‘The pandemic has awakened them’: Disability advocate sounds off on web accessibility and remote work

Over the last two years, agencies and companies have rolled out hybrid work environments allowing employees to work online remotely. To meet shoppers online, retailers have flocked to e-commerce and social shopping. And while the metaverse may be the industry’s latest buzzword, a number of brands and agencies have already launched experimental projects to stake their claim in the world of virtual reality.

But as more life happens online, disability advocates like Josh Basile are sounding the alarm to ensure disabled people aren’t left out. He has been pushing for web accessible features, including images with alternative text and descriptive URLs. Based in Potomac, Maryland, Basile is a lawyer and community relations manager at web accessibility company accessiBe. He is also quadriplegic after suffering a neck injury that left him paralyzed below his shoulders. 

Digiday caught up with Basile to talk about how brands, agencies and companies should be thinking about the disabled community when it comes to remote work, online shopping and DE&I overall.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

What are brands and businesses missing when it comes to working with, advertising to and ultimately understanding people with disabilities?

The pandemic has shown us how important the internet is to accessing the world. This is how we access people, information, products and services. If the websites that have all of that important, life changing content is not accessible, you basically closed the door to a group of people that are needing it more than ever. The bottom line is that we’re talking about millions of people. If you don’t have an accessible website, you basically just closed your doors to a huge number of people. I like to think of those people as untapped customers.

What a lot of business owners don’t recognize is that people with disabilities are recognized as the most brand loyal community. As natural advocates and mentors, we then recommend that to our community of friends, family and other people with disabilities. We’re really good advertisers and marketers for any business that shows some love toward us.

What’s the current relationship between the disabled community and brands? 

The pandemic has awakened them, let them recognize the importance of the internet in the sense of: This is how they’re reaching consumers more so than ever before. If you don’t have access to the internet, you are at a huge disadvantage. Businesses are starting to recognize that we don’t want to disadvantage people with disabilities. This is a very important population to serve. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart business decision to make sure that we welcome as many potential customers as possible. 

Talk to me about what remote work has meant for people with disabilities. And what does a return to the office look like?

Remote work for people with disabilities has changed the narrative. Before, a lot of employers needed to see you to believe that you could work, needed to have you physically present to think that you can contribute at high levels. But now, we’re recognizing that with remote work, you can contribute in really effective and beautiful ways thousands of miles away from where your job headquarters are.

The internet has changed the game of allowing people with disabilities, who otherwise might have some difficulties getting to a job location or getting to a place on a daily basis, consistently, have the ability to now work at a very high level from the comfort of their home and computer. I do believe it’s opened a lot of doors for people who were shut out because of transportation barriers or even caregiving barriers to be able to get to work. Now you just need a computer, assistive technology to allow you to use the computer and an internet signal. You can do incredible things with those tools.

What are some examples of what the industry could be doing in terms of work, advertising, etc. when it comes to the disabled community?

Inclusive hiring is one thing—being able within your hiring process to recruit all abilities to be workers and employees of your business. Another thing is to make your website accessible. [And] communication.

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