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A Call to Make Online Job Applications Accessible for People with Disabilities

Feb 2, 2023

Most employers know that Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities in the workplace. However, it’s also important to remember that Title I applies to applicants.

As the U.S. Department of Labor notes, "Title I of the ADA protects the rights of both employees and job seekers." This means that discrimination in a company's hiring process — including within online job applications — is prohibited by law.  

Unfortunately, 46% of respondents to a survey by the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) rated their most recent attempt to apply for a job online as "difficult to impossible." 24% of respondents required technical assistance, and 9% said that they were unable to complete the application at all. 

As more and more businesses transition to web-based job applications, it’s becoming even more important to ensure access for everyone. In 2021, only about 19.1% of U.S. adults with disabilities were employed, compared with 63.7% of people without a disability. The best practices of digital accessibility can help to address this disparity — and help employers draw from a wider talent pool and enjoy the substantial benefits of a more diverse workforce

Below, we'll discuss some of the most common barriers to accessibility in online job applications and provide tips for addressing them.. 

6 Common Barriers to Accessibility in Online Job Applications  

1. Timeout restrictions 

In PEAT’s survey, all respondents reported experiencing difficulty with applications that timed out before they were able to complete the necessary task.

People who have disabilities may need more time to complete tasks, and arbitrary time limits may prevent them from completing applications at a comfortable pace. Sometimes, timeouts are essential — but wherever possible, give people the option to adjust, extend, or turn off time limits. If users timeout, try to ensure that they don’t lose data (they should be able to resume the application from where they left off).

Related: How To Make Your Website's Authentication Process Accessible

2. Complex or inconsistent navigation 

Job application software often contains numerous screens and sections that change in structure. That can make navigation difficult for some users with disabilities or neurocognitive differences.

Designers can improve navigation by placing controls and hyperlinks on the same location in each page. The order of components shouldn’t change on navigation menus, and functional icons (such as arrows) should be used consistently throughout the application portal.

Related: Why Consistency is Important to Accessible Design

3. Inaccessible form fields

Obviously, the majority of online job applications rely on form fields including checkboxes, text fields, dropdowns, and number sliders for applicants to enter the requested information. 

If fields aren't explicitly labeled — or if they’re labeled incorrectly — they may be inaccessible to applicants who use assistive technologies. Forms must also be keyboard accessible (fully operable with a keyboard alone). 

Additionally, forms should contain clear instructions, which can help applicants understand the expected data formats (for example, “Date format is month/date/year"). 

Related: Why Form Labels and Instructions Are Important for Digital Accessibility

4. Poor color contrast 

Online job applications that lack sufficient contrast between text and background elements may be difficult or impossible to perceive for applicants with a variety of visual impairments. 

This is one of the most common web accessibility barriers — and one of the easiest issues to fix. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free color contrast validator, which can help developers evaluate color-pairs and scan web content for potential low-contrast text.

Related: The Basics and Importance of Color Contrast for Web Accessibility

5. Reliance on color

Applications sometimes rely on color to convey crucial information (for instance using red text to denote a required field). That makes the information inaccessible to people with color vision deficiencies (also called color blindness) and other vision disabilities.

In general, you can avoid this issue by checking that all important information is available through text — without relying on a specific type of sensory input.

Related: What Is Color Blindness Accessibility?

6. Mobile device incompatibility 

Frequently, online job applications aren’t optimized for certain viewports (the user’s visible area of the webpage). Many disabled applicants prefer to use mobile devices which include accessibility features traditional desktop systems lack. On smaller screens, content may become unreadable and certain features might disappear.

And if your website isn’t accessible with mobile devices, it may not be responsive — that’s bad news for accessibility, and responsive design is practically essential on the modern internet. 

Related: Understanding How People With Disabilities Use Mobile Devices

Make your online job application accessible for everyone

Ensuring that your company's online job application process is accessible to applicants with disabilities isn't just required by law; It's the right thing to do.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure that a company's online job application is accessible to all applicants is to follow the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Following WCAG can help your organization realize the full benefits of digital accessibility — and build a stronger, more inclusive workforce.

To learn more about WCAG, or for guidance with a specific website or employment portal, send us a message.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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