University of Phoenix shares new survey findings

Survey of people leaders in information technology, healthcare and education fields commissioned with The Harris Poll highlights strengths and opportunities for developing accessibility skills in the workplace


University of Phoenix is pleased to share insights from a survey on workplace accessibility awareness, understanding, and development opportunities on Global Accessibility Awareness Day. University of Phoenix is committed to enhancing the accessibility and experience of learners with disabilities, and as a higher education institution focused on serving working adults, commissioned The Harris Poll to conduct a study of 459 people leaders across the fields of information technology, healthcare and education to better understand workplace commitment to accessibility, accessibility understanding and skills of workers, and opportunities for development of accessibility skills.

“University of Phoenix has advanced a framework of support for our working adult learners and our students with disabilities to navigate their learning environment, and plan next steps in their careers,” shares Kelly Hermann vice president of accessibility, equity and inclusion. “We activated this survey in order to more fully understand workplace commitments to awareness and building accessibility skills.”

The survey was developed in collaboration with Teach Access, a national non-profit organization strategically partnering with students, educators, industry, government, and nonprofit advocacy organizations. Teach Access bridges the accessibility skills gap by providing free programs and open educational resources that teach fundamental skills and concepts about disability and digital accessibility. It has reached more than half a million students.

Hermann has oversight of the university’s accessibility initiative, including the evaluation and remediation of curricular resources, the Student Accommodation office, which provides accommodations to students with disabilities, and the Office of Educational Equity (OEE), which works with University stakeholders, community partners and corporate sponsors to create an inclusive educational environment for the students, faculty and staff.

On GAAD, Hermann serves as an expert panelist in this month’s webinar hosted by OEE, “Understanding AI’s Influence on Accessibility and Inclusion.” Additionally, University of Phoenix is providing educational events for faculty, on universal design for learning, and for students, on accessibility features to support learning.

“Best practices promote building accessibility into the development of products, services and activities from the very beginning stages,” Hermann states. The survey found 60% of managers report that their organization has accessibility built into all phases of products, service, and/or activity development. Fifty-seven percent report that accessibility is addressed upon request by disabled customers/people with disabilities. At 69%, IT managers are more likely than education, 56%, or healthcare managers, also 56%, to report their organization has accessibility built into all phases of products, service, and/or activity development.

“This shows that there is still a considerable population of organizations that are seemingly not building in accessibility,” share Hermann. “We need comprehensive professional development and awareness building regarding the needs of people with disabilities as well as the benefits of integrating accessibility into all phases of product and service development.”

The survey identified accessibility differentiators including completion of credit-based university level accessibility courses, completion of non-credit based accessibility courses or learning opportunities, previous experience in accessibility roles or functions, reported personal experience with accessibility and/or assistive technology, accessibility certification, and earned accessibility-related badges.

Nearly 9 in 10 managers, 88%, report their organization considers at least one of these accessibility differentiators when hiring employees, with a majority of 60% reporting completion of university level accessibility courses or learning opportunities (credit or non-credit based).

In this survey, the majority of managers – 89% – report their organization has programs, activities, or initiatives to hire, train, and/or retain employees with disabilities with more than 3 in 5 (62%) reporting their organization has mentorship partnerships or job placement partnerships specifically. Additionally, about half of managers report having regular meetings with managers/supervisors (51%) or job coaching (50%) as other ways their organization hires, trains, and/or retains employees with disabilities.

The survey also identified accessibility skills and topics to include the following: disability as part of diversity programs, use of assistive technology by persons with disabilities, general understanding of disability, legal foundations for accessibility, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), policy development and implementation, multimedia accessibility, accessibility testing methodology, usability testing, image accessibility, HTML and accessibility, responsive design and zoom, and others.

Survey findings show an increasing need for accessibility training and skill development. In the last five years, 59% of managers have seen an increase in demand for employees with accessibility skills in their organization, with one in 10 saying there has been a significant increase in demand. Virtually all managers – 95% – feel like they need professional development related to specific accessibility skills and/or topics. While there is no one area specifically identified, the three most often cited are disability as part of diversity programs (32%), the use of assistive technology by persons with disabilities (31%), and general understanding of disability (30%).

Among respondents who say it is difficult finding job candidates with accessibility skills, the most common reasons are that candidates don’t understand what accessibility skills are and candidates not having accessibility skills, with 53% of managers saying either of these. “Importantly, these findings show us there are not enough available resources for employees to gain this knowledge or expertise,” states Kate Sonka, Executive Director of Teach Access. “Coupled with the finding that most awareness, 48%, is related to previous professional experience, we can infer that previous experience may not offer a wholistic understanding of disability or accessibility skills. The findings help us see opportunities to improve skills development.”

The survey builds on findings from a 2023 study the University commissioned with The Harris Poll of human resource (HR) professionals to better understand workplace practices and approaches to employees with disabilities, resources and accommodations, findings which illustrated the need for employers to understand how to support employees with disabilities through strategies that focus on awareness, workplace community, and mental health. It also builds on a 2022 Accessibility Skills Gap Survey created by Teach Access that reflected a growing awareness toward adopting accessibility practices.

“Teach Access aims to create systemic change within education so that all students learn the fundamentals of disability and digital accessibility,” states Sonka. “It is essential to create a pipeline of future employees who can make technology accessible and inclusive. This survey supports the need for Teach Access programs and resources and emphasizes the importance of our collaboration with academia.”

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