Did you know that the ADA requires that workplace technology be accessible? We are all familiar with some ADA accommodations. Software has become much more accessible, but accessibility in communications has been challenging. Innovations like Donoma OneVoice are creating a more inclusive and productive work environment.
What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is legislation that outlaws discrimination against people with disabilities. It provides legal protection to ensure access in workplaces, schools, and transportation. It is designed to provide people with disabilities the chance to participate in the mainstream of American life.
Who needs to comply with ADA requirements?
The ADA applies to organizations and businesses that fit one or more of the following criteria:
- All local, county, state, and federal government agencies.
- Any business that relies on the general public or operates for their benefit.
- Companies that currently have 15 or more employees.
The ADA has 5 sections, (called Titles) that relate to different areas of accessibility. Here we are focusing on Title II because it impacts our area of expertise: communications technology.
Who is covered by the ADA?
The ADA defines an individual as disabled if:
- they have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity
- they have a record of having such an impairment or
- they are perceived as having such an impairment.
An individual with a chronic or incurable condition would be covered by the ADA. By comparison, the ADA would not apply to an individual with a minor condition of short duration, such as a broken bone.
In any case, a disabled employee must be able to perform the essential functions of their job; with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Is mild to moderate hearing loss a disability under the ADA?
Hearing impairment, is defined as a partial or total inability to hear. It can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound, to the point of total deafness. This is classified as a disability under the ADA.
There are specific metrics to quantify a hearing impairment:
- the average hearing threshold sensitivity for air conduction must be 90 decibels (dB) or worse in the better ear, and
- have a bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels (dB) or worse in the better ear.
What’s a “Reasonable Accommodation”?
Under the ADA, the answer is not simple. An employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations for their employee, unless doing so would be an undue hardship.
Once the employee gives notice of the need for a reasonable accommodation, the employer has a duty to collaborate with the employee to determine options that work for both parties. (In some cases, they cannot, and if the employer can show that it would create hardship, they may refuse the request)
How are voice communications becoming more accessible?
The ADA requires that all forms of communication must be as understandable to people with disabilities as it is for people who do not. Accessibility is now a priority for most major software companies, and many more have adapted to offer solutions.
At Donoma, our OneVoice application started by delivering an audio voicemail to an employee’s email inbox. A great productivity benefit to be sure, but not yet helpful for those with a hearing impairment. Then we introduced our Speech2Txt™ audio transcription and our language translation options.
Now, voicemail is immediately transcribed, making it easy to read. The contents of an incoming voicemail can be visuallypreviewed with a high degree of confidence. This is because the quality of OneVoice’s transcription is so much better than what has previously been commercially available. Because OneVoice is powered by AI – the cost is significantly less than prior solutions that required messages to be manually reviewed, transcribed, and relayed. This made privacy very difficult to protect and created extra time and expense to accommodate the needs of hearing-impaired staff.
Help employees cross language barriers too.
OneVault’s incoming audio can also be translated from and into many languages. This enables all workers to understand incoming messages in languages they do not speak. OneVoice immediately translates the incoming audio and delivers the message transcribed and translated.
Strategies to champion accessibility within your organization:
- Work with your IT and procurement teams to ensure IT systems and software products offer accessibility options.
- Ensure accessibility options will streamline individual accommodations and increase everyone’s productivity.
- Work with your CIO and leadership to offer a centralized approach to digital accommodations that it is well communicated.
- Advocate for and contribute to the development of an enterprise-wide digital accessibility plan.
- Build relationships with HR, Marketing, Legal, Risk Management, Procurement, and other key functions to identify solutions and work through issues that arise during the accommodations process.
For a more complete list of communications technologies available, visit the Job Accommodation Network for in-depth resources and their Workplace Accommodation toolkit.