For thousands of Australians living with disability, digital access remains a serious issue. This HR professional decided to do something about it.
Almost 20 per cent of Australians live with disability. Despite this, many employers struggle to adequately serve and include this group in the workplace.
Disability discrimination makes up a large proportion of matters raised with the Australian Human Rights Commission. Many of these are about employment-related matters, including inaccessible technology.
Nicholas Campbell CPHR, Assistant Director in the Culture and Inclusion branch of the Australian Taxation Office, considered the implications of this for the ATO and the opportunity it represented to better support its employees living with a disability.
“I was getting feedback from employees who were struggling because [some software] relied on colours and they were colour blind,” he says. “We also found certain software wasn’t optimised for technology such as screen readers, which read the content of the screen out loud to provide access for people who are blind or have low vision.”
For his capstone project to achieve AHRI’s HR certification, Campbell created an impactful program to better support the ATO’s employees living with disability.
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The ATO has always had a strong commitment to inclusion and accessibility. There has also been a renewed focus from the government, particularly the Public Service Commission, and the community to make sure the ATO is a fully accessible organisation.
“[Accessible technology] removes barriers and allows people to contribute their full potential, increasing engagement and productivity,” says Campbell.
“When we toss around terms like ‘WCAG 2.0’ or ‘digital transformation’, people who don’t have a technical background might feel like they can check out of the conversation, so it’s important for HR to remind them that they have impact too.” – Nick Campell CPHR
During his project, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) revealed a lack of understanding about digital accessibility among employees involved in the software selection process.
“The SWOT analysis identified opportunities for enhanced engagement between the ATO and employees living with disability, and showed that there was still some software in the ATO which had accessibility issues.
“It also found that there was an appetite for leaders to fix these issues and that we have the technical knowledge to tackle it.”
To address people’s knowledge gaps and, most importantly, to improve the work experience for those living with disability, Campbell had to advocate for the prioritisation of this important work.
“We needed to move from a compliance-driven process to a one that focused on building the skills and business capabilities that would influence software purchases,” he says.
“When you give [people selecting software] a stake in the process and they can make decisions for themselves, they want to provide a good experience for their staff.”
Partner with experts in your organisation
To get this project moving, Campbell engaged the ATO’s IT team.
“People tend to think that HR and IT are very different,” he says. “But what I learned from this project was that we both have the same goals; we both want to see the organisation succeed.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Campbell quickly discovered that IT existed in a challenging operating environment.
“There’s the IT technical resources, a software assurance forum, an IT procurement team, then the IT accessibility team. It’s a complex stakeholder set.”
This complexity meant the project went slightly over budget.
“What I would have done differently is allocate more time and budget to stakeholder management,” he says. “But we were able to maintain stakeholder buy-in by letting them know how important the project was and demonstrating this with quick wins.”
These included a review of existing software to find ways to provide equal access.
For example, an HR system used by the organisation was preventing some employees who used screen readers from fully accessing a working-from-home form. As a quick win, the team will now include annotations to the form advising the employee on how to submit it if they have issues.
Building HR’s capabilities
With IT tackling the technology issues, Campbell needed to help the ATO Workplace Diversity team further develop their capabilities as HR partners and champions of accessibility.
To do this, he decided to put his team in the shoes of someone living with disability.
“I’d have a slide up that would show grey text on a grey background (see below) and I’d say, ‘Imagine you started a job in a call centre and you open the script and see this.’ This is what inaccessible software may look like if you have low vision.’”
He then asked employees to apply the Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to identify what should be done instead. In this instance, guideline 1.4 specifies that text should be easy for users to see and hear.
Another example showed an invite where the details of the event were included as a picture rather than text. The image didn’t have any descriptive text, so someone using a screen reader wouldn’t know what it said, which he says would be “frustrating” and could make people feel excluded.
This training highlighted the real cost of inaccessibility and the value of the work of HR.
“When we toss around terms like ‘WCAG 2.0’ or ‘digital transformation’, people who don’t have a technical background might feel like they can check out of the conversation, so it’s important for HR to remind them that they have impact too,” says Campbell.
“People go, ‘That all sounds really technical,’ but it doesn’t have to be. If you go through them one by one, the guidelines can be easy to understand. “Applying WCAG is one of the best ways to avoid disability discrimination related to software.”
Make it part of your normal processes
As a preventative measure, Campbell enhanced the process to review new software for accessibility during procurement and before implementation. The results look promising, with no new software being flagged as having issues to date.
Prior to implementing his accessibility training, only 50 per cent of the Workplace Diversity team felt confident providing advice around technology and inclusion. After the training, 100 per cent said they did.
Campbell now plans to roll the package out among all HR and procurement officers.
He believes building good relationships is the most important driver in creating change.
While this is a software-focused project, it’s really about people, he says.
“I hope the ATO’s journey will inspire others. The more people that get behind this, the more chance we have of getting workplaces to be more inclusive as a whole.”
This article first appeared in the April 2022 edition of HRM magazine.