Accessibility, in both education and work environments, is incredibly important in ensuring that every person, regardless of their health or ability, can efficiently complete their work. Accessibility is the practice of making things accessible to everyone, regardless of ability. In person environments can sometimes be lacking in all of the necessary accommodations for those with disabilities, often eliminating their ability to be involved in those environments at all. As the world shifts to more digital options for both work and school, this accessibility is available in ways it wasn’t before. However, while digital environments are often more accessible than in person ones, this does not mean no effort needs to be made. There are still actions that can be taken to ensure the most accessibility possible.
There are many ways to make sure your work environment is more accessible, both in person and in a digital way. Focusing in on any discrepancies in your workplace’s accessibility, educating your employees, and committing to equal opportunity employment are all actions you can take in order to make your work environment more accessible. Practicing digital accessibility is also incredibly important. Digital accessibility is very similar to normal accessibility, but it is shifted to work within the context of digital media. “Some examples include (but are not limited to): screen readers that parse a website for a user with visual impairments, videos on websites are closed-captioned for individuals with hearing impairments, images include “alt text” for individuals with visual impairments, and websites must be navigable by keyboard for users who may not be able to operate a mouse (i.e., navigating using the “Tab” on a keyboard)” (https://www.codecademy.com/articles/what-is-digital-accessibility). Many disabilities and health conditions can lead to a person being unable to go into a work environment, and with the recent shift to almost entirely digital work for a lot of people, this provides an opportunity to ensure that these environments become more accessible permanently. Gunnar Esiason, in an article he wrote for US News, talks about his own struggles with workplace accessibility and how this shift has changed things dramatically. “I am both a graduate student and patient leader living with cystic fibrosis, a complex medical condition that requires arduous and active care cycles every morning and evening. The most disruptive aspect of life that comes with cystic fibrosis is the amount of time we spend caring for the condition. Time is stolen from us in the form of expected years of life, but the condition also clutters our days with treatment routines and, in the worst cases, days and weeks spent inside the hospital. For those of us who have lived with advanced lung disease, the thought of going to school or working full time is a matter of piling those responsibilities onto another full-time job – surviving.” For those that do have severe medical conditions or other disabilities, sometimes surviving is the hardest part of their day. Due to this, the need for participation in work or school to be an easy, not stress inducing experience, is incredibly important. “This virtual world is a great equalizer. It’s going to allow the homebound college student living with a complex medical condition access to the same lecture hall as hundreds of incoming freshmen at an elite university. Better yet, that homebound student will be conferred the same degree she would have received had she been on campus. This new world also is going to allow the brilliant programmer who had to leave the workforce because of a sudden onset illness to rejoin the economy, which increasingly is just a video call away. (https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-06-23/coronavirus-has-leveled-the-playing-field-for-people-with-disabilities?fbclid=IwAR1evHuWIuCS3RSie0JpNvm3U1AGDAaPnt7–ZSXNC6lNWTc-9Flr7yLwSU).

Accessibility in school is also incredibly important and becoming more common within this digital environment. There are many ways to ensure that accessibility is practiced within education, such as assistive technology, teacher training in working with disabilities, and content that is catered to any specific needs of students or teachers. One example of accessibility in a classroom is subtitles on educational videos and programs for students. “In my first-grade classroom, a third of my students were learning English as a second language. Though my English learners were the initial reason I started using closed captioning on videos, I soon realized that students with special needs also benefited. As a public-school teacher, I had to constantly evaluate how my teaching practices and materials could better include and empower the vast diversity in my classroom.” In a digital age, school is becoming more accessible in that each student has more room to learn in the way they need to, and can often take their own pace with their online classes in order to make sure that they are learning everything they need to. Each student has their own specific needs, and “any classroom teacher will tell you the importance of differentiating instruction and materials for students’ diverse needs. It’s also crucial that when you introduce a new digital learning tool into your classroom, you make sure it will be accessible to your students” (https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/3-steps-to-a-more-accessible-classroom).

Tagged on: