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A. Martha Johnson, M.Ed., R.P.R.
RBC Royal Bank
315 Front Street West
Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3A4 CANADA
This presentation discusses the conceptual meaning of universal access relative to adaptive technology. The purpose is to identify key strategic initiatives operationalized within the workplace to remove barriers and leverage the skills and competencies of individuals with disabilities; specifically, employees with disabilities within the financial services industry.
LEVERAGING SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES WITHIN THE WORKPLACE
When discussing adaptive technology and universal access the terminologies vary in expression. However, a formidable question remains consistent, "What is being done to include individuals with disabilities in all aspects of everyday life?" The focus of this presentation is the question "what is being done to leverage the skills and competencies of individuals with disabilities relevant to accommodation within the workplace environment. More over, "What is being done to form a level-playing field within the employment environment?" It is a perspective that considers the balance from a holistic framework.
INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES POSITIONED AS ROLE MODELS FOR THE USE OF ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY
John Hockenberry in the August 2001 publication of Wired magazine discussed his understanding of the "brain-machine interface." He asserts, "We live at a time when the disabled are on the leading edge of a broader societal trend toward the use of adaptive technology." Hockenberry suggests that individuals with disabilities have historically adapted various forms of technology to meet their needs concerning communication, movement and interaction with their environment. This perspective is influenced by the supposition that the interaction between body and machine is often influenced by an individual's socio-cultural environment.
ACCESSIBILITY: THE AGENT OF CHANGE
Individuals are witnessing accessibility as an agent of change reflected in the socio-cultural influences within society. "As a result of 1981 being recognized as the International Year of the Disabled tremendous progress was made with respect to physical access, (eg) Barrier-Free standards with respect to building codes and construction. This resulted in a shift in focus to examine the intellectual and competency based access for person with disabilities. The questions became- "How will society and mainstream culture adapt and change to incorporate individuals with disabilities into a culture of intellectual challenge and ability?"
Information technology specialists are witnessing a heightened focus in the area of accessibility and ease of use for all end users. The shape, form and functionality of an end product is driven by the use of technology and its impact on design; be it a wheelchair, a cochlear implant, a keyboard, or a computer program. The need for alternate paths, for communication, movement and interaction is being recognized. Universal access and adaptive technology form an expanding platform from which interest is growing.
Current demographics illustrate a growing population of work-aged individuals with disabilities that constitute an underrepresented population within the general workforce. RBC Financial Group is a North American leader within the financial industry, a reputation driven by success in the area of sales, services, and products that are deliverable, measurable and customer driven. As a dominant force RBC focuses not only externally, but also internally, on its employees. Having diversity for growth and innovation as a core value RBC staunchly supports accessibility as an agent of change and profitability.
SHAPING THE WILLED FUTURE
Demonstrating universal accessibility to information technology through product design will translate into sustaining ones' leadership and, being the employer of choice among individuals with disabilities.
SYSTEMS & TECHNOLOGY: STRATEGIC INITIATIVES
1. Identifying the Roles: Forming the Foundation
Systems and Technology (S&T) identified two distinct but interactive roles dedicated to focus on the corporate objectives; being, (1) to research, test and develop accessible end products, and (2) to deliver accessible systems for end users. Through strong senior management support and directives, assistance is provided to ensure all new systems and applications may be used by a diverse employee base. This includes, those for whom technology historically had in some applications, been inaccessible.
The role of Accessibility Consultant was implemented. This role is focused on establishing monitoring and maintaining bank policies and standards relevent to accessible web sites and system development. Dedicated to promoting accessibility within S&T, the communication of bank policies and standards serve as the backbone to ensuring development is in compliance with the accessibility guidelines and policies of the bank.
The role of Adaptive Technology Analyst was also created to support the use of adaptive technology within the workplace. While dedicated to ensuring product standards and integrity, a critical component of the role is to ensure adaptive hardware or software in use by employees with disabilities be compatible with the current applications within the bank environment.
2. Implementing Actions: Operationalizing the Infastructure
A primary channel of communication within all of the organization is the intranet. We have developed on our intranet site a section dedicated to the issue of accessibility and technology which is accessible to all our employees. With our strategic goals and objectives in mind, the 'what' and 'why' of accessible technology and information is here. From this centralized accessibility source, there are links to other accessibility-related sites within our intranet such as; Process to Purchase Adaptive Technology, Web Accessibility Checklist, and Accessibility Standards to name just a few are identified.
As an example, the accessibility page links to the process to purchase adaptive technology web site, itself containing related links to internal Human Resource Folios which outline corporate policies and procedures on (a) accommodating individuals with disabilities, (b) manager-initiated workplace assessments, as well as (c) funding of adaptive technology through the bank's strategic initiative: the "I Make It Barrier Free" program, a centralized funding source for purchasing Adaptive Technology as well as other accommodation expenditures, e.g sign language interpreters.
3. Strategic Planning: Constructing the Framework
Posted in full on a accessibility website are the accessibility standards and guidelines that serve as policy for the organization. We adopted the guidelines of the W3C and its WAI standards which are recognized by our Federal Government as industry best practices for accessibility guidelines. External consultants were contracted to generate The Web Accessibility Checklist, a documentation specific to our needs highlighting the W3C's Priority 1 compliance variables to be adhered to throughout the development of an Accessible web site. Using this checklist as an authoritative guideline, but not an exhaustive source on web site accessibility, web developers are effectively equipped to identify and mitigate accessibility issues in their code development.
4. Existing Reality: Integrating Accessibility into the Corporate Technology Direction
To identify the bank-supported and qualified technologies, a list documenting technology and related products has been created to maintain technology consistentcies and to expediate the qualification process for technology bank wide. This list of technologies, adaptive or otherwise, is designed to reflect the direction technology is moving within S&T-RBC Financial Group. Integrating the adaptive technologies into the format which mainstream technologies have been documented means accounting for, and recognizing the current use, supportive structures and the planned direction of adaptive technology within the business or organization.
How The Willed Future Becomes The Future Existing Reality: Creating Ongoing Communications, Management Support & Accountability
As discussed in this presentation a strategic goal of RBC is to ensure technology can be accessed by all with specific focus on employees with disabilities. Making this happen takes vision, and resources. Variables such as needs analysis, forecasting, strategic planning , budgeting, structuring, and implementation are all critical elements to creating a business case for change. A business case for accessible technology is no different whether it be client or employee based. However, the less tangible variables such as fostering accessibility awareness among key business partners is an integral part of identifying the needs and solutions. Not to be overlooked is the aspect of educating and training web and system developers in the area of accessibility guidelines, standards, and tools, along with aquiring genuine "buy in" into the endeavour are the mitigating success factors.
LESSONS LEARNED: OBJECTIVES ACCOMPLISHED
I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the challenges as well as successes we've experienced and lessons we've learned. Important to remember is the accountability factor, although we do have checklists in place to clarify responsibility, it is a learning process and as organizational change occurs it is paramount that accountability is underscored by a well documented process. Senior management has acted as a valuable resource and support system for this responsibility.
Centralized budgets have been effective in ensuring that the financial costs of initially accomodating an employee with a disability will not impact on the established operating budget of an individual business unit. In subsequent years, the on-going accommodation expense would be included in future department budgets, as simply the cost of human capital.. Important here is the ability to work across the various lines of business and functions for this type of integrated solution and support. "Buy in" needs to occur from all groups and not only a few.
Government has been critical of the bank's workforce representation, citing its lack of mirroring the society at large. However, the bank has set the foundation through its' initiatives, support, and attention to the skills and competencies individuals with disabilities not only possess but contribute to the workforce, that impel society to provide the support and vision through this perspective.
As we move forward through the 21st century large corporations will be guided by federal legislation, blended with a sense of social resposibility to continue building upon their accessibility initiatives. Society being "their customer base" will demand it. The demographics illustrate people are living longer. As individuals live longer the incidence of aquired disability increases. As aquired disabilities are experienced by individuals, medical science can provide solutions to support individuals in their day to day endevours. Employment is a strong variable acting as a daily endevour for the majority of work-aged individuals. Creating accessibility through technology affords employment sectors such as the financial services not only a larger market base, but a larger employee base. Whether employee or customer focused it is a base that is to be considered inclusive, diversified, and capitalizing on the skills and competencies of everyone. When examining universal access and individuals with disabilities, RBC-Royal Bank is dynamically involved in enhancing accessibility through the use of adaptive technology. We value the individuals and work to levelerage their skills and competencies through maximizing access and removing barriers.
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