In these challenging times, it’s been heartening to see how people are adjusting to the new normal. What’s been very obvious on LinkedIn is the need for greater understanding that our colleagues are more than the personalities we see at work. Instead we’ve learnt to appreciate how they juggle the (understandable) emotions of anxiety and fear as well as practical issues as many home school or take on working from home for the first time.
It made us wonder if this new understanding and necessary patience might also deepen our awareness of colleagues already managing discrete requirements, for example through a physical disability or neurodiversity.
It seemed relevant to share some insight from working with a longstanding client around assistive, or adaptive, technology. (In fact, this project now helps users access and use this in their home environments.)
Maybe this can be a useful blueprint for a wider, non-normative approach to all our comms right now?
All large organisations will have some people who use assistive technology (AT) users and others who may have discrete requirements. Together we call them AT+. Incorporating AT+ users in a change programme isn’t a box to tick but key to how you achieve and benchmark success.
Full disclosure: most of our team are fully able with no identified [or disclosed] learning disabilities so any understanding we have isn’t based on living this. Though as a team, we’ve worked with clients who do have particular requirements and they’ve trusted us and we could learn from them.
Indeed, we’re indebted to our AT+ users who helped shape our wider work and our understanding. We produced this short video (below) on how you might support AT+ colleagues during change. Perhaps there are lessons here to expand to other groups in our current period of intense change.
We have to change because technology changes
While technology makes it easier for all people to enter the workforce and contribute equally, it’s only part of the picture. Screen readers and adapted keyboards that help with some of the heavy lifting of adapting workspaces are common examples. Yet as technology speeds up processes and systems, we must check that everyone is able to keep pace. With this comes the need to put more effort into accommodating learning styles and work needs. And, as we’re now aware, the wider environment affects learning styles.
Consider AT+ users in the earliest stages
One of the simplest changes, would be to consider accessibility at a procurement level.
For example, we know of a company that adopted new travel booking software. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with their screen-reading software so some users now need phone access until this is resolved. Had they considered AT+ users at review and purchase stage, they probably could have identified this and added it into the benefits analysis.
One size doesn’t fit all
One common problem is project leads make one adaptation and think they’ve nailed it. Even within groups of similar conditions, you’ll almost certainly find that your set up needs to flex to different experiences. Put simply, what works for one dyslexic user (as an example), may not work for another. And this could be for a whole host of reasons.
Previously, we’ve carried out tests, sometimes with AT+ users, to ensure a system is compatible with what and how the users do. If the testing isn’t great, possibly because of software or documentation, we give feedback to the provider directly.
We recently worked with a large, national body with a well-organised, established group representing diverse needs. This Capability Action Network comprised people with a full range of discrete training and access needs. It also reinforced core principles to support its constituency –confidentiality, individuality, and adapting existing standards to support their colleagues. Remember: one person can’t be expert on all requirements, so you have to tap into more people to understand need.
Not every organization is so fortunate to have such a network but maybe current pressure highlights the need for it? Targeted comms with genuine feedback opportunities is a great way to grow as an organisation. Giving different groups a voice helps people identify as valued members of a cohesive group – able to contribute to their organisation’s success. And at this particularly difficult time ‘success’ can be just ‘getting through’.
Why it matters
There are many studies on the benefits of a diverse workspace*. While these tend to focus on gender, race and sexual orientation, the overriding message is the same: the more you open yourself to difference, the more you attract top talent, improve decision making, and understand and connect to customers.
We’re big believers in understanding the past to inform the future. Ultimately though, we can only change and improve from this point forward. So if we could want technology change that takes all communities along, it’s pretty simple: do more; start now.
And while we gained this insight from a discrete project working with AT+ users, it’s a template for wider change. Basing our approach on compassion, thought, imagination and empathy, will do wonders for how we need to work in brand-new circumstances.
We try to use language favoured by recent clients and/or used by groups like the Disability Rights UK. We’re aware that people have different preferred language or approaches – and that language change. Do get in touch with us as a way to help keep improving our understanding.
We’ve listed only the McKinsey article here though we’re always interested in studies on ability / ableism and unconscious bias.
This article is based on Samantha Kinstrey’s LinkedIn article of 20 April 2020. You’re welcome to comment on her article and to share your own experience and insight.