Accessibility in the workplace – a competitive edge

People across Europe increasingly rely on technology to get their jobs done. But if you have a disability, this can be a challenge. Almost half (48%) of all EU citizens living with disabilities are unemployed. This means over 38 million people are missing out on the opportunity to participate fully and equally in society. Improving this state of affairs by creating workplaces adapted to the needs of those with disabilities is essential in order to empower individuals to make the most of their potential. But it also makes good business sense.

A new study by Forrester Research examines how organizations across Europe have integrated accessible technologies and strategies within their organizations, and the tangible benefits this has delivered. Over 80% of organizations surveyed from across both the private and public sectors agree that their accessibility strategies have helped them build a more diverse workforce from a broader talent pool, or retain employees who have become disabled.

Even more strikingly, the benefits of rolling-out accessible technologies across an entire organization were found to stretch well beyond the immediate value for employees with disabilities. 80% of private sector and 75% of public sector organizations highlighted  that in doing so, they were able to increase productivity and efficiency among their entire workforce.

This broader value is confirmed by “hard” business indicators: 79% of organizations agreed that accessible technologies have helped them improve their overall customer experience, considered a “high” or “critical” business priority for most organizations. And by ensuring consumer-facing services such as an organization’s website are more accessible, companies can tap into a wider revenue pool.

But providing accessible technologies for employees also has more intangible business advantages, from improving the public’s perception of an organization’s social commitment, to boosting employee morale and trust. It’s often underestimated how much value consumers and employees attach to how a company treats a minority of its workforce.

The importance of this wider business case cannot be overstated. Many organizations noted ongoing challenges to achieving accessibility goals due to high initial investment costs, a lack of know-how and expertise, and in some case, limited support from senior management. However, accessibility has substantial economic and reputational benefits for every facet of an organization. Integrating accessible technology solutions into businesses strategies and including accessibility criteria in procurement processes in a more systematic and strategic way can give businesses both big and small a competitive edge, and can make public sector organizations more efficient and inclusive. This makes accessibility not just a nice thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

Adina Braha-Honciuc
Director Sustainability Policy, Europe

Adina Braha-Honciuc leads Microsoft’s Sustainability and Environment Policy in Europe.