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ADA Lawsuits Spark Concerns over Job Website Accessibility

Jun 22, 2017

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Make sure candidates with a disability can utilize recruitment websites

Tess Taylor and Liza Casabona

June 22, 2017 - Recruiting for diversity is good for business. An Indeed survey earlier this year indicated that 77% of employees think it’s very or quite important for companies to be diverse. The Center for Talent Innovation recently reported that a diverse talent pool is vital for a competitive edge in any market. The more diverse an employee population is, the better people understand commonalities, which often translates to better relationships and added innovation.

But, what if despite all efforts to increase diversity when hiring, the career website of an organization backfires because a candidate with a disability is not able to complete an application?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) got national attention recently when a blind customer filed a lawsuit against grocery chain Winn-Dixie because he could not utilize his vocalizing software to read the content of the website. Just last year alone, there were some 240 lawsuits stemming from alleged website accessibility problems — with organizations like Footlocker, Rue 21, Brooks Brothers Group Inc., and the National Basketball Association facing scrutiny.

Such cases highlight how important it is for companies to follow the laws on website accessibility that have been around for years. Section 508 is a federal mandate that requires all federal contractors and government agency websites be accessible to all viewers, including persons with a disability. This means all organizations must ensure that websites, including applications, can be accessed by scanning tools, use language and content that is friendly to diverse visitors, and offer support for those who are unable to complete their searches for information.

Challenges for candidates, and employers

Carol Glazer, president of National Organization on Disability (NOD), the private, non-profit organization that supports and promotes career and life success for Americans with disabilities told HR Dive that the biggest employment barriers for Americans living with disabilities related to work and employment lie in misperceptions.

For the 57 million Americans living with disabilities, the largest barriers to employment usually stem from stigma about what individuals with disabilities can achieve and contribute to the workforce,” Glazer said. “If you look at history, you see a whole class of people that have been largely segregated. Before curb cuts mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, many people with physical disabilities couldn’t leave their homes and travel in their neighborhoods. Those with intellectual and mental health conditions were historically confined to institutions where they had to be cared for by so-called ‘specially-trained individuals.’ So until very recently, most people with disabilities just weren’t part of the community.”

There was not historically an understanding of how disabilities impact people, and whether they could work, Glazer said, pointing out it wasn’t dissimilar to how women in the workplace were viewed early on. “We fear the unknown,” she said.

Public policy approaches to the issue often took a limited approach focused on “income maintenance,” Glazer noted, which created what NOD refers to as a “tyranny of low expectations.”

“We as a society have not expected people with disabilities – whether they have a college degree or not – to work,” she said. “Disability can touch any race, ethnicity or gender, and it includes a wide range of disabilities from mobility and developmental disabilities to chronic health conditions like diabetes, among others. In fact, one in five Americans has a disability. Yet only 20% of working age people with disabilities are engaged in the workforce. Something is wrong. A critical connection is being missed – at enormous cost in individual lives, in productivity, and in the corporate bottom line.”

Ensuring recruitment websites and job boards are accessible

Technology is the new frontier for improving workplace accessibility, particularly given a digital revolution that has moved everything from basic HR management to recruitment and hiring online.

“Technology that is not accessible to individuals with disabilities comes at a high cost to companies. With digital technology overtaking traditional newspaper job listings and hard copy applications as the main interface between businesses and job seekers, companies that adopt accessible hiring technologies can gain a competitive edge in courting talent with disabilities. Accessible technology also includes features, like the ability to enlarge text on demand, which are helpful to all users — not only those who identify as having a disability,” Glazer said.

These advances are of particular note for job posting sites and search engines, some of which have taken note of the importance of accessibility.

James Hu, founder and CEO of Jobscan, the Seattle-based organization that combines applicant tracking systems (ATS) with resume and job search matching said recruitment websites and job boards have several areas where they could improve, including gaining better understanding of the specific needs some candidates have or the challenges they face.

On the website tools side, they are built by understanding pain points of candidates. Talking to people with different challenges, and how can we build better resources, means being mindful of this. We must open up the dialogue to design something better,” Hu said.

Making jobs accessible to candidates who face vision, hearing and language or comprehension barriers will involve a better understanding of the audience consuming information on sites and where those resources fall short, he added.

We need to understand the type of audience that is consuming the information found on the website. We can discover what are they viewing, resources they are visiting the most, and then design better tools and content for those with disabilities. There also need to be alternatives offered so that individuals can submit applications via email or reach out to speak to someone by phone if they are unable to use the applicant system or resources,” Hu said.

Hardware limitations do sometimes pose a challenge, Hu noted. Job sites don’t generally control voice assisting technology and other tools used to access website content. But sites do have control over how content is displayed and whether websites are built to compliment and work with such tools, he added. For example, a website could feature simple written content or a high contrast colors to improve usability.

Whether the technology is under direct control of employers, it is important that they keep accessibility in focus.

“Importantly, lacking accessible technology can also put your company at risk for non-compliance with federal, and/or state and local laws,” Glazer noted.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes requirements that all private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local government employers of any size, and public accommodations and commercial facilities, offer accessible consumer-facing websites, and digital applications are accessible to individuals with disabilities when they are requested, she notes. But employers who take recruiting a diverse talent pool seriously should think about going beyond just what’s required.

“Companies seeking to attract talent with disabilities know they must proactively make their processes accessible, as an important signal to prospective employees that the company is welcoming to employees with disabilities,” Glazer notes. Efforts to improve recruiting tools should be cross disciplinary and include HR, compliance professionals and IT experts to meet accessibility requirements and ensure positive user experiences across the board, she added.

What does this mean for employers

Employers also need to think beyond just recruiting tools and look hard at technology and software used within an organization as well as company culture and policies.

“Digital job boards are but one method of getting a job. Employers are recognizing that job boards alone aren’t sufficient for getting ‘ready’ for this new workforce,” Glazer notes. “[Employers] need to think about culture and climate – the accessibility of the company’s physical environment, of their websites and intranets, of their interviewing techniques and onboarding. They need to think about community providers that help source candidates and the systems they use to track candidates, new hires, and how to keep them engaged.”

Many employers have already taken such steps. According to the 2017 Disability Employment Tracker 82% of companies that responded reported that their recruiting, onboarding, and training processes are accessible to individuals with disabilities, including online applications, onboarding documents and company culture training.

Disability inclusion in the workplace is early in its evolution, Glazer notes, which means companies still benefit from guidance and examples of best practices. NOD offers a suite of Disability Employment Professional Services which give employers practical tips and strategic guidance to improve, or implement, disability inclusion initiatives.

Benefits for employers

The good news, Glazer notes, is there are incentives for employers to reach out to a broader group of candidates.

“The disability workforce may well be the richest talent pool still broadly untapped – ready, willing, and most of all, able to supply the dedication and ingenuity that will fuel the workforce of the 21st century,” Glazer said. “Hiring people with disabilities can have unique benefits for employers. People with disabilities spend their lives ignoring discouragement, persisting through setbacks, solving problems and finding creative routes around obstacles. They are a rich supply of talent, ready to be tapped, at a time when talent is at a premium.”

Research has shown that employees with disabilities are often ranked among companies’ most dedicated and best, Glazer said. Consumers have also shown a preference for buying from companies who hire people with disabilities, she added, not to mention, “Americans with disabilities and their friends and families constitute a huge and growing consumer segment with over $3.9 trillion in disposable income.”

The potential benefits for recruiting and for companies is general could be significant.


* 6/26/17 Tess C. Taylor updated ADA and 508 content for clarification.

Published on HR Dive