Andy Hinxman discusses the measures you should take as an employer to cater for workers with certain disabilities.
As a small business owner you may sometimes feel as though you are weighted down by the steady stream of red tape and paperwork. Unfortunately it is all part and parcel of running your own business and eventually you do get used to it – however frustrating that may be.
One piece of legislation that I was looking at recently was the Equality Act 2010. It states that an employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid a person with a disability being put at a disadvantage compared with non-disabled people in the workplace.
This could mean adjusting the employee’s working hours or providing them with a special piece of equipment to help them do their job. One of the great things about IT is that providing the right piece of kit, for a person with a disability, is now really easy and there is a very wide range of software and apps available.
There are two main categories for disability. One I’ve called ‘internal’ for conditions you can’t see, like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and depression which are usually hidden and the employees may even be reluctant to tell you that they have them. The other I will call ‘external’ to describe physical disabilities that are usually much more obvious. This could be anything from sight difficulties to limited limb movement.
Of course the first thing you need to consider is what your employees’ issues are, what are the challenges they need to overcome? But remember the spectrum of disabilities, even within conditions, is wide and varied. What will suit one person won’t work for another. The simplest thing to do is to ask your employee what they want to be able to do their job and then find the relevant technology to help them do it. As an employer I think you have to be quite proactive in this but it is very worthwhile as it can make a huge difference to the company and the individual.
Below is a guide that should help you start thinking about the range of help now available.
A person with ADHD may struggle with some of the standard colours on a computer. They may find some more energising than others and that can increase anxiety. You can add filters to the screen and minimise sounds.
You may have an employee who has mental health issues. Ask what they need to be able to do their job. It may be something as simple as taking longer screen breaks or have the computer set up so they can look outside without having light shining on their screen.
Research has shown that spending too long – five hours or more – sitting in front of a screen can increase the risk of depression. With all the cloud-based systems now available could you let your employee work from home? This may allow them to take more screen breaks, without feeling guilty. They may also be able to split their day up better to deal with their illness while at the same time still being able to work and keep in contact with colleagues.
Dyslexia is far more common among some of the most talented employees than most people realise. Spell checker has made their lives easier but there are also now apps that can help.
Cloud computing makes it far easier for your employees to work from home effectively and that can assist people with a range of disabilities. Fighting through the crowds and dealing with the rush hour is tough without having difficulty walking or dealing with a stomach condition that can cause embarrassment. You can share documents via a whole range of systems, for example, Microsoft Office 365 for not much more than buying a round of cappuccinos. I know that some employers still worry that working from home will increase ‘skiving’. Of course you need to be able to trust your employees better than that. However if you don’t there are plenty of tools you can use to ensure your employees are putting in the screen time should you want to check up on them.
An alternative is to allow employees to travel outside rush hour. To make the most of their time you can help them work on their journey. There are now apps which can enable them to not only check emails but also to search and write documents when on the move.
If you have employees who are partially sighted or can’t move their arms to use the phone there are plenty of speech recognition software programmes out there. Cortana describes itself as ‘your personal assistant on your Windows phone’. For Mac users Siri is the equivalent. For people working in an office take a look at Dragon Dictate. It lets you convert speech to text on your computer.
Employees with hearing problems could benefit from software that works with their hearing aid. Instant messaging technology also means that these employees can be included in office ‘chat’ and more informal conversations, often key to including them in work decisions, which can make a huge difference to their work experience. However some of the chat technology doesn’t work well with Cloud so check before installing one.
Those who have issues with using a computer keyboard, because of limited movement, should be offered software which allows them to touch the letters or words on the screen when writing documents. There are even systems which will move a page just by following your eye-line.
When I first started in IT I was too embarrassed to tell my colleagues that I had trouble seeing the screen because I am partially sighted. Rather than changing the resolution I would sit with my nose pressed against the computer. One occupational health consultant was unhappy with my posture and insisted I sit back in the chair properly. When I explained I couldn’t see the screen from there because I have such poor sight, he didn’t know what to do!
Now I run my own company I get to choose my own screen resolution, size of font, colour and so on. I hope it makes me more compassionate with my own staff; those who have a disability or not. The only time my disability affects my work is when clients call up when they have problems with their computer and say: ‘My screen resolution has changed size. It is massive and I don’t know how to change it. Does it think I am blind?’
Andy Hinxman is owner and founder of Keybridge IT.