Accessible work-from-home tools for remote work during the coronavirus pandemic

ByWorkplace Initiative Team

Updated April 17, 2020

Much of the U.S. workforce is working from home as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This sudden shift has been complicated for many employers.

But remote work can be a good reasonable accommodation for some people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities have been working remotely for a long time. 

There are a lot of tools out there for working from home. Here’s a list of remote work tools that include accessibility features for people with disabilities. Some offer temporary free access due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Work-from-home tools with accessibility features

Google Hangouts Meet: Google is offering its advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing for free until September 30, 2020. The features it includes are available in enterprise versions of its G-suite software for businesses and schools. Google Hangouts Meet has accessibility features like live captions and screen readers.

Grammarly: Grammarly is an app to help with writing and editing. It also has a “tone detector” feature, which can provide customized alerts about qualities like “friendliness” and “formality.” Some employees might find that feature especially helpful for remote work, when channels like email can take on more importance.

JAWS: JAWS is screen-reading software for Windows. Due to COVID-19, the software is free for personal home computers until June 30, 2020. 

Krisp: Krisp is a noise-canceling app that removes background noise from your calls. This feature could be useful for employees with hearing loss. Krisp is designed to be used with most video calling software.

Microsoft Teams: Microsoft is offering free access to its Teams collaboration software because of the coronavirus. Even if your organization doesn’t have a Microsoft account, you can still use Teams right now. Microsoft offers advice for people using screen readers with Microsoft Teams. There’s also a general accessibility center for Microsoft products.

Mural: Mural is an app for visual collaboration. It features keyboard accessibility, so users can take part in virtual whiteboarding sessions without a mouse.

Otter: Otter is offering two months of its enterprise offering for free to teams that sign up before May 1, 2020. Otter can transcribe notes from meetings, interviews, lectures, and other voice conversations. The app syncs audio, text, and images to create shareable and accessible transcripts.

Slack: Slack is a chat software that teams can use for remote communication. Slack has several accessibility features, including screen reader integrations and keyboard accessibility shortcuts.

Speechify: Speechify is an advanced text-to-speech app that can sync across devices. That means that if you create a file on one device, like your laptop or phone, you can keep using it later on another device. That feature could be especially useful for employees who are sharing their devices with their children for remote schooling.

Web Captioner: Web Captioner is a free app that provides real-time captioning. It can recognize speech in over 40 languages and dialects. It works with a microphone, basic earbuds, or any other audio input device.

Zoom: Zoom is a videoconferencing app that’s compliant with accessibility standards, including WCAG 2.1 AA and Section 508. It has keyboard accessibility, closed caption capability, transcripts, and screen reader support.

Working from home as a reasonable accommodation

When the essential functions of a job can be performed remotely, strong work-from-home protocol is helpful to have as a general standard. It can help your workplace to meet reasonable accommodation requests from employees with disabilities. And since working remotely has become more commonplace due to the coronavirus pandemic, some people with disabilities have been voicing frustration that their requests to work remotely were rejected in the past. 

It’s important for employers to be aware of their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers advice for how to approach remote work as a reasonable accommodation in general. 

If the coronavirus pandemic has your team working from home, consider this a good opportunity to improve your work-from-home policies. Make sure your workplace has a solid remote work plan to the extent possible — and not only while coronavirus is circulating. It can help you to meet reasonable accommodation requests efficiently, no matter when they’re made.

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