How to make remote working inclusive for the deaf and blind

As remote working gains momentum amid the coronavirus pandemic, a multitude of opportunities may open up for people who may not have existed before.

For example, less focus on the desk can attract more people with disabilities into the workforce.

But for businesses, there are still many considerations to take into account when creating an inclusive remote environment for blind and deaf people.

Martin O’Kane of the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the UK said that in the case of visually impaired people, they can often use public transport to get to an office. Remote work may now present an opportunity for employers, but it will test their commitment to inclusiveness.

During the pandemic, video calling has become a cornerstone for many businesses to keep operations running smoothly, whether in team meetings or recruiting new talent.

Organizations like the RNIB and the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Center at University College London have published tips for employers on best practices for working remotely with the visually and hearing impaired.

But these guidelines are constantly evolving with the rapidly changing future of work.

“If you have vision loss, you’re probably using types of technology that will allow you to read information, which could be magnification or voice reading software,” O’Kane said.

“The bottom line for an employer is to make sure that the system you are using is compatible with this software.”

A spokesperson for DCAL said the organization was “determining how we are going to handle this mixed working method.”

“It is essential that the views of Deaf people and their lived experiences are taken into account so that any improvement in technology is really what Deaf people want and need. Not what hearing [people] think they want and need. “

Technological tools

Technological tools, especially for communication and video conferencing, offer employers ways to retain their staff, but it is not always a simple option.

Gilles Bertaux, CEO of Livestorm, a French video conferencing and webinar platform, said he is currently making changes to his platform to better serve the visually impaired.

“In our online meeting room, we try to meet the standards for blind people based on the ARIA specifications,” said Bertaux, referring to a set of standards for web accessibility from the World Wide Web Consortium.

“It is primarily intended for the visually impaired or blind. Concretely, it allows anyone to navigate the Livestorm room with their keyboard. We will work hard on it next year to improve it again.”

He added that his design team is also working on filters to increase color contrast on calls, which will make people and objects more discernible.

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For staff who are deaf or hard of hearing, real-time captioning and closed captioning on video calls is still a nascent but evolving technology with major platforms like Zoom and Google Meet implementing live audio captioning. .

Simon Lau, vice president of product at, a transcription software company, told CNBC that live captions can help reduce so-called “zoom fatigue” for people who rely on lip reading during calls.

Meanwhile, Josh Miller, CEO of video transcription company 3Play Media, said that while the technology in this area improves, it can be “still pretty clunky,” but companies shouldn’t be afraid to test. technology with their employees.

“I think there is a reluctance to engage in these types of services because of the complexity and not necessarily because of the cost. It is not clear how this is actually implemented. One of the things that We’re really excited about simplifying it, ”Miller said.

Human contact

Technology can fill in some of the gaps to keep a team functioning at bay, but there are still old-fashioned considerations to take into account in not relying on technology to have all the answers.

O’Kane of RNIB said companies need to train their employees more effectively about disability as part of their diversity programs.

For video conferencing with the visually impaired, this means more considerate etiquette during calls. This will avoid using too many visual cues to clearly state your name when speaking on a group call.

“If you have a loss of sight and can’t see who is speaking, it can be very confusing trying to figure out who is saying what,” O’Kane said.

“This is to make sure that all staff involved in remote calls have the correct blindness information that is part of their equality and diversity training.”

Web inaccessible

This all goes to the heart of a persistent problem with digital services. According to statistics from Contentsquare, a marketing technology company backed by Softbank, 70% of the web is largely inaccessible to the visually impaired.

The company established the Contentsquare Foundation earlier this year, after acquiring French start-up AdaptMyWeb, which makes assistive software. The foundation helps businesses identify accessibility issues and bottlenecks on their websites, especially for the visually impaired, and has developed a plug-in for users to adjust and improve their reading experience. in line.

Marketing director Niki Hall told CNBC that many companies still don’t know how inaccessible their digital sites or services are and often need it explained to them.

“We give people reports on accessibility issues. Some people don’t even know they have issues,” Hall said. “They can look at it and see what’s wrong with their site and how they can improve it.”

Identifying problems in accessible technology is only one step, she added, creating solutions and creating services that care for all users must be a priority for businesses.

“The bare minimum is to create a level playing field for everyone. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that their employees, their customers, everyone create the best experience, not the frustrating one.”

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