Inclusivity in the digital collaboration era
Tools and golden rules to adopt when working with deaf people
We often wonder about the meaning that inclusivity has within the work environment and how it applies to the everyday work, leading us to work on the ways employees are engaged and, also, on creating equal terms of accessibility for everyone.
The development of the new ways of working has made our daily activities more and more digital, and our working and communication tools more than ever essential, part and parcel of the different aspects of our work life. With the consolidation of the new ways of working it is even more necessary, then, to recognize and face the barriers and obstacles they create.
We need, then, to keep a trained eye, adopt a flexible approach and also to keep in mind the characteristics that the tools need to have in order to be effective within the communication processes and to be inclusive with respect the different forms of disabilities.
We have decided to start from our organization and our needs, investigating the experience of collaborating within a workspace of a deaf person, identifying the limits of the digital tools we use and the possibilities that can result from new solutions, in support of what we already know.
Therefore, together with our D&I team, we set up a process that could guide us through the understanding of this topic with the purpose of starting an actual internal experimentation, with the aim of defining a few main golden rules that could be shared with our colleagues and integrated in our day-by-day work; besides a desk research aimed at identifying specific tools to be integrated, potentially, in order to support the collaboration processes with respect to our needs.
What happens when a restrict or wider group of people interact remotely?
This phase can be defined as the heart of our research activity. As a matter of fact, even if there are specific tools that can ease the working life of people with this disability, it is also true that realistically it is more likely to use standard tools while working within a corporation. Thus, it becomes necessary to understand what we can do to make the tools already in use more accessible.
We have, therefore, started from our company and identified the three main tools used when collaborating and carrying on sharing activities: Teams, Miro and Mentimeter; and we have organized some experimental sessions together with our deaf colleague, to acknoledge his point of view and his firsthand experience.
More specifically, we have identified the main activities we perform during our meetings using those collaboration tools and we have tried to better understand how to make them easier to use for our purposes, focusing our colleague needs, difficulties and emotions.
This phase was crucial because the focus wasn’t only on the tool’s limits but also on the non-inclusive behaviors that we, as his colleagues, didn’t realize were putting in place. Very often it is difficult, as a matter of fact, to acknowledge how even by following small foresights we can help the work of the people around us.
2. Golden Rules
What are, then, the rules and adroitness that we can take into consideration to evolve our behavior in order to be more inclusive?
Download the PDF of the Golden Rules
3. Desk research
Lastly, a desk research has been carried on, aimed at identifying instruments and features that can support deaf people in communicating online.
Different scenarios have been taken into consideration, evaluating the barriers that are typically faced in deafness and the digital tools that can help overcome them:
This communication and collaboration tool is currently the most inclusive compared to other platforms out there, also considering the practicality and efficiency of the functions:
- Real time subtitles: it is possible to activate them from the viewing window and, also, to switch language instantly, resulting in being particularly efficient when pre-set. Furthermore, subtitles can automatically identify the voices of the different participants, displaying their name to facilitate the comprehension of the speech turns dynamics.
- Presenter mode view: by sharing the screen, it is possible to improve the visibility of the speaker lip reading by keeping the subtitles active, and also by setting one of the three pre-set modes (standout – side-by-side – reporter). With the Power Point Live function, it is also possible to present the PPT document using the different presenter modes, resulting in facilitating the view of the document and also of the participants.
- Calls recording: using Teams it is possible to record the calls and watch them at a later time turning on the automatically-generated subtitles manually.
Besides Teams, we have identified some of the tools that offer specific services focused on deaf people accessibility:
This app has a real time subtitling and transcription service, designed for face-to-face conversations or video calls. This tool allows you to participate in a conversation within a work group even if you are more than one meter away from the other participants, through the connection of multiple devices. Its strength is in the possibility to view the subtitles that have been differentiated through colors associated to the related names, better supporting the management of the word shifts and the communicative exchanges.
This application offers the entirely free service of real-time transcription through the browser Chrome. What differentiates it from the others is the subtitles text personalization (character size, colors and subtitles background) for a better reading (also for partially-sighted people), very useful to be used as an addition to other tools (Skype, Zoom); but also to make the subtitles well visible by projecting them towards the audience during meetings or in-presence assemblies.
Trascrizione istantanea is a Google application that allows the vocal instantaneous transcription, available for mobile Android devices only. It is a tool of support for the communication processes at hand, it is very efficient for any context and has many useful features like the viewing of the non-vocal sound’s labels (laugh, applause, etc.) and the possibility to have a copy of the transcription that can be paused.
It allows deaf people to make phone calls using speech recognition and speech synthesis technologies. With this application, after paying for the activation of the Pedius phone number, the deaf person can make phone calls using the company phone through the voice synthesizer with written messages; its purpose is to facilitate the phone correspondence among colleagues.
At the moment it is the first platform that offers the service of professional video interpreting of the Italian sign language, available via web in an easy way and at a limited cost if compared to the market, thanks to wide number of interpreters available. It is useful to include deaf people during conferences and large scale assembles, maybe with the help of a projector.
It is therefore important to start from the following considerations:
Different types of disability require different adroitness thus, it is necessary to define specific golden rules according to the case;
Tools are constantly updating, and their features may change;
We reserve the right to map good practices and tips that can emerge as we adopt this new mindset or that can be defined along the way according to new situations, that are not just digital.
Disability does not mean inability. It simply means adaptability.