The collaboration industry has created so many technologies and standards and products over the years that sometimes we are so focused on the “what”, we forget to talk about the “why.” We are building all of these technologies to help people collaborate better, whether they are in the same room or the other side of the world. Polycom’s vision of Workplace of the Future captures this goal succinctly by focusing on delivering a great User Experience in any Workspace and integrated into the most business-critical Workflows. But what happens to user experience when those collaborating have disabilities and may not be able to access some of the product capabilities? Providing Accessibility for users with disabilities is a core part of Polycom’s mission.
Accessibility is about more than doing the right thing for our customers, there are business and legal implications as well. In 1998, the US Federal Government updated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 introducing requirements for Federal agencies to make Information Technology accessible to people with disabilities, both Federal employees and users of government services. This regulation is often referred to as Section 508 and has served as a framework for for industry. Federal agencies are required to procure products that can support people with disabilities and many other large enterprises have followed suit by implementing similar policies. Technology companies must produce Voluntary Product Assessment Templates (VPAT) that document compliance with Section 508 requirements for all products offered to Federal agencies. In 2010, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) which expanded these regulations to include more modern technologies like mobile devices and video conferencing.
There are many ways to enhance collaboration for people with disabilities, either directly or by facilitating the integration of applications and tools designed for these users. Some examples include:
Having physical keys and buttons with raised dots to indicate finger position
Audible responses to commands, for instance repeating dialed numbers back to the user to confirm
Designing software clients to leverage accessibility features available in browsers and operating systems
Avoiding animations, flashing symbols and other user interface elements that are hard to convey by alternate means
Supporting users with disabilities is an important part of delivering on the Workplace of the Future. Polycom has a long history of providing accessible collaboration solutions to government agencies and commercial customers and, as collaboration solutions continue to evolve, we will continue working hard to deliver great user experiences for everyone. For more on Accessibility and Collaboration, please see this white paper by Ira Weinstein of Wainhouse Research and visit Polycom's Accessibility site.