Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Tag: accessibility

Tips for supporting your blind and low-vision employees

October is Blindness Awareness Month and it’s the perfect time to reevaluate some of your accessibility practices. Approximately 12 million Americans over 40 are visually impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 1 million are blind and 2 million have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of low-vision and blindness among adults over 50.

Not all visual impairments are obvious, so it’s important to offer options to your employees.

What you can do to help employees

Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean committing to big digital and office modifications. Being mindful of blind and low-vision employees and their needs can create a better office experience for everyone involved. A little bit of awareness goes a long way in creating a safer and more dignified workspace.

  • Communicate important information electronically. While sending paper mail may be standard for some communications, visually impaired or blind employees may have trouble finding the information enclosed. Sending a screen reader–friendly email, text message or audio file may be a better option. Talk to your employees about their preferences. Large type may be suitable for some people with low vision.
  • Equip your office. Assistive technology in the office creates a more inclusive workspace and gives low-vision and blind employees the tools they need to succeed. Scanners, magnifiers, screen readers and Braille displays are all helpful resources.
  • Make your company’s website and intranet accessible. Even the simplest webpages can have coding that’s difficult for screen readers. Make your webpages easier to use for blind and low-vision employees by using alt-text for images, being thoughtful with colors and choosing descriptive phrases for linking.
  • Don’t assume you can pet an employee’s guide dog. Tempting as it may be, guide dogs have an important job to do. If an employee relies on a guide dog, understand that by petting it or offering treats, you may be distracting it from helping its owner. Always ask the owner before approaching their guide dog.

Resources from Delta Dental

Studies have linked periodontal disease to retinal degeneration and certain oral bacteria to glaucoma. For those with good to moderate vision, seeing their dentist regularly can help protect their mouth and their sight. When your employees need a little extra help with their benefits, Delta Dental is here to help.

  • Document translation. Written materials, such as plan information, can be translated to Braille or audio formats for blind and low-vision patients.
  • Customer service. For any questions about their coverage, members can simply call 866–530-9675 and speak to a customer service representative. Contact customer service to request material translations.

All people deserve equal care and dignity when receiving it. For more resources, visit the Perkins School for the Blind’s workplace accommodation tips.

Has COVID-19 changed open enrollment forever?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused long-lasting changes to our priorities as a society and as individuals. From canceled events, working from home and separation from friends and family, employees and employers have had to adapt. It’s no wonder that the uncertainty of the pandemic has created changes in open enrollment.

Greater focus on the whole family

In the past year and a half, many adults became caregivers for their parents and took on education roles for their children while also working full-time. Employees are looking for benefits that extend to their family members and benefits that make the care of their family easier, like family and medical leave, assisted living coverage and child care coverage. Getting the whole family covered even extends to furry friends; the number of pets insured in North America has increased 23% since 2019.

Mental health services are more important than ever

The stress and difficulty of the pandemic have taken a toll on mental health. The percentage of adults in the U.S. who reported symptoms of anxiety and depression increased from 36% to 42% between August 2020 and February 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before the pandemic, Americans only chose virtual options for mental health care 20% of the time. After the pandemic started, the American Psychiatric Association saw their own members’ usage of telehealth services jump to 85%.

Employers are responding by offering mental health benefits that include access to online resources and apps that address stress and difficulty sleeping. About 70% of employers planned to start, continue or expand investment in mental health resources in 2021, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company. Employers who invest in mental health coverage get results. Almost 86% of employees who are treated for depression symptoms show substantial improvement in work performance, according to one study.

Employees expect to keep using telehealth options

While virtual visits won’t completely replace in-person visits any time soon, they’re definitely sticking around. Telehealth visits spiked during March 2020, but there were 10 times more telehealth visits in March 2021 than in March 2020, according to a market report.

Employees are using telehealth services and, in many cases, they expect to keep using it. In some cases, patients rated their interactions with their providers higher when they had virtual appointments than in-person.

To appeal to a variety of employee preferences, Delta Dental offers two different kinds of virtual dentistry: video-based and photo-based.

Virtual events preferred over in-person

With many employees still working from home and continually changing safety recommendations, in-person enrollment events are still being pushed online. Luckily, virtual enrollment has advantages for you and your employees. Instead of fielding phone calls and emails all day, you can update your website in real time to address common questions. Your employees can research and select benefits without having to keep track of physical papers or even leave the house.

What do successful virtual open enrollment events look like? A study by Flimp Communications concluded that a high-performing open enrollment campaign includes:

  • Microsites. These websites are customized to fulfill your group’s specific benefits needs with unique visuals, video and copy and can be used to address employees’ frequently asked questions.
  • Video. Both short-form and long-form video have a place in your campaign. A short-form video may simply be a quick, supplemental explainer and a long-form video would be more detailed and available for employees on demand.
  • Links. Linking out to your enrollment portal, to helpful PDFs, contact pages or financial-wellness portals helps employees sign up for and best utilize their benefits.
  • Decision support. Tools that collect all key benefits information into one place and then make recommendations based on algorithms or questionnaires had higher-than-average engagement.
  • Analytics. With real-time analytics, you and your team can adjust to help employees answer questions online. When you know what drives traffic, what people want, and when people want it, you’ll be even better prepared for next time.

The pros and cons of virtual events

Technology has its limits, however. The Pew Research Center found that only 26% of internet users aged 65 years or older felt very confident when using electronics to get things done online. If all your materials are online, make sure they’re easy to find for all employees, regardless of skill with technology. That means clearly labeling links and having logical paths through your website, as well as making sure all materials can be easily downloaded and viewed without special software.

In that same vein, virtual open enrollment gives you the opportunity to make materials accessible to employees with disabilities. Gaps in accessibility can leave individuals with visual, hearing and motor disabilities unable to make informed decisions about their health care.

Open enrollment changes motivated by COVID-19 may be here to stay. Adapt your open enrollment offerings to serve employees’ needs during and beyond the pandemic. Being flexible and responsive helps ensure your employees understand their benefits for the year ahead and are able to get the coverage they need.

Delta Dental gives access to healthy smiles in many languages

Language should never be a barrier when it comes to health care. If any of your employees have limited proficiency in English, direct them to Delta Dental’s Language Assistance Program (LAP). This service is free for members and perfect for employees who communicate in languages other than English to better understand their plans or even to communicate with their dentist.

The LAP offers a variety of language accessibility services, including:

  • The Delta Dental website in Spanish offers information on Delta Dental’s different plans, as well as articles jampacked with valuable wellness information.
  • Customer service is offered in 170 different languages. Simply call 866–530-9675 and request an interpreter.
  • Delta Dental’s online dentist directory is available in both Spanish and English and includes the languages spoken by dentists and staff members. This is a great tool for helping members find a dental office where their language is spoken.
  • In-person interpretation services are also available for dental visits. If a member cannot find a dentist who speaks their language, Delta Dental can arrange to have an interpreter present during their next appointment. In addition to non-English languages, American Sign Language interpretation can also be requested. All the member needs to do is contact Customer Service at least 72 hours in advance and make the request.
  • Document translation to any non-English language can be requested for any written materials, such as benefits information. Accessible formats like braille and audio files can also be requested.

If any of your employees are having trouble communicating with their dentist, call Delta Dental to arrange for a qualified interpreter to help via phone. 

Delta Dental telephone numbers for interpretive services: 

  • State Government Programs: 877–580-1042 
  • Delta Dental Premier®/Delta Dental PPO™: 888–335-8227 
  • DeltaCare® USA: 800–422-4234 
  • DeltaVision®: 888–963-6576 
  • TTY 711 

Accessibility — more than just a buzzword

When most people think of accessibility, they may think of wheelchair ramps and designated parking spaces. But when it comes to ensuring high-quality care for your employees, accessibility is about more than the physical world. Accessibility extends into digital spaces and into the interactions that people have in their day-to-day lives. Let’s take a look at the ways accessibility can be an important part of dental insurance and what it means for your employees.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility is about making an experience available to the widest group of people, including those with physical or cognitive disabilities. That can include:

  • Using alternate text in images so that screen readers can describe them to users who are blind
  • Providing transcripts of videos for users who are deaf
  • Designing websites simply for users who have cognitive disabilities

What this means for your employees is simple: when your employees visit Delta Dental’s website or need to call customer service, their questions will be answered and their needs will be met, no matter their abilities.

Why does accessibility matter?

[Accessibility] improves people’s lives. And how often do you get a chance in your job to dramatically improve other people’s lives by just doing your work a little better?

Steve Krug, user experience professional

There are legal reasons to make accessibility a priority. Under laws such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, it is illegal to have federal electronic and information technology inaccessible to people with disabilities or to discriminate on the basis of disability.

But accessibility is about more than just avoiding a lawsuit. Accessibility is about inclusivity for all of your employees, no matter their needs. With just a little effort, impediments like being unable to hear a video or read a website can be overcome, and more people will be able to access the quality care that they deserve.

Additionally, designing websites and implementing customer service practices that make life easier for those with disabilities often makes life easier for everyone. Regardless of their abilities, everyone appreciates simple and intuitive designs and being able to change settings to their personal preferences when it comes to interacting with websites and customer service platforms.

What is Delta Dental doing to advance accessibility?

At Delta Dental, we are committed to ensuring the accessibility of our products and services for everyone. We are committed to providing a platform that goes beyond mere compliance and seeks to provide a more meaningful experience for our customers with diverse backgrounds, abilities and perceptions. Our website and other products comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 levels A/AA, section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), in addition to other local governing laws. For more information, see our accessibility statement.

In real terms, that means supporting the web browsers your employees might use, including Chrome, Edge, Safari and Firefox in desktop and mobile web views, as well as assistive technology including, but not limited to, screen readers and magnifiers on various platforms. We also provide services for non-English speaking employees through the Language Assistance Program (LAP). Through LAP, your employees can request documents in accessible formats, like Braille, and have on-site American Sign Language interpreters accompany them during dental visits. To take advantage of these services, including instructions on requesting an on-site interpreter, your employees can visit our language assistance page or call customer service.

Accessibility is about more than just checking boxes and meeting requirements. It’s really about providing a high quality experience for everyone. We’re proud to join you in bringing all of your employees great dental care.

Dental care for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees

Happy National Deaf History Month! If you haven’t heard of this awareness month, it runs from March 13 to April 15. Nearly 15% of adult Americans report trouble hearing, so you likely have some employees among your staff with hearing issues. They may not even be aware of it!

Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals face some unique challenges when it comes to getting dental care. Even making an appointment can be difficult. Fortunately, there are solutions available to ensure that no problem is insurmountable. Here are some of the common issues that deaf and hard of hearing employees may encounter and what tools are available to help solve them.

Challenges and considerations

The challenges that employees who are hard of hearing face when it comes to getting quality dental care can begin before they ever set foot in the office.

  • Employees may have difficulty just making appointments. Not every office will have someone fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) on staff, but if an office isn’t set up to schedule appointments by text or email, it can be impossible for the hard-of-hearing to even step foot inside.
  • Dentists that don’t speak clearly, slowly and while looking at employees make it hard to read lips. The deaf and hard-of-hearing may rely more on lip-reading than others. Seeing a dentist who is in a hurry or who talks while moving all about the practice can make it more difficult for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to follow what’s being said. To make things even harder, the fact that everyone is wearing masks because of COVID-19 only compounds this issue.
  • Employees may not even realize that they’re hard-of-hearing. Because most everyone loses some of their hearing as they get older, the change can happen so gradually that the employee isn’t even aware of it. Younger employees can also develop hearing loss if they work in a loud environment or regularly attend loud events without proper hearing protection. For this reason, an attentive dentist who notices when their patients seem to have difficulty hearing them or following a conversation can be indispensable.

Solutions and tools

Whether employees have recently become hard of hearing or have been deaf since birth, there are two major tools available to help them.

  • The Language Assistance Program (LAP). The LAP is a free service that Delta Dental members can use to get professional interpretive services for their non-English needs. This includes phone assistance, written materials and more, including an in-person translator when given 72 hours’ notice. Most importantly for employees who are deaf, this means that they can have an interpreter fluent in ASL accompany them to their dental visits!
  • The Find a Dentist search tool. The Find a Dentist search tool is perfect for employees looking to find an in-network dentist that fits their specific needs. Employees can search by distance and specialty, but they can also search for dentists by the languages their offices support, such as ASL, and available accessibility features.

More than 35 million people in the United States report having trouble hearing, whether they suffer from mild hearing loss or are completely deaf. Fortunately, valuable services like the Language Assistance Program and thoughtful features like the Find a Dentist search tool make it easier for hard-of-hearing employees to get their dental needs taken care of.

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