Why Digital Accessibility Matters
Now more than ever, people go online for almost everything: shopping, learning, banking—and searching for work. And why not? It’s faster, easier, and more personalized than ever.
Or is it?
Over one billion people worldwide have some form of disability that may prevent access to digital content, including visual, auditory, speech, mobility, cognitive, and neurological impairments. They often face significant inclusion challenges in today’s online talent experience.
Common web access barriers include:
No screen reader compatibility
Missing alt text for images
Lack of closed captions for video
Poor color contrast
To help overcome these discriminatory roadblocks, career websites need to incorporate digital accessibility standards. The same way ramps enable wheelchair users to access a building, digital accessibility refers to designing and coding a website to eliminate barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully accessing the site.
For many companies, digital accessibility began as a whisper. Now, the call for digital content to meet web accessibility guidelines is amplified amid increased awareness of this issue.
The past few years have seen a significant uptick in lawsuits alleging discrimination related to digital barriers. And a growing number of these lawsuits claim that plaintiffs were unable to access a company’s career website or employee intranet sites. In addition to inadvertently alienating a large pool of talent, companies that don’t ensure inclusive digital design may risk similar litigation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Without legal standards from the Department of Justice, these companies are often forced to settle without the tools or knowledge to address the real issues.
Addressing the Problem
Fortunately, the tide is turning, and some of the largest companies in the world are shifting to more accessible design. This is great progress, but it’s important to point out that there is a difference between designing for accessibility and designing with empathy.
Digital accessibility requires us to meet the formal WCAG guidelines to create a better web experience for users of diverse abilities.
Building with empathy requires a team to acknowledge there’s an issue, understand why it’s an issue, create a long-term plan to fix existing problems, and speak loudly about the issue to encourage others to make amendments of their own.
Organizations doing substantial work in this field include: Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Bank of America, ADP, Comcast, and many other fortune 500 companies.
Apple: VoiceOver, Contrast configurations, AirPod “Hearing Aid” Mode, Siri, Eye-Tracking, Voice Control, Inclusive Emojis
Microsoft: Microsoft Narrator, XBOX Adaptive Controller, Windows Accessibility, Disability Answer Desk, Commitment to WCAG AAA Standard
Google: Chrome Accessibility Developer Tools, Contributions to WCAG, Free Online Accessibility Course, Accessibility Trusted Tester Program, Google Search (Filters, Skip to Main, etc.)
Ensuring equal digital access is a journey, not a destination—and improvements don’t happen overnight. Implementing full accessibility requires an overhaul of legacy systems. For example, systems aren’t often designed with screen reader compatibility in mind, and it’s only recently been recognized that carefully formatted responsive mobile environments can enable greater accessibility across these devices (WCAG 2.1 standards heavily address mobile compatibility).
With frequent site updates and content additions occurring daily, organizations need a long-term sustainability plan for maintaining and monitoring digital environments rather than a one-and-done overhaul.
As your organization works toward these goals, decision-makers can help lay a foundation of empathy to optimize all digital environments that candidates and employees with disabilities encounter. Here’s how:
1. Bring empathy to the foreground. Developing with empathy shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s a tenet that must be “baked in” to team mindset, design, and development best practices.
2. Educate internally. Help teams understand how accessibility issues can impact site users to build internal commitment to empathy.
3. Choose vendors committed to accessibility. Select vendors who are like-minded in their commitment to empowering users with disabilities. Partner with companies that build empathetic solutions designed to meet the needs of this often marginalized demographic.
Spreading the Word
The Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology also offers the following tips for communicating the role of accessible technology in an inclusive workplace culture:
Include a statement expressing commitment to accessible technology on your public-facing website and job application sites.
Include language on career sites regarding your organization’s commitment to equal opportunity for applicants with disabilities.
Educate new and existing employees on policies and procedures related to digital accessibility.
Include information on your company’s commitment to equal opportunity and accessibility in employee handbooks and intranet sites.
Provide information to employees on their rights to assistive, accessible technology and how to request it.
Provide digital accessibility training tailored to specific departments. For example, train HR staff on accessibility features of talent management platforms.
The line between virtual spaces and brick-and-mortar establishments is becoming increasingly blurred. As the exodus from physical retailers and providers to digital ones continues, empathic accessibility must be considered a requirement, not an option. We can’t leave over a billion people behind.