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Providing Technologies For Greater Accessibility: Scotiabank's Approach

Changing technology continues to open up new worlds for businesses, customers and employees. Perhaps most dramatically, it has helped employees with visual disabilities to work more independently and productively. Central to Scotiabank's commitment to increase the hiring and participation of people with disabilities is its Accommodation Policy and the Scotiability Fund. Now in its 12th year, the Fund covers the costs of modifying workstations and purchasing adaptive technologies or assistive devices and associated training to enable employees with disabilities to succeed on the job.

JAWS

Several Scotiabank employees are using a tool called JAWS. An acronym for Job Access With Speech, JAWS software reads what's on screen aloud through a synthesiser.

Scott, a customer service representative (CSR) at the Calgary Call Centre who is blind, uses JAWS for Windows. He listens to JAWS on one ear of his headset, and to the customer calling him on the other.

Two other employees who are blind - Greg and Terry - also use voice technology, but for different purposes. As a computer systems developer in Toronto, Greg uses JAWS to help him read thousands of lines of programming code, plus e-mail, Web sites and other documents.

Terry, an adjuster at Scotiabank's Centralised Retail Collections Unit, has specially customised the software he uses to work with Artic Speech Vision, similar to JAWS. He also uses a scanner, which reads printed material - memos, circulars and manuals-and then uses his speech software to translate it into voice. But what Terry really prefers to do is pop a diskette into his computer and have it read the contents to him. "It's so much faster, because I can scan right to whatever I need," he says.

Greg listens to material on diskette too, and can also access information through Scotiabank's Intranet. "The Intranet has radically improved the amount of information that's accessible to me online," says Greg. Besides JAWS, Greg uses a Braille display which, line by line, translates the contents of his computer screen to him in Braille. He also has a Braille printer, primarily for documents that he might need to refer to in meetings.

Zooming in on Zoomtext

At Scotiabank, many employees with visual impairments use Zoomtext screen magnification software as a tool.

Monte, a CSR in the Toronto Call Centre, explains that Zoomtext magnifies the contents of his 29-inch computer screen from anywhere between two to 16 times its regular size.

He can view magnified text in several different ways: on the full screen, split it horizontally or vertically (so that half the document is regular size, half is magnified), magnify a three-inch square, or magnify a two-inch square of copy around the cursor that moves wherever the cursor does on the screen.

This version of Zoomtext also has a voice feature, "which doesn't approach the capabilities of JAWS, but comes in handy. I can listen to my e-mail while I eat my lunch!" says Monte.

Monte also uses a closed-circuit television (CCTV) for printed and hand-written documents: he slides the document under the magnifier and looks at the enlarged image on the TV screen. "Sighted workers use it too, to read the final print on some of the reports we get," he notes.

Lillian, a part-time CSR at the Calgary Call Centre, also uses Zoomtext and a CCTV to help make documents more readable. "It's easily turned on or off, so someone working a different shift can still use my PC," she says

Lillian says the helpful attitude of her colleagues has also been a big help. "My team leader enlarges hard copy documents for me. I also have a reading buddy. Once or twice a week, we'll walk around the bulletin boards, and my buddy reads the items posted there to me."

Good, but not perfect yet

While adaptive technology is a great enabler, it still has some limitations, notes Ed Kondracki, Manager, Diversity and Employee Relations at Scotiabank's Human Resources department in Toronto.

"Everyone is unique, and has different abilities and requirements," Ed says, "Two-way communication, creativity and working closely with the individual who has a disability are keys to success. A person's needs may change. And the technology that's available keeps evolving, too."

"That's why it's also equally important for people to communicate their needs and the organisation to provide on-going follow-up and support," he adds.

"I think Scotiabank is well ahead of a lot of companies on this issue - and is definitely moving forward in the right direction," says Greg.