Takingthe time to ensure your intranet system is accessible to all your staff couldsave you money and reduce the risk of legal action, as Dean Russell discoversMany companies have intranet systems in place. Their usual role is asprimary resource centres containing key information relating to employees’daily activities. Often, the intranet becomes a fundamental part of employees’working lives, reducing the need for the paper-based office and helping toensure optimum productivity and efficiency. If the intranet is inaccessible to an employee because of a disability orfactors related to their age, it is possible the company will be breakingpresent anti-discrimination laws or codes of practice. It is the responsibilityof HR departments to ensure such discrimination does not take place. Keeping in compliance A variety of issues are covered by the umbrella term ‘disability’, whichhighlights that an accessible intranet must satisfy a range of criteria tofulfil everyone’s needs. Often the issues can seem conflicting. Whereas a blindemployee would rely on text-based information to enable a screen reader tospeak the screen content, a dyslexic user will require strong imagery withoutreliance on text. Seemingly contradictory, these two issues can be resolved bybest practice coding. In this case, alternative text would be required for allimages and animations, which will be read aloud by the screen reader, allowingstrong imagery and text information for both users. Furthermore, incorporatingalternative text enables users with personal digital assistants (PDAs), lowbandwidths, text-based browsers and other visual impairments to accessinformation. Key issues to consider are how users with various disabilities will accessthe information. For example, a person who is deaf will not be able to hearaudio content; a colour blind user will be unable to perceive certain colourcombinations; an employee suffering from repetitive strain injury may be unableto use a mouse; and a user with low vision won’t necessarily be able to readthe text content without increasing the font size. Ultimately, the intranet should not rely on a single method for informationaccess or navigation. Assuming all users have the same ‘abilities’ willultimately lead to problems. To try one simple example, attempt to navigatethrough the company intranet using just the keyboard. Can you get to all thedocuments and pages quickly and easily? The older generation of users For older employees, an accessible intranet system must become more flexibleand welcoming to natural age-related changes we all face. As we grow older, itis common that our quality of eyesight (including colour perception) willdecrease, along with hearing, physical mobility, memory and often confidencewith new technologies. So, increased accessibility is valuable in reducing thefears and stresses older workers may encounter, along with the physical use ofthe applications. With the intensified drive towards recruiting/retaining older employees –due to the obvious experience, loyalty and performance benefits – then accessibilityis crucial. Furthermore, legislation such as the US Age Discrimination inEmployment Act (ADEA) and the forthcoming EU Equal Treatment Directive meansorganisations need to be aware of possible routes of discrimination, and needto ensure the intranet is not playing a part in this. To aid developers with the multitude of issues facing accessible interfaces,the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created a set of accessibility guidelines.These identify priority points for enabling all users to access a website, andtherefore, an intranet system. Many governments quote these guidelines worldwide. This is due to theincreased fear of a digital divide, which has seen an increase in legislationand guidance across all continents including countries such as the US,Australia, Canada, Japan and all European Union Member States. How should HR react to this information? The issues need to be raised with relevant departments. Mentioning the W3Cguidelines should give a quick clue to whether or not they are aware ofaccessibility issues at all. If specific measures are not already in place, HRmust champion them internally and at boardroom level. In many cases, modernising the intranet may be as simple as incorporatingthe W3C guidelines into present page templates. These can be incorporated overa defined period or, if a new intranet is being planned, implemented into thenew system – but HR must ensure the IT department and project team are fullyaware that the organisation may be at risk of discriminating against present orfuture employees if the intranet remains inaccessible. It is possible HR will encounter a general perception that accessibility isfor the ‘few’. However, developing a fully-accessible intranet system greatlyenhances the workplace environment for all employees. Accessibility includesmany aspects based upon good design and usability, vastly increasingefficiency, reducing frustration and increasing access to a multitude of platforms,from future handheld devices to legacy web browsers. For HR, accessibility should not be seen as just an IT department issue.Investigating your organisation’s accessibility policies is crucial, and in theprocess you will help increase efficiency, save costs and reduce the risk oflegal action. About the authorDean Russell is a consultant and accessibility expert with Bluewave, aglobal online solutions provider www.bluewave.com Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Accessing all areasOn 1 Oct 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.