The employment landscape has changed greatly in the years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The huge leap in technological advances has created both new opportunities and new challenges for people with disabilities in the workplace. In honor of the ADA anniversary, EARN reached out to Wendy Strobel-Gower, Director of the Northeast ADA Center, and asked her to blog about the importance of accessibility and access in online application systems. Online application systems, which allow people to apply for open positions within a company using the internet or related electronic data technologies, are becoming increasingly common for all employers. As such, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has addressed this issue in its recently issued a final regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The final rule adds new language stating that the reasonable accommodation obligation extends to the contractor’s use of electronic or online job application systems. Federal contractors must ensure equal access to job opportunities for all applicants, including people with disabilities. Simply stated, accessible online application systems are the most expeditious way to do this. The gold standard in accessible online systems are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). According to the World Wide Web Consortium, WCAG 2.0 has 12 guidelines that are organized under 4 principles:
- Perceivable means that information must be visible to a person’s senses in some way. Content must lend itself to multiple formats to meet the needs of all potential users. For example, if a user cannot see the information on the site, they should be able to hear it.
- Operable means that users must be able to interact with an interface as intended. It is critical to provide options for people to get around in and use the feature of a website. For example, not everyone can use a mouse so keyboard accessibility is important to some users.
- Understandable means that information must be presented to people in a way that they can comprehend it. It is critical that websites use clear, simple language; that it describes important pictures in words for people who can’t see them; and that it is laid out in a way that makes sense to people.
- Robust means that content should allow for people to access it in a variety of ways, including through the use of assistive technologies; through mobile systems; and for the technology of the future.
There is an excellent discussion on how to create a website that meets these principles on the WebAIM site entitled Constructing a POUR site. WebAIM also offers a great tool called WAVE to evaluate a website for accessibility. If a contractor chooses not to create an accessible online application system, they should have alternative systems set up to ensure equal access to employment opportunities. The drawback of having an alternative entry point for applicants with disabilities is that it forces people into disclosing the need for an accommodation before they have had an opportunity to understand the environment into which they are applying. It can be a major disincentive to applicants with disabilities. Accessible online application systems say a lot about the culture of your organization. It helps to ensure to people on the outside that access for all is a priority for your organization. Learn more about assessing and interviewing candidates on askEARN