"At first, [working with IT staff] was a little difficult because they were not understanding [of my] needs and were going off of the basic requirements for the ZoomText program, not considering how basic requirements were not designed for the workplace and large data systems. Then I had one IT person who took initiative to do more research on the program and even called the company to learn more. That person became my primary point of contact anytime I had issues because I knew he understood, and I didn’t have to explain over and over." —White female in her 30s who became visually impaired in childhood
Of 300 participants, 225 (75.0%) reported that their employer hired IT staff. There were 210 (84.3%) of 249 participants who reported they had interactions with the IT staff. Figure 5 shows participants’ response to the question about IT staff knowledge about accommodations used by employees.
Participants were asked to select their level of agreement with the statement: The IT staff hired by my employer or contract are knowledgeable about accommodations used by employees with disabilities. Of the 206 participants who responded, 106 (51.5%) agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, indicating that just over half reported the IT staff had knowledge about the accommodation needs of those who are visually impaired.
Figure 5. Staff Knowledge about Accommodations
Recognizing that there are times when IT staff are not able to support employees with their accommodation needs, participants were asked to select all the things that typically occurred in this situation. There were 196 participants who reported that:
- The IT staff contacted experts or the manufacturer to get assistance in solving the issue. (n=112)
- The employee used personal technology, rather than technology provided by the employer. (n=63)
- The situation was not resolved, and the employee’s productivity was decreased. (n=48)
- The situation was not resolved because the IT staff were unable to help. (n=47)
- The situation was not resolved because the employee was hesitant to request ongoing support because of how others might perceive the employee. (n=20)
- The employee negotiated with a supervisor or coworkers to change responsibilities so the task(s) that were not accessible were done by others. (n=16)
- Participants also selected "Other" (n=45) and reported that they would problem solve to find other ways to meet their accommodation needs such as obtaining help from others who are knowledgeable about AT, contacting VR, or contacting manufacturers.
"I have tried to explain how I need access to a screen reader to complete all word processing and work with forms; however, the IT staff had no idea how to help, install the software, and sometimes didn’t even show up when an appointment has been made to work with them!" —White female in her 60s who became visually impaired in childhood
There were few participants who reported in the interviews that IT staff had knowledge about AT. Most participants reported it was their own responsibility to figure out how AT could support them in their work tasks. There were a few participants who reported that when they explained to IT staff what they needed, the IT staff would allow them to make changes to the equipment or, in some cases, give them administrative privileges. It was rare that IT staff took time to research accommodation needs. Figure 6 shows participants’ responses to a question about IT staff knowledge about employee’s specific accommodation needs.
Participants were asked to select their level of agreement with the statement: The IT staff at my job or contract are knowledgeable about my specific accommodation needs. Of the 201 participants who responded, 105 (52.2%) agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, indicating that just over half of the participants believed the IT staff understood their specific accommodation needs.
Figure 6. IT Staff Knowledge about Employees' Accommodation Needs
In an open-ended question, participants were asked to describe the steps they took to educate IT staff about their accommodation needs. They were very specific about their AT needs to IT staff in an effort to educate them about hardware and software accommodations. Collectively they worked to solve technology issues. Some participants reported that IT staff at their jobs were unwilling to attempt to help them with their AT needs; others reported that the IT staff at their jobs went the extra mile to make sure they had the appropriate accommodations to perform their job duties efficiently. Some participants reported that VR or private AT contractors were helpful in providing training to IT staff about AT.
"The IT guys where I work are very open to learning new things. ZoomText scares them a bit, but they always keep trying to figure out how to fix what needs to be [fixed]. They ask questions when they need to, and they are not afraid to say when they don’t know. They make phone calls on my behalf all the time to get workarounds, so I have what I need." —White female in her 50s who is congenitally visually impaired
Some participants who were interviewed gave specific examples of how, over time, IT staff and the participant worked together, so both became more knowledgeable about mainstream technology and AT. In the end, this collaboration was mutually beneficial to all.