December 18, 2020

If Your Job Applications Aren’t Accessible, Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Is Incomplete

COVID-19 has forced companies to move at warp speed to prepare for the workforce of tomorrow under challenging circumstances and without the luxury of planning.

According to Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, it is likely that more than half of business travel and 30 percent of days in the office will disappear for good after the pandemic. Gates predicts there will be a “very high threshold” for business trips and constant options to work from home. This bodes well for many of the estimated 61 million adults living with disabilities in the US, many of whom may have been kept out of the workforce by transportation problems in the past.

The American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD) states that more than half a million people with disabilities never leave their homes because of transportation difficulties. The failure of public transportation to provide effective service not only causes frustration, but also actively interferes with people’s ability to get to work. This partially explains why the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of people without disabilities.

However, the newly digital work environment is giving employers more opportunities to recruit and hire people with disabilities. Gartner predicts the number of people with disabilities employed will triple by 2023 thanks to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. Even so, many HR professionals and diversity and inclusion leaders continue to underestimate the importance of making online job applications more inclusive for people with disabilities.

Since the Americans With Disabilities Act became law in 1990, most US employers have been legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to candidates with disabilities to ensure that they are able to participate in the application process and perform the essential tasks of their roles. However, at the time of this landmark bill’s signing, the internet was not yet available to the public. Online applications were not a thing, and digital accessibility was not an issue for lawmakers.

As it commonly happens, technology and the law have not developed simultaneously: The opportunities and limitations that technology present now outstrip the reach of the law. Where technology discriminates against people with disabilities, disability rights advocates are taking the issue to the courts, at the current rate of about one lawsuit per hour.

In a 2015 survey conducted by the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology, 46 percent of respondents rated their last experience with an online application “difficult” or “impossible.” Of those respondents, 9 percent said they couldn’t complete the application at all. Another 14 percent required technical assistance, but among them, 58 percent were unable to complete a job application even with support from the employer.

Despite these numbers, many companies claim to have diversity and inclusion strategies that include people with disabilities. In truth, these strategies only include the small number of folks who are able to overcome the accessibility hurdle of the online job application, which discourages millions of others.

What You Can Do to Make Your Career Pages More Accessible to People With Disabilities

Web accessibility is the practice of ensuring there are no barriers to interaction with, or access to, digital content (e.g., websites, apps, documents) for people with disabilities. In order to implement effective web accessibility, remember the acronym “POUR,” which represents four key principles of web accessibility: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Perceivable

Online content should be available to the applicant’s senses, including vision, touch, and hearing, either through the browser or through assistive technologies. Examples of how you can make your careers page and applications more perceivable include:

  1. Add text alternatives to convey meaningful information from non-text content to users of assistive technology.
  2. For audio and video content, always provide captions and alternative methods of delivery to ensure job applicants who are deaf or hard of hearing or blind can access the content.
  3. Do not use color as the only means of indicating information, like using red for errors.
  4. Present text in a font size of 10 or larger, and ensure that text can be enlarged further by readers.

Operable

Applicants should be able to interact with your content through a variety of tools and methods. Examples include:

  1. Make sure those who may need additional time to complete job application sections have it.
  2. Format questions so responses require less typing. For example, use a multiple-choice checkbox format and allow applicants’ data to pre-populate from a resume or other document into the application form.
  3. Allow the user to easily go back and forth between sections without loss of data, and ensure that there is an option to save sections and return to complete the application at a later date.
  4. Provide contact information within your online job application and an accessible way for users to receive technical assistance.

Understandable

Applicants should be able to understand your content and enjoy a predictable experience. Examples of how to make your content more understandable:

  1. Keep each page simple by limiting the amount of graphics and text.
  2. Break applications up into manageable, easy-to-follow sections.
  3. Create a predictable and consistent user experience so applicants will be able to navigate through your content more easily.
  4. Use simple language that is easy for applicants to understand and digest.
  5. Label the form fields in your job application.
  6. Ensure that instructions are clear, and provide an alternative way to submit an application for those who may have technical difficulties.

Robust

It is important to ensure that your content works well with any current and future technologies that applicants may use. Examples include:

  1. Perform regular accessibility checks to ensure applicants are having a successful experience completing your application.
  2. Have users of assistive technology provide feedback on your online job application.

By implementing these changes to your online job applications and careers pages, you will not only improve accessibility for all of your applicants, but also prepare your company for the workforce of tomorrow, today!

John Samuel is cofounder and CEO of Ablr.

Read more in Job Applications

John Samuel, cofounder and CEO of Ablr, impacts businesses and people with innovative strategies for digital accessibility. His experience includes stints in domestic and international industries over the last 15 years. While launching and serving as the CEO for Aster Cameroon, a global telecom infrastructure joint venture, he built a $45 million business delivering internet access across Africa. Afterward, he became an early member of Homestrings, a USAID-backed crowdfunding platform, where he helped raise capital for startups in emerging markets. John holds an MBA from George Washington University, a BS in accounting from North Carolina State University, and a Certified Professional in Accessible Core Competencies (CPACC) credential from International Association of Accessibility Professionals. At Ablr, John focuses on helping organizations be more inclusive by making digital content accessible for people of all abilities. His team provides human-powered digital accessibility testing, training, and monitoring services for corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations, enabling digital inclusion for people with disabilities. John's passion for his work is very personal, as he is blind and wants to make sure the obstacles he has faced are removed for others. He serves on the board of directors of Aravind Eye Foundation and the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce's Diversity & Inclusion Committee. John is a public speaker who loves connecting with people and telling impactful stories. He knows no barriers. You can find him exploring the ends of the world, from summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro to drinking pisco sours in Lima!
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