Encourage accessible distributed teams
CivicActions is proudly a distributed team. For over 15 years we have been working remotely with staff around the world, working effectively online. Working virtually allows some people with disabilities to excel. Often people with physical disabilities face barriers in traditional office environments which may not be able to provide an accessible office or sufficient accommodations to participate equally. By using video conferencing, slack, email and other online collaboration tools, our team is able to use a more customized workspace at home, and skip the need to commute to a central office.
Unfortunately, there are also people with disabilities which are excluded from participating in many distributed teams. Many deaf and hard of hearing people find it more difficult to read lips or intentions through video conferencing tools. Blind users are blocked by the many visual organization tools like Trello & Mural that do not have good support for blind users. Many websites do not have sufficient support for even keyboard only users.
Fortunately, there are things that we can do to change this. Most popular video conferencing tools now offer AI driven speech to text captioning. This isn't perfect, but is continuing to improve. There is more pressure for visual kanban & sticky note tools to build in greater accessibility. More people are thinking about accessibility before buying IT for their office.
Another approach that some organizations are doing is helping to assign a minder to help people with disabilities navigate systems that are not fully accessible. Often simply being able to DM a colleague to ensure that the message is understood properly can do a lot to reduce anxiety in the workforce.
- Ensure you have captions enabled in Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams.
- Make sure all slide presentations have captions for their images.
- Evaluate any handouts to ensure that they are accessible.
- Don't just send PDFs, where possible include the original document as well.
- If you know people attending have disabilities, ask them about what accommodations might be useful.
- What is the most effective way to communicate at this time with those involved?
- Are meetings organized before hand to allow people to prepare and fully participate?
- How does the facilitator make room for people of all abilities to participate?
- Have people with disabilities been asked if a minder would be beneficial?