibility requirements outlined in Step 2. This step includes identifying and purchasing accessible technology and assistive technology products, updating internal technology systems to be more accessible, and determining how to make use of legacy systems.
Select an Accessible Technology "Foundation"
The standard operating system and office productivity software used by your organization is the foundation for accessible and assistive technology. Therefore, it is critical that the operating system and office productivity software be accessible.
Choose products that allow employees to customize the system to their preferences as well as those products that address the requirements outlined in the needs assessment. Be sure that the operating system and all office productivity software chosen are compatible with a wide variety of assistive technology products for specific disabilities. To check compatibility, contact assistive technology manufacturers to learn if products are compatible and if settings can be adjusted to optimize compatibility.
An Accessible Operating System
Windows Vista includes built-in accessibility settings and programs that make it easier for computer users to see, hear, and use their computers. Microsoft invested in more than three years of research to better understand the needs of people who experience a wide range of physical challenges that can impact their computer use. The accessibility settings and programs in Windows Vista are particularly helpful to people with visual difficulties, hearing loss, pain in their hands or arms, or reasoning and cognitive issues.
Windows XP Professional provides better integration with assistive technology than any other operating system, and it offers a high level of accessibility for specific visual, hearing, mobility, learning, and language needs. Built-in accessibility utilities include Magnifier, Narrator, On-Screen Keyboard, and Utility Manager. A wide range of assistive technology products are also compatible with Windows XP Professional.
An Accessible Office Productivity Suite
The 2007 Microsoft Office system is more accessible than ever before, making it easier for everyone to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations with rich content. Finding commands you need is easier with the completely redesigned user interface. SmartArt graphics tools make it possible to create complex graphics and diagrams without a mouse. Designed to work with common accessible technology applications, providing accessibility for everyone. The Zoom tool makes resizing your work area faster and easier.
Microsoft Office 2003 makes productivity simple, provides collaboration, and provides flexibility to address business and accessibility needs. Microsoft Office 2003 accessibility improvements help people with accessibility needs quickly and easily customize their workspace to further improve their productivity. Office 2003 is also compatible with a range of assistive technology products.
An Accessible Browser
Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 continues to offer the accessibility settings in Internet Explorer 6 and now lets you zoom in on a webpage to magnify text, images, and controls on the page.
Identify and Select Assistive Technology for Individuals
Many employees with disabilities need to use assistive technology products to fully access their computers. In the next two sections, we discuss two approaches to providing assistive technology to employees as well as how the partnership between human resources (HR), employees, managers, and assistive technology experts might work.
Two Approaches to Selecting Assistive Technology
Organizations generally take one of two approaches to identify and provide employees with assistive technology. One approach is to custom select assistive technology product(s) for each employee with a need. Another approach is to provide an approved list of assistive technology products that are tested, evaluated, and selected as the standard assistive technology products for an organization. Each approach has its own advantages and challenges.
Microsoft Corporation does not have a standardized list of assistive technology products. Instead, employees partner with their manager, a human resources (HR) representative, and an assistive technology consultant to identify the appropriate assistive technology products for their business and personal accessibility needs. For Microsoft, this makes senses because, as a technology company, it has a broader mission to ensure that technology works for everyone using all types of assistive technology products.
For organizations such as RBC Financial Group, a standard list of assistive technology products is more efficient because the assistive technology products are evaluated and tested to ensure that they work properly with RBC Financial Group's systems. This makes providing technical support easier and getting new employees up to speed faster.
Whether your organization provides a standard list of selected assistive technology products or not, it is still important to accurately identify which type of product works best for an individual's needs and to partner with HR and assistive technology experts to work through the process of selecting assistive technology.
Partnering with Human Resources and Assistive Technology Experts
The need for accommodation arises for various reasons. Employers often ask new employees when they are hired if they need any accommodation. For existing employees, when new accommodation needs arise, an HR representative is often one of the first to know. This makes HR a pivotal resource for learning about accommodation needs of employees.
HR representatives are at the forefront for identifying employees who will benefit from accessible technology. Because accessible technology is part of providing accommodation and involves health and privacy issues, it is important to consult with HR and an assistive technology consultant to identify and select assistive technology for individuals.
HR representatives usually manage worker compensation claims, ergonomics evaluations, and accident reports. They should be contacted directly by employees and managers with inquiries about accessibility. An accident report or even a change in an employee's productivity might be a sign of a need for accommodation. HR representatives can be trained to identify these signs.
Do not assume that individuals who are technology experts are also knowledgeable about accessible and assistive technology. Expert consultants who understand disabilities and the latest assistive technology products can provide valuable guidance to organizations. If your organization is large, it might be beneficial to develop one of your own IT professionals into an accessibility expert. In this way, you can avoid relying on outside consultation if you prefer.
See the "Consultants and Resources" more information about how to find accessible technology consultants in your area or to find training.
In order to accurately identify an individual's needs and provide insight into assistive technology, a strong partnership needs to be formed between the employee, the manager, a human resources representative, and a consultant.
See "Identifying the Right Assistive Technology," for two examples of tools used by organizations to select technology for employees.
Clarify the roles and responsibilities in this partnership for a better understanding of who makes decisions and how the partnership will work. The following five lists are a sample of how one organization outlines this partnership.
- Provides medical documentation of need through HR and manager
- Meets with ergonomics team if required
- Meets with assistive technology consultant to review work and work processes
- Reviews assistive technology proposal
- Participates in education and training as required
- Reports any concerns or issues to HR or manager if necessary
- Provides an update on accommodation needs if necessary
- Responds to surveys to help measure success of program
- Partners with HR to assure employee is supported and aware of resources and accommodation process
- Provides clarification on job requirements and business needs if needed
- Reviews assistive technology proposal to see if the proposal will address the business needs and job requirements
- Supports employee in getting training and education on the assistive technology if needed
- Provides or coordinates ergonomic assessment
- Defines and coordinates accommodation and assistive technology process with employee and manager
- Requests medical documentation from employee
- Coordinates assistive technology consultant
- Reviews assistive technology proposal with employee
- Prepares assistive technology proposal for manager review and sends copy to manager
- Provides training and additional information for manager and employee as needed
Assistive Technology Consultant
- Meets with employee to assess assistive technology needs
- Creates a needs assessment or assistive technology proposal
- Recommends assistive technology product(s), from a standard list, if applicable, that meet medical accommodation and business needs
- Sets up products and training on products as required
Medical and Rehabilitation Recommendations
- Provides medical recommendations
- Provides additional or updated accommodation information for employee as needed or required
Ergonomics Evaluations and Accessible Technology Recommendations
A number of organizations, including Microsoft, train their ergonomics specialists to look for situations in which accessible technology will benefit an employee. At Microsoft, all employees can request an ergonomics evaluation, which involves a 30-minute one-on-one consultation with an ergonomics specialist who works in the HR department. This HR representative's role in this case might be as simple as educating employees about changing their font sizes or using different mouse devices, or it might involve a discussion about assistive technology. According to Ellen Meyer, an HR lead at Microsoft Corporation, "Employees who would benefit from accessible technology have been identified through an ergonomics evaluation. Through a coordinated process of review, implementation, and education, these technologies are in place. Ergonomics and accessible technology go hand in hand, so it makes sense for Microsoft to combine the two."
Evaluating and Updating Internal Systems
As part of the design and development step, your organization will need to evaluate, and possibly update, internal systems based on requirements and success measures outlined in Step 2. Integrating the task of checking for accessibility criteria into the update and development process for all your internal systems will help eliminate the need for reengineering later.
For example, a requirement identified in Step 2 might be to provide access to a legacy sales application for employees who are blind. This step determines how you will accomplish that requirement. One approach might be to use a tool that your IT professionals develop to allow access by a screen reader. Other approaches might be to change settings on existing software or acquire another product that makes access possible.
For new systems that are currently being planned, evaluate accessibility needs and requirements and make necessary changes in the design to ensure that your new systems are accessible. To do this, it is necessary to modify design specifications and add accessibility testing into test plans. For example, design specifications can be modified to include keyboard access for all features. Similarly, test cases can be modified or added to test without a mouse to ensure that keyboard access is fully implemented.
For existing systems, evaluate and measure the system against the accessibility needs and requirements. Next, assess the impact based on systems used by the most people, identify the frequency the system is used, and determine if there is an alternative that is accessible. (See the sample list of technology assessment questions in, Determining Your Organization's Assistive Technology Requirements.) Once you've analyzed the impact, prioritize the systems that must be updated for better accessibility. For those that are a lower priority, document the issues and make them requirements for the next scheduled update of the system.
After you have developed, purchased, and updated technology, it is time to deploy technology, and train employees how to use it. This step involves setting up the systems, communicating the change to your organization, and providing training. It is important to align these efforts with the original strategy and success measures to make sure you are on target as the implementation stage unfolds.
The implementation step includes a range of projects such as setting up one computer for a single employee with a disability who is using a new assistive technology product, launching a more accessible intranet site, and deploying a new operating system and office productivity suite across the entire organization.
Deploying Microsoft Products and Adjusting Accessibility Options
For organizations that choose Microsoft products, Microsoft TechNet is a central information and community resource for IT professionals and is one source of assistance. TechNet is designed to meet the technical information needs of anyone who plans, evaluates, deploys, maintains, or supports Microsoft business products.
Microsoft TechNet information is available either online or through the Microsoft TechNet CD/DVD Subscription service. The subscription saves time and increases productivity by providing 12 monthly issues with the latest technical information, service packs, resource kits, tools, utilities, Microsoft Knowledge Base articles, and other information useful for IT professionals.
Once the business products are set up, accessibility options in the products need to be adjusted for people with accessibility needs. Information about accessibility features and options is available in select resource kits available on Microsoft TechNet as well as on the Microsoft Accessibility website. See Accessibility Tutorials and Guides by Impairment. Although these materials were originally written for trainers and users with disabilities, IT professionals who are new to accessibility might find these resources helpful.
Deploying Assistive Technology Products
IT professionals within an organization will likely be the ones called upon to help individuals set up new assistive technology products. Most importantly, whoever helps set up assistive technology should first contact the assistive technology manufacturer to check compatibility with the operating systems and applications that will be running with the assistive technology product. The assistive technology manufacturer should also provide information about settings that need to be adjusted to optimize compatibility.
Deploying Your Internal Systems
As identified in the accessible technology plan, you'll need to roll out any modified or new internal systems. These systems might be newly accessible updated applications that should be rolled out to all employees, or add-ons or new applications for a specific employee's access needs.
Just providing accessible technology doesn't mean employees will automatically know about new accessibility options or how to use them. As part of this step, educate and train employees on how to make full use of the accessible technology available to them. Accessible technology benefits everyone, so be sure to educate everyone about the availability of accessible technology, not just those with disabilities.
Although some organizations choose to offer classroom style training, another option is to provide self-paced training materials on intranet sites. This is an inexpensive and efficient option.
Microsoft publishes a variety of training resources helpful to trainers, and IT professionals and people with disabilities. The next two sections highlight specific training resources available to help customize a computer for people with disabilities and people with accessibility needs.
Microsoft provides accessibility tutorials to introduce computer users to the most commonly used accessibility features in Microsoft products and to show ways to adjust the accessibility options to best meet their needs. Tutorials are available for products including:
- Windows 7
- Windows Vista
- Windows XP
- Windows 2000
- Office 2010
- Office 2007
- Office 2003
- Outlook 2002
- Word 2002
- Internet Explorer 8
- Internet Explorer 7
Guides by Impairment
Microsoft produces a series of Guides by Impairment that organize information into helpful resources by each specific type of impairment. Each guide provides a list of assistive technology and links to tutorials that can be used to customize computers to accommodate an individual with a specific impairment. Guides are available for:
- Vision Impairments
- Hearing Impairments
- Dexterity Impairments
- Learning Impairments
- Language and Communication Impairments
The last step in the accessibility technology planning process involves increasing awareness and sustaining your accessible technology strategy. In this step, you promote the accessible technology vision statement in your organization, support employees' use of the technology, and evaluate the success. This ongoing step is critical—accessible technology is a fundamental part of your business, and true success is measured by how well your employees can collaborate and communicate with one another and how productive individuals will be. It is important that your effort does not result in a big launch with little follow-up. The outcome of this step is continued feedback and synergy that will help you improve your accessible technology strategy over time and make accessibility part of your organization's culture.
Successfully building and implementing an accessibility technology strategy isn't the end of the work. A measure of success for the strategy is having high awareness among employees that accessible technology is available and for employees to understand where to go for information. Another measure of success is for all employees to accept accessibility as a part of the business culture.
Although the saying, "If you build it, they will come," might have worked for Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams, your organization will likely need to increase awareness through various communication strategies. The following sections contain techniques that many organizations use to educate their employees about the availability of accessible technology.
Educate HR and Managers First
It is important that HR representatives and managers be aware of the accessible technology your organization provides, and that they know whom to contact for information.
Consider educating your HR representatives first, and then asking HR to educate managers about the accessible technology. Be sure to hold this meeting or training session for human resource representatives and managers first, so when the program is rolled out to employees, they know where to get more information. Reeducate your HR and management staff periodically at regularly scheduled management and HR-sponsored training sessions.
Educate New Employees at Employee Orientation
Most organizations have some form of orientation for new employees. This is an ideal opportunity to provide information about the availability of accessible technology. Because many people might not even know what accessibility means or what accessible technology can do for them, you might sponsor a presentation by an expert in this area that explains accessible technology and where to go for more information. However, if resources are tight, a simple handout that explains that accessible technology is available and provides a confidential contact person will suffice.
Educate Current Employees through Newsletters, E-mail, and websites
Just because an employee is already on the job and hasn't notified you about his or her accessibility needs, it doesn't mean there are none. Many people do not self-identify as having an impairment, or they might not realize the accommodations available to them. Employees' needs change as they age or if they are involved in an accident. Be sure to educate all employees about the availability of accessible technology through employee newsletters and flyers, e-mail, and websites that explain employee benefits and ergonomics resources. Plan ongoing communication sessions. Although it might seem like the communication is redundant at times, an employee who recently had an accident would welcome a reminder about the assistance that is available.
Once accessible technology is up and running, it is important to keep the gears oiled and running smoothly. Here are a few ideas on how to provide support:
- Assign contact(s) in the IT department responsible for helping individuals with accessible technology issues. Although this isn't necessarily a full-time position, it is important that employees have a point of contact for technical issues. This contact should be aligned with HR to ensure that only technical support is being provided and that no recommendations about needed technology are being made. Such contacts might be consultants hired by the IT department because of their expertise in the area of accessible technology.
- If you have a technical support center to assist employees using technology, educate them on assistive technology products. Train technical support personnel to know when to contact the accessible technology expert to assist an employee with problems related to assistive technology products or accessibility issues. Also, train support personnel to know how to adjust the way they work with an employee for general technical issues when the employee is using assistive technology or uses different access techniques. For example, if an employee indicates he or she is using keyboard-only access, support personnel should know how to translate the step by step mouse instructions they normally use into keyboard instructions.
- Host an accessibility website as part of your IT department's website. Information on the site should include links to the e-mail support alias, a newsletter, and names of people to contact for specific questions.
- Create an e-mail alias for employees to discuss and troubleshoot problems. Such as alias provides employees with an opportunity to share problems and determine solutions. Choose a moderator (preferably the same person assigned to accessible technology in the IT department if the alias is specifically about technology, or an HR representative if the alias if for broad accommodation issues) to make sure the discussion stays on topic and to identify important issues that require additional assistance. Sears encourages their employees to use the disAbled Associate Network to facilitate discussion about ongoing challenges facing their employees with disabilities.
- Publish a newsletter for employees who use assistive technology. This newsletter can include solutions to issues, information about available product upgrades, and new resources available. Individuals should be able to subscribe to the newsletter anonymously, giving them the option to maintain privacy of their accommodation needs or impairment.
- Form a committee that addresses accommodation and accessible technology issues. This committee can meet on an as-needed basis to talk about accommodations, exchange advice, and discuss improvements to the accessible technology strategy.
Evaluate Success and Areas of Improvement
To evaluate success and identify areas of improvement, review the original success measures created in Step 2 and evaluate progress against those original success measures. Many organizations gather data through follow-up surveys and interviews of employees, managers, and IT professionals.
Because integrating accessible technology is a long-term goal, recognize and reward success and follow through on feedback received by outlining next steps and areas of improvement, assigning owners to follow through on the next steps, and determining when you will next evaluate success.
There are many websites and other resources available to help you learn more before implementing your accessible technology plan. As mentioned earlier, seeking consultation from an expert in the field is well worth the investment. This section contains more information on consultants and resources.
See also these additional resources for information about assistive technology products and services for people with disabilities, impairments, and difficulties.
Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers provides are experts on computer technology and accessibility. These centers provide expert consultation on assistive technology and accessibility built into Microsoft. Each center is equipped with video demonstrations and accessibility tutorials that show you how to make computing easier, more convenient, and more comfortable.
The Alliance for Technology Access, has a network of community-based resource centers, developers and vendors, affiliates, and associates dedicated to providing information and support services to people with disabilities and increasing their use of standard, assistive, and information technologies. Find a center in your local area to visit and learn more, or ask for recommendations for local consultants.
The National Business & Disability Council (NBDC), provides a full range of services to assist corporations in successfully integrating people with disabilities into the workplace and marketplace. The NBDC offers services such as customized training and support, informational mailings, and information hotline, and job postings.
The Sierra Group, Inc., is a rehabilitation engineering consulting firm that works with organizations, educators, individuals, and rehabilitation professionals in the area of assistive technology to help increase employability of people with disabilities. Sierra Group consultants evaluate the needs of clients, compare those needs with the diverse talents of individuals with disabilities, and integrate systems and procedures that create successful employment for all.
Although it is possible to develop and implement an accessible technology plan on a case-by-case basis, by using the strategic planning steps outlined here, you will avoid false-starts, decrease costs, and provide higher employee and customer satisfaction. By outlining your vision and objectives first, then assigning owners to carry out the implementation steps and measure progress, you will gain a far greater level of success that positively impacts many more people in your organization.