I was speaking to an accessibility guru in a large government department and she told me a distressing story. An up-and-coming member of staff who is profoundly deaf was invited to attend an important meeting. A sign language interpreter should have been booked for the meeting but that had not happened. Unable to follow, or participate in, the meeting the deaf member of staff left. A month later management were reviewing a promotion for him and it was rejected because he left the meeting. We could argue that the HR department failed in their duty but I would rather investigate how technology could have help to avoid the situation.
Part of the problem is that sign language interpreters are a specialist and scarce resource, so they cannot be called at a moments notice because of travel time, besides anything else.
Collaboration software could provide the framework for a solution to this specific problem. Spontania from Dialcom provides collaboration capabilities where the user can choose the relevant mode or modes of access that include:
- Instant messaging
- Application and file sharing
- Whiteboard capabilities
- Mobile devices
The system requires a dedicated server running Spontania in the enterprise but only a downloadable ActiveX widget on the client. Once installed it can have an immediate impact on how meetings are organised:
- Participants do not have to travel, which improves productivity and increases the flexibility of setting up the meeting.
- Instant ad-hoc meetings can be set up, as long as the attendees are within reach of a mobile device.
But it also opens up new ways of working; examples from the users of Spontania include:
- A bank's call centre can now invite a client to join a ‘conference'. The client can now see the agent (and vice versa if the client wishes), they can share presentation material and view the output from applications. This multi-mode interaction has proven to be popular with the bank's clients and this has been reflected in the sales conversion rate.
- An organisation that has been set up to offer more working opportunities for people with impaired mobility implemented Spontania. The users can work from home, so avoiding the effort and issues of commuting; whilst still benefiting from the real-time and visual interactions of the office, which improve productivity and avoid any feelings of social isolation.
- An international company has improved its ability to communicate with its staff and clients around the world by adding extra channels on their collaboration network for different languages. A presentation or announcement now includes simultaneous translation into several languages and the user can choose the channel they are most comfortable with.
So, if I now look at my story again we could change the ending. The department installs Spontania. The meeting is arranged and instead of everyone having to travel to the same place, time and money is saved by having a virtual meeting. The deaf member of staff arrives 15 minutes early to check that the interpreter is available and to check the signs they are going to use for certain specialist concepts. Disaster!. The interpreter has not been booked, but now there is less of a problem because the interpreter does not have to travel. A panic phone call to the agency and an interpreter is found within twenty minutes. The formal part of the meeting starts 10 minutes late so the interpreter is already available. The staff member stays in the meeting makes valuable contributions to the discussions and this is noted by the head of department. A month later the promotion goes through on the nod.
I believe that collaboration software can be a boon to any enterprise but can be life changing to many people with disabilities.