Why Digital Accessibility Should Be a Priority in Employment

August 25, 2020

Business owners sometimes think of accessibility as an impediment — a series of tasks that must be undertaken to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to ensure that employees don’t face discrimination. After the hiring process is finished, the responsibility is largely over; the company has fulfilled its basic obligation to its workers. Simple, right?

Not quite. It’s true that for any company with 15 or more employees, ADA compliance in employment is mandatory, and discriminatory practices can result in serious consequences. But hiring an employee with disabilities doesn’t prevent discrimination in the workplace or empower that worker to perform their job.

To build a better business — and enjoy the sizable benefits of an accessible work environment — employers need to treat accessibility as a priority. That’s especially true considering the changing economy. More employees are working from home than ever before, which means that they’re relying on different types of technologies to handle everyday tasks. For people with cognitive and physical impairments, these changes can bring new challenges, and employers need to be prepared to address potential issues.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance to help businesses avoid violations. However, as we frequently note, decision makers need to treat accessibility as a mindset, not a checklist — especially when day-to-day work tasks change suddenly and dramatically.

Accessibility in Employment Boasts Major Benefits for Businesses

Larger businesses are legally required to comply with the ADA, but businesses of all sizes can see substantial benefits by maintaining a commitment to accessibility. An accessible business is better equipped to deliver on the promises it makes to employees and customers.

Consider the statistics:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 61 million U.S. adults live with a disability. That’s 1 in 4 people — 26 percent of the adult population and a sizable portion of the workforce.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment-population ratio for people with disabilities was about 3 percent in 2019. Workers with disabilities were more likely to be employed part-time than workers with no disabilities.
  • Contrary to popular belief, workplace accommodations are generally affordable for businesses of all sizes. The Job Accommodation Network reports that 58 percent of accommodations for workers with disabilities cost nothing to make. Another 37 percent experienced a one-time cost at an average expenditure of $500. As every employer knows, that’s a small price to pay for qualified talent.

If your employment strategy doesn’t emphasize accessibility, you’re effectively ignoring an important talent pool. By fostering a flexible environment for all talented employees, you can build a more capable and inclusive workforce. Various tax credits and deductions may also be available for businesses that make appropriate accommodations for their workers with disabilities (the Small Business Administration provides some resources for evaluating tax incentives).

Of course, accessibility isn’t an afterthought. To determine whether you’ve got the right mindset, ask yourself a few questions:

Am I providing accommodations throughout the onboarding process?

Make sure that applicants understand that you’re willing to provide necessary accommodations as early as possible. Some applicants may not be able to attend a physical job interview easily; others might need information about the tools and equipment that they’ll use, should they be accepted for a position. As the Job Accommodation Network notes in a blog post, managers can facilitate an easier transition for employees with disabilities by communicating clearly — and by starting a dialogue as early as possible.

That dialogue should extend to your entire team. Determine who will be in charge of making specific accommodations and make sure to have policies in place before hiring. For example, the person in charge of setting vehicle parking policies will need to have an established process for accommodating an employee with a physical disability, while the person in charge of onboarding documents should have a policy for providing those documents in accessible formats.

Does my business consider accessibility in every aspect of employment?

Equal opportunity employment is important, but even after establishing fair hiring practices, managers need to prioritize accessibility. Many minor inconveniences for non-disabled persons can present serious frustrations for people with disabilities.

Getting a company ID, for instance, might be much easier for a non-disabled employee if the company photo studio is located on a different floor. Reading digital onboarding documents might be frustrating for a person with memory issues or other cognitive disabilities. Talk to your team to keep accessibility at the forefront of your workplace practices and protocols.

Make sure that the employee understands the process for requesting a reasonable accommodation. Proactively look for ways to provide necessary accommodations — if your business starts prioritizing remote work, for instance, make sure you’re using software tools that can be adapted or customized to meet the needs of employees.

Is my business’s career website accessible for all users?

Ensure that your career site is accessible from various devices and with various assistive technologies. This is, of course, easier said than done, and accessibility needs to be a major consideration at every stage of the web development process. We’ve written extensively about common oversights that can affect a site’s usability; the important takeaway is that web accessibility isn’t just about compliance, it’s a core aspect of your website that ensures you can communicate well with potential hires.

Test every part of your site with a phone, a keyboard, and if possible, with assistive technologies. Implement alt-text for pictures and use text to convey important information wherever necessary.

Ignoring people with disabilities isn’t just ethically unsound, it’s a poor tactic for business. Remember, many disabilities aren’t clearly identifiable, and an enthusiastic approach to accessibility will ensure that you don’t miss out on talented workers — and that you’ll keep those workers engaged and motivated once they’ve joined your workforce.

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