by Christine McDonough, Senior Manager, Content Team & Angela Lankford, Senior Design Writer
Imagine you suddenly lost most of your hearing and needed to rely on captions for video – but about half of the videos you need to watch have no captions. Or the words are badly misspelled and confusing.
Now imagine you lost most of your vision and need to rely on a screen reader to use your phone or computer. How would you navigate these challenges? Do you know what a screen reader is and how to get one?
If we want to improve our employment, we need skills and experience. And we often view education as the main path to improving our employment. The biggest problem? Most schools and workplaces are severely lacking in accessibility.
Accessibility Does Not Automatically Equal Usability
Accessibility is one of the biggest barriers to Higher Ed. Although there are legal requirements for schools to accommodate disability needs, it usually meets a bare minimum that often falls short of a good experience. Even when it’s done well initially, the experience fades as time and technology move quickly.
Keeping accessibility up to standard requires not only money and time but people with knowledge. It’s worth it, because accessibility opens pathways to opportunities that can create a more equitable place for learners with disabilities in the workforce, and ultimately make the experience better for everyone.
What Percentage of People with a Disability Participate in the US Labor Force Now?
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Less than half of people with a disability are employed compared to those without a disability. The unemployment rate is double.
|Persons with a Disability, Aged 16-64, 2021||Persons without a Disability, Aged 16-64, 2021|
|Labor Force Participation Rate||35.2%||76.5%|
Many factors influence these statistics, including fully accessible workplaces, social stigma about disability, and presumptions about ability. The other is
What can educational institutions do about these obstacles? For those of you in higher ed, this means advocating for accessibility. Focus on providing a variety of accessible opportunities for learners to engage in work-based learning, career exploration, and job-skills training within courses to help students understand their options and what accommodations they might need to do the work.
Whose Responsibility is it to Improve the Experience?
This gets tricky. It’s everyone’s responsibility, but that sometimes means nobody takes responsibility. While everyone can advocate for accessibility, it relies on the folks making strategy and defining the budget. Keeping online accessibility up to standard needs a lot of resources. Not only money and time, but people’s knowledge. It needs to be a budget item with real goals tied to it.
How Can Higher Ed Make Real Changes?
Many Higher Ed institutions are partnering with EdTech companies to incorporate scenario-based learning and interactive modules to teach students employment skills or engage in hands-on career exploration in a risk-free environment.
Even though a school’s LMS may meet web accessibility standards, any time a new resource is added, it is best practice to review it to make sure the resources are accessible.
Belonging and Messaging
Technical access alone does not complete the picture. Belonging has been shown to directly impact our success in school and beyond in other aspects of our lives.
Defining policies and initiatives is a real first step to telling the world where you want to place efforts. This sends a message telling people they belong and space is being made for them. But take care – the message has a hollow ring when people see little or no follow-through on the actual implementation.
While everyone can advocate for accessibility, it’s leadership who needs to take the reins, so those who want to learn and improve their employment