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Accessibility and Accommodations:
Key Takeaways from a Conversation with April Ogden

Inclusive Conversations. Inclusion: Where Conversation Meets Action. Voices of Inclusion in the Workplace. Your Voice Matters. Friday, October 27 at 9am. LinkedIn Live! Logos displayed for It

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year, I joined a LinkedIn Live discussion hosted by April Ogden as part of my involvement in disability employment awareness. April is the founder and owner of It’s Your Outcome, a company that is focused on supporting people with disabilities in the workplace as well as elevating organizations to become more inclusive and accessible. 

Together, we had a robust conversation about accommodations and accessibility. Event participants had an opportunity to ask us questions during the event. It was truly an engaging and dynamic conversation.

Here are some highlights in case you missed it:

If you're a student or employee who needs accommodations, you need to self-advocate to receive assistance.

Accommodations are not just handed out. They must be requested. In order to start the process, the student or employee with a disability has to self-identify as having a disability.

Easier said than done, right? Self-advocating is not easy, and it can be scary. Especially if you haven’t done it before. It’s OK to be in that space. But I want you to know that there are people in your community, school, and work that can help you get your needs met. You just need to take the first step to ask for help. By doing so, you’ll open the door wide to opportunities for you to be successful.

Explore what resources exist at your institution, with your employer, and within your community to give you equal access. You do not have to go at it alone!

April spoke to this from a student’s perspective during our conversation. She made 3 attempts (unfortunately unsuccessful) at college without accommodations after having been diagnosed with glaucoma at age 18. She hid the fact that she had a disability and basically tried on her own to be a successful student. An incredible challenge given the state of her vision. And on top of that, her course materials were not accessible. It was a struggle! But eventually, it motivated her to seek help.

Once she went out into the community to receive the help and support she needed to be successful in her personal and academic life, she blew through college and got her degrees! It’s not that she wasn’t a smart and capable student. The problem was the lack of equal access!

Working with Vocational Rehabilitation completely made a difference for her. Having support to be her own self-advocate led to her receiving accommodations in college, which ultimately allowed her to be successful. It changed the game and her trajectory in life!

When I worked with students with disabilities, I encouraged them to practice self-advocating when we would meet. Especially students just coming out of high school. It’s a tough transition if they are used to their parents being their advocate. But college is a new ball game! Students are now the primary decision-makers, and they have to take the lead in their education. Parents are secondary. This can be a challenging transition for both the student and the parents, but with some coaching and support, it can lead to positive outcomes.

Getting to know your own strengths, areas for growth, and areas where you need assistance is vital to all students to be successful. Self-advocating is a life skill that benefits us all. Finding someone you trust to help you develop this skill is a critical component in the process. But you have to take the first steps to ask for help.

Now, for anyone who is thinking… "accommodations are a free pass to success.” That’s a common myth. Let me explain.

When I was a Disability Counselor, my supervisor always made it a point to say this about accommodations: Accommodations do not guarantee success. They guarantee access. 

Once a student or employee is provided with accommodations, they are still responsible for doing the work to be successful. Accommodations are not a free pass to success. But they do provide an equal playing field so that everyone has the opportunity to be successful.

Case and point. An employee needs a screen reader in order to use their computer effectively due to a vision disability. Is the screen reader going to do all of their work for them? Absolutely not! The employee uses the screen reader as a tool to get work done. At the end of the day, they are accountable for their deliverables. The tools they use to get there may be different compared to others, but that’s OK. The screen reader as an accommodation creates a level playing field for everyone to have the opportunity for success.

Companies that embed inclusion, equity, and accessibility into all facets of their organization are ones to pay attention to. 

Internally, if a company creates employee resource groups that support people with disabilities, groups for a11y's, etc. that will support the creation of a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Also, pay attention to the mission and vision statements of a company, as well as their core values. Demonstrating a commitment to equity and accessibility at the foundational level of the company is important. When leadership values equity, inclusion, and accessibility, it allows the culture of the organization to carry out this mindset and embed it in everything they do.

It can be very challenging to accomplish goals around DEI and accessibility with a ground-up approach (believe me I’ve been there). We need more leadership to lift up these values and bring them to the top of mind instead of as an afterthought. 

Accessibility is an ongoing process. 

There's always room for improvement, be open to feedback! Allow your audience an opportunity to tell you where they experience barriers to accessing your content. 

One way to communicate to your audience how to give you accessibility feedback is to display an accessibility statement on your website. The statement identifies how you address accessibility, how you accept feedback regarding access barriers, areas that have been identified as not accessible, and the plans to remediate accessibility issues to create a more accessible experience.

Accessibility statements are not a requirement according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), however displaying an accessibility statement can certainly communicate how you prioritize accessibility and equity to your audience. If you don’t have one, think about what message that sends to your audience… (I’ll just leave that there).

I get excited when I see an accessibility statement on a website! To me, the company is acknowledging that accessibility is a priority. It’s like they are saying, “We get it. We care about you. We want everyone to have access.” 

Being a professional in accessibility, I do a good bit of educating about accessibility and why it’s important. So when I find groups or people that “get it” that stands out. It means they are actively involved in the mission to make the digital landscape more equitable and accessible to all. They’re an a11y!

There are many ways you can make digital content accessible. 

We touched on color contrast, alternative text, hashtags with camelCase, logical reading order, keyboard navigation, captions, and transcripts for multimedia.

Understanding and following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is key to creating accessible content. Also, performing accessibility testing (both manual and automated) allows you to dig into not only how accessible the content is, but also how well it functions for end-users. Accessibility cannot be accomplished with AI alone. It needs a human touch to determine whether or not it is truly accessible from both a technical and user perspective. 

There are many tools that you can download and use on your own to check for accessibility.

Our website provides you with many resources to help get you started. Including our on-demand tutorial on how to write effective alternative text. Check it out on our Workshop page!

With accessibility, you can certainly piece it together on your own, but be forewarned there is a learning curve!

If you are ready to ditch the stress of a DIY approach to creating accessible content, Contact Us! We are ready to connect with you to understand your needs with accessibility in your digital content. Together, we will create a customized plan to elevate your content to be inclusive and accessible for everyone.

Final Thoughts

I’m so grateful to April Ogden for including me in her Inclusive Conversations series on LinkedIn. She is an incredible female business owner. Her company, It’s Your Outcome, is doing amazing work to elevate disability awareness within workplace DEI programs. Be sure to follow April on LinkedIn and join her newsletter, Inclusion 360, to stay up-to-date on DEI.

We covered so much ground on accessibility and accommodations during this event! We plan to have more conversations like this in the future on LinkedIn Live. Stay tuned!

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