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‘Accessibility is a journey’: A DEI expert on disability rights

‘Accessibility is a journey’: A DEI expert on disability rights

Higher Ed Dive

Caroline Colvin
July 1, 2022
As HR professionals dig into the accessibility aspect of diversity, equity and inclusion, potholes abound. “Accessibility is one of those terms that engenders a lot of anxiety for folks,” Kelly Hermann told HR Dive. “They’re like, ’I don’t want to do it wrong. ‘I don’t want to be seen as the person who is going to kick the person in the wheelchair or, you know, be discriminatory,’” she recalled.
As vice president of access, diversity and inclusion for the University of Phoenix, Hermann addresses campus accessibility concerns. She shows up for students with disabilities, as well as faculty and staff. As Hermann and her department educate community members on how to show up for their colleagues and course-takers, they seek to assuage worry with one key reminder: Accessibility is a journey.
“You’re not going to get to a certain place and say, ‘That’s it. Everything’s accessible. I don’t have to worry about this anymore.’ There’s always going to be some work to do,” Hermann said. “You’re going to learn some things, you’re going to hit some potholes, and that’s something that we have to expect along the way.”
Often, employers jump to the obstacles that exist in physical spaces: non-existent ramps for wheelchairs, manual doors that lack motion sensors, and the like. But the digital world presents challenges as well. Hermann and the U Phoenix accessibility team like to “demystify” disability for campus members seeking their counsel, she said.
Accessibility is an exercise in thoughtfulness
For example, Hermann said, “PDF documents are notoriously inaccessible, because they’re not structured correctly.” A person using assistive technology may still be unable to access the content, she continued. Similarly, when sharing links, understand that a screen reader can only do so much to guide a worker to the right URL, she said.
“Are you making those links descriptive and are you using keywords? Or are you just saying ‘click here’ and that’s your link?” Hermann asked. Like a sighted person, an individual with a disability can also scan a webpage for links with assistive technology, but this happens audibly, Hermann said, “They tell that tool to skip by link and this is what they hear: ‘Click here.’ ‘Click here.’ ‘Click here.’ ‘Click here.’ With four links on the page all hyperlinked with ‘click here,’ [they] don’t know where [they’re] going.”
Hermann is a big advocate of weaving accessibility into every aspect of the workflow. Over the course of her conversation with HR Dive, an ethos emerged: sure, technically, employers are well within their right to wait for a worker to request reasonable accommodation under the ADA, but why not be accommodating from the start?
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