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Technological Accessibility

Technology accessibility, also known as digital accessibility, is an important component of disability inclusion.  

In today’s workplace, technology is one of the central drivers of productivity and success, for all workers. But when workplace technology isn’t accessible, it excludes and becomes a barrier to employment.

Inaccessible technology can limit opportunities for people with disabilities to get hired, or to excel in a position when they are unable to perform their job duties because they can’t access basic workplace tools. On the flip side, when an organization’s technology infrastructure is accessible, it can optimize—on both the individual and organizational level. 

According to the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), “accessibility means that everyone can use the exact same technology as anyone else—regardless of whether they can manipulate a mouse, how much vision they have, how many colors they can see, how much they can hear or how they process information." 

Accessible technology is either directly accessible, whereby it is usable without additional assistive technology (AT), or it is compatible with AT. For example, a mobile smartphone with a built-in screen reader is directly accessible, whereas a website that can be navigated effectively by people with visual impairments using a screen reader is AT-compatible.

Taking steps to ensure all employees can access the technology they need to perform their jobs is a wise business practice that can impact a business’s bottom line. Benefits include:

  • Improved recruitment and employee retention
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Operational cost reductions
  • Improved corporate image
  • Reduced legal costs

Federal employers (and federal contractors and subcontractors that provide information and communication technology products and services to them) also have an additional reason for paying attention to technological accessibility—Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies’ information and communications technology to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Broadly, areas where employers may need to address technology accessibility include:

  • Web-based intranet and internet information and applications
  • Email and other electronic correspondence
  • Software applications and operating systems
  • Telecommunications products
  • Video and multimedia products
  • Desktop and portable computers
  • Self-contained, closed products such as calculators, copy machines and printers
  • Online job applications

It is important to understand that accessibility of information and communication technology (ITC) needs to also be considered for things like meetings and events, career fairs/hiring events, and trainings, whether online or in person. EARN also offers a guide to help employers ensure their telework policies are inclusive of people with disabilities, which includes making sure that all ITC used for teleworking is accessible. 

Another area where accessibility should be taken into account is in the use of artificial intelligence (AI). In the modern workplace, use of AI is becoming increasingly common to screen applicants, streamline application processes, provide training and otherwise facilitate hiring and employment. But employers must ensure that the use of AI does not inadvertently hinder efforts to recruit, hire, retain and advance people with disabilities. To help, EARN developed a policy brief providing a roadmap for businesses interested in designing, procuring and using AI to benefit, and not discriminate against, people with disabilities.

PEAT, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, offers a range of resources for employers interested in making their workplaces more technology accessible. These include:

EARN has also worked with PEAT to create 10 Tips for an Accessible Website to help businesses of all sizes understand how to build an accessible website, as well as a factsheet on planning accessible employee resource group (ERG) events. Learn more about communicating your organization’s commitment to accessibility, including crafting an accessibility statement. For an overview of the legal landscape around digital accessibility, review this webinar with Eve Hill, an expert in the digital accessibility space.