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. It 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.
When talking about technology, “accessible” means tools that can be used successfully by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. When technology is accessible, each user is able to interact with it in ways that work best for him or her. 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.
Regardless whether accessible or assistive, 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 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.
Today, use of artificial intelligence (AI) by employers is becoming increasingly common, including to screen applicants, streamline the application process, provide training and otherwise facilitate hiring and employment. But employers must ensure it 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, qualified individuals with disabilities.
The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), 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. A good place to start is Accessible Technology Action Steps: A Guide for Employers. Additional tools include TalentWorks, an online resource that helps employers and human resources (HR) professionals make their eRecruiting technologies accessible; and TechCheck, an accessible technology self-assessment instrument.
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 fact sheet (PDF) on planning accessible employee resource group (ERG) events.