Karthik K is a member of Cisco Bangalore’s IT User Experience/Client Experience team. Blind himself, Karthik promotes accessibility inside and outside of Cisco. He is a recipient of Cisco’s Bridge Award, presented annually to 10 employees who are making a positive impact on people, society, and the planet.
It’s heartening that so many employers are committed to creating a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities. Inclusive hiring policies are an important first step. Equally important is making sure that employees with disabilities have what they need to be productive. My team in Bangalore and our extended regional IT team have come up with inclusive practices that start when employees are hired and continue throughout their career with Cisco. Here I’ll share several pointers.
1 – Provide the right hardware and software
When Cisco Bangalore hires someone with a disability, HR notifies my IT team. We contact the new hire to find out what equipment and accommodations they need—and work with the right point of contact to fulfill the request. For example, employees who are blind or visually impaired often want a screen reader like Jaws. Cisco has a Jaws license, and if a new hire requests Jaws we in Cisco IT typically install it on the laptop before shipping it. When people with impaired vision or blindness work in the office they receive a Cisco IP Phone 8800 with built-in text-to-speech conversion, developed with input from the American Council of the Blind.
People with certain motor disabilities can request a specialized keyboard—for example, with large keys or designed to be operated with one hand. Deaf people are made aware of the captioning option on Webex so that they can start using it from their first meeting.
We also give employees the option to procure a Cisco headset. The Cisco Headset 730 comes with audio announcements for actions such as headset mode, Bluetooth, and so on, useful for people who are blind. The noise cancellation option is helpful for people who are hard of hearing or have certain neurological disabilities
2 – Assign a personal contact for IT support
At Cisco, all new hires are assigned a dedicated IT support engineer to assist them with any IT issues. A Webex space is created for the new hire and support engineer. For new hires with a disability, we coach the support engineer on how to support that person or else add another experienced person to the Webex space.
3 – Point out software accessibility features during training sessions for new hires
During onboarding, all new Cisco employees attend an IT session to learn how to use Webex, check device health, etc. The trainer covers accessibility features that help people with disabilities be productive, such as keyboard shortcuts that take the place of selecting menu items. For more examples, see my blog, Inclusive Collaboration: Making Webex Accessible to All Users.
During training we also point out the different ways to access information or perform actions. For example, employees can either dial IT support or engage with them via chat. Our multifactor authentication (MFA) app, Cisco Duo, has different options, including push and YubiKey. People with certain motor disabilities can’t easily use a YubiKey, so having an option is essential.
4 – Allow BYOD, Bring Your Own Device
Cisco employees can use personal devices like iPhones and Android devices after first registering them with Cisco IT. Allowing people to bring their own devices is especially helpful for people with disabilities because many of us have customized our devices with features such as touch sensitivity controls, screen readers, text-to-speech preferences, etc. If your company does not have assistive technologies and other reasonable accommodations ready, new hires can work on their personal device while you fulfill the request.
5 – Conduct regular training on new productivity software
Cisco IT regularly releases new collaboration software to the workforce. Recent examples include Webex integrations with Microsoft Office 365 and Slido, used with Webex for audience Q&A, live polls, and quizzes. We offer specialized training sessions for employees with disabilities. That’s a good idea because someone who is visually impaired can’t follow instructions like “click here,” for instance.
Keep in mind that accessibility, like inclusion, is an ongoing process. At Cisco we’re aiming for continuous improvement—to succeed we need input. For that reason, we regularly request feedback from employees with disabilities to find out what’s working and what else we can do to help them be fully productive at work.
What does your company do to help people with disabilities be productive? What’s on your wish list? I invite you reply in the comment box.
Webex accessibility initiatives
Great blog Karthik. So proud to be your team mate.
Awesome blog Karthik. Can’t wait to see more of these from you in future
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