How Digital Accessibility Impacts Human Resources Departments

The past couple of years have arguably seen a paradigm shift toward greater awareness of digital accessibility, especially considering the recent flood of digital accessibility litigation.

Most lawsuits have revolved around the rights of disabled consumers to have equal web access so they can complete online purchases, access product information and other consumer-related activities. These lawsuits typically allege violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

However, a small but growing number of lawsuits related to Title I of the ADA illustrate the importance of making sure that employees (and prospective employees) have equal access to digital content. In fact, a software company recently found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit alleging that, while consumer-facing systems were accessible, its employee interfaces were not. Software used by employees was not compatible with screen readers used by blind employees, according to the lawsuit.

Beyond liability exposure, human resources (HR) managers should be aware of other potential negative side affects related to poor digital accessibility in the workplace. When employees (or potential employees) are unable to access web-based programs and systems, wellbeing and morale is compromised. And if disabled job candidates can’t access career portals, the company misses out on a well of talent.

HR departments need to ensure digital accessibility on two levels:

  1. Making internal websites accessible to current employees (e.g., benefits websites, employee intranets, etc.)
  2. Making hiring technology accessible to job seekers (e.g., job application portals)

Digital Accessibility for Existing Employees

ADA Title I requires organizations with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities. This means providing employees with assistive technology such as screen readers, speech recognition software and screen magnifying software. But it also means that employee-facing web content, SAAS solutions, and other digital assets need to be accessible to employees with disabilities.

Employees who believe they are subject to discrimination as a result of digital accessibility failures can take legal action under ADA Title I. For example, in 2018, the National Federation of the Blind helped a Florida school district employee successfully sue her employer for failing to provide digitally accessible web-based content.

The school counselor, who is legally blind, was unable to use software, websites and web content as required by the district to complete job activities such as entering student progress notes, or to access employee benefits information. She also cited her inability to apply for promotions. And while this is undoubtedly a concern from a legal standpoint, it also shows a very real impact on employee wellness that every HR department should be aware of.

Digital Accessibility for Job Seekers

Paper-based employment applications are increasingly being replaced entirely with online career portals – which, if they aren’t accessible to people with disabilities, can constitute discrimination. HR departments need to ensure that websites are digitally accessible for job seekers.

The imperative for accessible career websites extends beyond liability protection: Nearly one in four U.S. adults are affected by a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a large pool of talent that companies without digitally accessible career portals are excluding themselves from.

How HR Can Ensure Digital Accessibility

HR departments should collaborate with managers to assess the accessibility of all employee-facing software programs and websites, and form a remediation plan, if necessary. A website auditing tool is the method of choice for many professionals responsible for digital accessibility – using our free Accessibility Checker is a good starting point.

Complying with requirements under Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is the best way to ensure equally accessible digital content. Having web developers fix errors in the source code is the safest way to ensure that employees and job seekers with disabilities have equal access to websites and portals. However, it’s often a time-consuming effort for already stretched IT resources. 

Make-Sense offers a new approach that minimizes the time and cost involved in ensuring accessible digital content. The Make-Sense solution allows for a “quick fix” on the virtual layer for immediate remediation, while recommending steps that developers can take for permanent fixes. Find out more at www.mk-sense.com