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How to Hire Top Talent with an Accessibility Mindset

Sep 20, 2019

As a business, you want to hire the best candidates for the job. However, you also want to emphasize accessibility within your organization without compromising your search for the top talent.

Fortunately, these two different motivations don’t have to be in conflict. By looking for people with the six traits below, you might improve your odds of hiring outstanding employees who also are a good fit for the pro-accessibility mindset.

1. People with direct accessibility experience

Most obviously, people who have direct exposure to accessibility concepts will likely be a smart hire for your organization. This may include familiarity with web accessibility frameworks such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), as well as assistive technologies like screen readers and alternative input devices.

Employees with accessibility experience should also be aware of your legal obligations as a company regarding accessibility, and the relevant U.S. legislation. This includes the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

2. People with a track record of prioritizing compliance

Compliance is a major consideration when it comes to the question of accessibility. Your business may be considered a “place of public accommodation” under Title III of the ADA. This category includes private businesses such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, and retail stores that are open to the general public.

However, plaintiffs are increasingly bringing (and winning) ADA lawsuits, alleging that the websites of these places of public accommodation must also be accessible as an extension of the business’s physical footprint. The number of these ADA website lawsuits has skyrocketed in recent years: there were over 2,200 such cases in 2018, an increase of 181 percent from 2017.

Website accessibility has become an important issue for businesses who don’t want to be caught unaware by an ADA complaint letter. Even without direct accessibility experience, people who understand the need for regulatory compliance may be a fit for the job, helping you adhere to web accessibility guidelines such as WCAG.

3. People who place the customer first

Candidates who are passionate about improving the customer experience should be easier to win over to the cause of accessibility. This is because accessibility intersects with the broader concern of usability, which focuses on improving the general user experience. Accessibility makes it simpler for all customers, including those with disabilities, to interact with you.

The lack of accessibility will alienate many customers with disabilities and drive them away from your business, especially if it becomes taxing or impossible for them to use your products and services. Conversely, accommodating people with disabilities makes it more likely that they will become repeat customers, generating goodwill and buzz for your business.

4. People who use inclusive language

“Inclusive language” is the use of language to acknowledge differences in the human experience, assuming a welcoming and respectful stance toward all people.

One common example of inclusive language is opting for “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people,” which is a “people-first” expression that emphasizes the person over the disability. However, this usage isn’t universal, and some people with disabilities prefer alternate terminology.

During the hiring process, take notice of the language people use when talking about accessibility and other topics. Is their language respectful, empowering, and inclusive — or the opposite? Those who make use of inclusive language, or who are considerate and open to learning, may be a better fit for accessibility-minded companies.

5. People with diverse backgrounds (including disabilities)

There are many benefits to encouraging a more diverse workplace. Employees can share their different skills, experiences, and perspectives, helping to foster innovation and creativity. Being known as a diverse place to work improves your reputation as a company and helps all employees feel welcomed and accepted.

According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, teams with diverse thinking are able to solve problems faster than those without cognitive diversity. In addition, a survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that companies with the most diverse executive teams significantly outperform companies in the bottom quartile for executive diversity.

Employees with diverse backgrounds may be more likely to understand and appreciate the need to include people with disabilities within your customer base. Of course, “diversity” can mean many things, including having a vision, hearing, motor, or cognitive disability.

6. People who want to grow professionally

Even if a potential hire doesn’t have first-hand experience with accessibility concepts, there’s no reason to believe that this knowledge can’t be gained while on the job. After all, every expert was once a beginner, and many valuable professional skills are best acquired through practice and repetition.

There are tens of millions of people in the U.S. with a disability — 26 percent of U.S. adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, not everyone has personal experience with, or prior exposure to, the ideas and tenets of accessibility.

Related: How to introduce people to digital accessibility

People who care about learning and professional development may be more inclined to recognize the value in having an accessibility mindset. Consider people who can demonstrate that they care about these issues, and who have the potential to grow while at your organization.

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