Managing Coronavirus and Accessibility for Remote Work

Hands pointing at a laptop screen

 With the number of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases rising steadily, many employers have taken the precaution of encouraging or mandating remote work for their employees. This helps reduce the risk of exposure to germs that comes with a shared workplace. Experts are recommending social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It’s especially important for people with disabilities, who may have multiple health concerns or those with compromised immune systems.

Moving to remote work will take some planning to be successful and maintain employee productivity for companies that are traditionally office-based. It is essential for companies to ensure digital accessibility for remote workers to maintain productivity and continue business as usual.

Use accessible file formats

Store and share files in formats that are tagged and accessible to those using assistive technology. The best storage formats include HTML, ePub2, and tagged PDF files.  Tag and describe in-depth all elements within files, especially non-text elements like images, graphs, charts, tables, lists, and headings, so assistive technology users can access the information and use it easily.

Make sure meetings are conducive to all communication methods

Conduct team meetings via video conferencing so attendees have the option to listen and respond verbally, read lips, or type comments in a chatbox. Video conferencing services should include a closed captioning option so participants who are deaf or hard of hearing can participate. You can make use of the chat function in video conferencing to accommodate people who cannot hear. Provide meeting materials well ahead of time so everyone can review and prepare by their preferred method. 

Allow participants to prepare for presentations

Slides used in a presentation should be made accessible and sent out before the presentation begins so participants using assistive technology have time to read through the slides and can follow along during the actual presentation. This is also useful for people with cognitive disorders such as dyslexia. 

Limit the need for paper-based documents

Avoid using forms that must be printed, scanned, and emailed or faxed to another person. Opt instead for accessible, digital forms that are compatible with assistive technology. Use digital signatures where possible. Use size 14 or larger fonts and highly contrasting colors if there are forms that must be printed and physically signed and scanned back.  Avoid background images and colors where possible.

Don’t leave anyone out of demo presentations

You may be participating in more digital demonstrations to replace in-person demos or conference attendance as well. Software demos are all unique to the software, so this will vary greatly. Some ideas to make your demo more accessible are to send out screenshots with detailed alt text of key screens ahead of time so the assistive technology user can follow along. At the very least, the person giving the demo should completely describe the experience- every button, motion, and key should be described as it’s being used. Another option is to offer a one-on-one virtual demo.  In this case, give assistive technology users a trial version of the product. They can then share their screen with the person giving the demo. The demonstrator can walk them through the use of the product, allowing the person’s assistive technology to explain their actions. The demonstrator will need to be sure not to speak over the screen reader.

When in doubt, ask!

It’s always a good idea to ask employees what accommodations they need to help them be productive and successful working remotely. They may have different needs while working at home than they do in the office due to different internet speeds, equipment, hardware or software, lighting, background noise, or any number of individual variables. Asking potential clients how best to work with them using remote and digital technology is also best.  Be flexible and allow the client to choose the method by which they can best understand your content for the best results. 

Make sure help is readily available

Make sure IT and accessibility assistance are easily available via phone call, chat, or email. Inaccessible documents and tools stall workers’ productivity and cause frustration.  Have a variety of assistance methods in the event that one of them isn’t accessible to an employee with disabilities. 

Ensure everyone has the right tools for remote work

Whether your company is implementing remote work due to health concerns or for the sake of flexibility, make sure all employees have the tools they need to be successful in any location. Accessibility for remote workers helps companies maintain productivity and continue business as usual to the extent that it is possible.

Need help making your digital resources accessible? Contact us to find out how we can help.

Looking for advice on managing the sudden shift to remote work? Check out this post by Onix, our parent company. 

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Nina Overdorff

Nina comes to Onix with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries, and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”