Empathy and the accessible web experience

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Tuesday, 31 March 2015 11:05am

Have you considered taking an empathy-based approach to identifying how your organisation can make itself more accessible for people with disabilities? Perhaps you should.

Man using a laptop while sitting cross-legged on a sofa

Empathy training and developing emotional intelligence are gaining in popularity as ways to better understand customers, improve collaboration with colleagues and to develop better leaders.

Another area in which many organisations can benefit from applying empathy and emotional intelligence is examining how people with a disability can (or can’t) interact with them.

Media Access Australia’s resident web accessibility expert, Dr Scott Hollier, says one helpful way to begin doing this is for organisations to consider their digital accessibility—that is, the ability for people with disabilities to use websites, online services, mobile applications and documents.

“Organisations should ask themselves what it is like to use their website if you are someone with a disability,” Dr Hollier says. “Run through the simple empathy exercise of turning off your screen and use only screen reading software and a keyboard to navigate your site. Can you do it?

“Also audit your own website for accessibility, or if you can’t, get in an external expert to do it. There’s also the option of upskilling your staff through professional development so that they can audit your own website for accessibility.”

Another way for organisations to harness empathy and emotional intelligence is for them to view their own internal culture through the prism of disability and ask whether accessibility forms part of that culture, Dr Hollier says.

“Is your organisation set up where you have a single web accessibility champion who is the go-to person whenever there is an issue, or do you take an organisation-wide look at accessibility? It should be the latter, and everyone should know their part when it comes to accessibility,” he says.

“Do senior managers know what they need to do to make sure accessibility is considered? Do web developers, designers and content producers know what to do with your website? Does marketing and communications know what to do with social media?”

Another dimension to gauging the presence of an accessibility culture is in determining whether there are proper practices and processes around managing complaints from people with a disability, Dr Hollier says.

“For many organisations this again means putting yourselves in the shoes of people with a disability and making sure that people can actually make a complaint—be that on your website or over the phone or in person,” he says.

“After that, examine what happens to that complaint. If it’s an email, does the complaint just sit in an email inbox no-one ever checks? Is someone assigned to addressing complaints? How are they trained or equipped to address the specific needs of someone with a disability?”

Lastly, Dr Hollier advises organisations to put themselves in the shoes of prospective employees and assess whether people with disabilities are able to apply, gain and retain employment with a given organisation. That is, focus on accessible employment.

“You should review your document accessibility. Ask yourself whether any documents related to employing people—job descriptions, forms etc.—are accessible, and again ask whether your online recruitment system and processes are accessible too.

During the recruitment process and afterwards, look at your internal ICT—desktop computers, devices and software—and ask whether they are also accessible for people with a disability.”

Read more on making your organisation accessible

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