Workplace accessibility: Bringing secure email to visually impaired staff

Workplace accessibility: Bringing secure email to visually impaired staff

Rick Goud at Zivver explains why organisations must consider accessibility when planning email security strategies and describes how visually impaired employees can be helped towards secure email use

Digital technology – the tools, systems, and devices that we use to work, communicate, and manage our day-to-day lives – has made life more comfortable. 4.93 billion people (63.2% of the world’s population) now have access to, and using, the internet frequently.

For digital IT to become truly inclusive, however, it is essential to increase the availability of accessible technology to people with disabilities – not least in the workplace.

In respect of vision disability, the World Health Organisation’s ‘World Report on Vision’ found that at least 2.2 billion people around the world have a visual impairment. In the UK, the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) estimates this figure to be almost 2 million people, and one in four of the 360,000 people who are registered as blind or partially sighted are in employment. These 90,000 workers need access to enabling technologies in the same way as their non-visually impaired colleagues, to ensure consistent levels of performance and productivity across the organisation.

The human factor – we all make mistakes

Let us consider email, the most popular form of workplace communication – and also the biggest reported source of data leaks by organisations. The most frequent cause? Human error. The reality is, unlike other aspects of data security, email security relies heavily on human behaviour.

As humans we are all fallible, leading to inevitable and commonplace mistakes; employees accidentally emailing privacy-sensitive information to the wrong person, for example. To prevent such human error data leaks – which are costly in terms of damaged reputation, broken customer trust and potential regulatory fines – businesses need to ensure that all employees are maximising data protection when sending emails.

How can staff with a visual impairment be supported to achieve this?

The best way to explain is to draw on our experiences since partnering with Koninklijke Visio, a Dutch centre of expertise for visually impaired and blind people. The first part of our collaboration focused on secure emailing and secure file transfer. The starting point was knowledge sessions between Zivver developers and people with vision disabilities, with the purpose of gaining insights into how this target group deals with digital applications.

Our  team investigated how a blind or partially sighted person navigates a digital product using their keyboard. They found that the target group ‘jumps’ from one element to another using specific buttons on the keyboard. This was an important learning moment for our team of programmers.

Product adaptations for visually-impaired staff

One of the features we have adapted within our core secure email product is the ‘Zivver Toggle’. When a user begins transcribing an email, Zivver observes and notifies users of potential errors, before they hit ‘send’. The toggle is, therefore, extremely important; users can manually switch the toggle on to activate it, or the toggle will switch itself on and turn green to alert users that it has activated in response to an error in the text or attachment.

During the knowledge sessions, we discovered that this toggle was not usable by people with a visual impairment. To make it accessible, we developed a key combination to activate it. In addition, a sound has been added to signal  ‘Zivver is ON’ and ‘Zivver is OFF’. The target group is now able to send messages with the correct level of security, to safeguard against potential data breaches.

As a result of such adaptations, our web application is now fully accessible to blind and partially sighted people. This ensures that the digital tool is an enrichment for everyone within an organisation. In the near future, accessible secure emailing and secure file transfer will also be possible from Outlook or Gmail through the integration with our product.

Balancing security, usability, and inclusivity

Striking the right balance between security and usability – for all staff, including those with a disability – is critical in the quest to secure business communications. Best practice technology to prevent widespread human error data leaks puts the user at the centre of the solution, helping workers to consistently make better and safer decisions when emailing. Adding a security and privacy layer on top of existing email systems, for example, means that staff don’t have to change their usual way of working.

In this era of increasing digitisation and diversity, a growing number of digital application and communication options are now available for blind and partially sighted people. In addition to specific software that is used – such as screen magnification, speech software, and Braille – the market is becoming more aware of this target group, and accessibility has been greatly improved. It is now possible to turn off the screen on an iPad, for instance, after which the user can operate it almost completely with speech and audio feedback.

Accessibility is fast-becoming a central part of our product development too – and I would anticipate this is true for most other forward-thinking and inclusive IT solution providers. Our recent collaboration with Visio is just the beginning; in the long-term we aim to further develop the many facets of secure digital communication, with accessibility as a common thread.

Rick Goud is CIO & Founder at secure communications company Zivver.

Main image courtesy of

Copyright Lyonsdown Limited 2021

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