The Toronto Dominion Bank is diving into a talent pool that has long gone overlooked by making assistive technology for employees with a disability widely and readily available.

“Persons with disabilities are the most under-employed group out there,” says Bert Floyd, the bank’s senior information technology manager of assistive technologies. “There’s a lot of great talent out there and being aware of the assistive technologies and being able to deploy them gives hiring managers the strategic advantage to be able to hire that top talent. You can focus on the people with the best abilities, which only increases your resource pool.”

The assistive technologies program was launched more than 15 years ago, says Floyd, reflecting on its beginnings. “There was a business that hired a person who was blind as part of their diversity strategy. On the employee’s first day on the job, they asked for a Braille display, a screen reader, an OCR software and a scanner. We didn’t have those things at the bank.”

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After several weeks, TD was able to source and install everything for its new employee, but the organization knew it needed to ensure all employees had what they needed to start work on day one. As a result, the bank built a lab where it could test and review assistive technology, as well as building up inventory so it could be quickly deployed. “We want to make it so hiring managers can focus on all their candidates’ abilities without worrying about their disabilities,” says Floyd.

Sarah Jevnikar, an IT accessibility analyst at TD who was born blind, says the program was vital to her career at the bank. The organization outfitted her computer with a screen reader, which makes her computer talk, and a braille display, which translates text into braille.

“Without this technology I wouldn’t be able to use a computer. It’s essential and so working for an organization that makes it easy to get this stuff on day one . . . speaks to the culture of inclusion that TD has.”

While some of the equipment can be straightforward for someone with a disability, many people acquire disabilities while working at a company, either as a result of work or due to developing health conditions, says Jevnikar. It’s important that employers understand their obligations and responsibilities to their employees who develop a disability, she adds, noting this may mean working with their insurance or benefits provider, but it also means ensuring departments are creating accessibility at every level.

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Jevnikar also suggests that employers create an accessibility policy, as well as a culture of support that backs it up. “It’s a lot more straightforward to make things accessible when you start thinking of accessibility from the beginning.”

TD’s lab has expanded to also educate its developers and testers. It also works with vendors to ensure the bank is building an inclusive and accessible IT environment, says Floyd. “Assistive technology allows you to hire the best and the brightest, including from a pool of persons with disabilities. . . . and . . . we want our hiring managers to be able to put their best and brightest to work.”