Due to the unprecedented changes in society since 2020, expect the digital accessibility conversation to play a larger role in the human resource industry.

From online recruitment channels to everyday workflow processes, companies need to be auditing their employee-facing website content and software applications, to assure they are accommodating all of their employees, specifically those with disabilities.

Digital accessibility needs to be prioritized due to:

  • The rise in work-from-home standards
  • The need to diversify and expand talent pools
  • Avoid costly litigation and penalties

Dive into the details with us about how digital accessibility is a critical component of employee management.

Being a Company That Gives a Damn

Human resource managers understand the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and they know fostering these principles begins internally with how employees are treated.

If companies are not making the necessary steps to assure equal employment opportunities for disabled employees, they are likely also failing to protect the rights of their disabled customers as well.

Organizations need to review and consider if employees have access to assistive tools such as:

  • Screen-reading software
  • Closed and live captioning
  • Screen magnifiers

However, assistive technologies are only half of the equation. Employee-facing websites need to meet WCAG criteria, too.

To be able to properly perform responsibilities, employees must be able to navigate and interact with internal workflow systems. This includes website dashboards, employee benefit databases, software apps, PDF forms, email, and virtual meetings. Accommodations need to be provided for potential employees as well.

Jobseekers should be able to navigate and interact with recruitment and application submission interfaces.

Work From Home Is on the Rise

Work has become more decentralized in post-pandemic markets, and opportunities for telework, hybrid and virtual jobs are becoming increasingly standard. Some companies are ditching their central offices entirely.

This represents an unprecedented opportunity for the disabled community for employment with a larger cross-section of industries and markets. For one, remote work is the preferred orientation for those with disabilities as it gives them more control over their environment and allows them to use their gear to work.

Companies across the world are having to address worker shortages and explore more ways to onboard talent. Many institutions are broadening job requirements to include international and work-from-home availability.

According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 30 million working-age adults ages 16-64 with a disability. This means shoring up your company’s digital workflow infrastructure to accommodate workers with disabilities means you’re expanding your talent pool access significantly.

Accessibility Puts You Ahead

Though it’s not talked about enough, implementing web accessibility features expands the overall usability and versatility of how all of your employees can accomplish work. There is an interesting trend with “assistive” technologies where they evolve into mainstream functions.

For example, speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and speech commands assist individuals who are blind or who have motor impairments using technology. However, nowadays these features are commonplace in bluetooth and voice assistants allowing motorists to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road.

Investing in digital accessibility for current and potential employees will provide unforeseen advantages in the future.

Legal Ramifications of Inaccessibility

In summing up what we’ve covered, digital accessibility provides inclusive and equal employment opportunities for the disabled community. This is (1) a moral imperative and (2) a strategic labor acquisition measure.

While those two points may be convincing for most forward-thinking decision-makers, we would be remiss if we closed this conversation without talking about the consequences of failing to provide accessibility to your employees.

Namely, businesses and organizations are legally obligated to provide equal access to their employee base. Violating equal opportunity laws and refusing to make adjustments can mean having to pay out millions in damages, fines, and legal fees.

Americans with Disabilities Act Title I & Title III

Customer and end-user web accessibility has been a key focus for companies over the past decade as increased litigation over noninclusive web content has surged under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, there is less conversation about how companies need to be thinking about Title I.

While Title III addresses public access to services, Title I of the ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or potential employees with disabilities. The law states businesses with 15 or more employees must provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities, such as assistive tools, as long as they do not constitute undue hardship.

Lawsuits & Enforcement

Potential litigation for equal employment violations is much larger and more substantive than lawsuits filed over public access. This is due to a couple of reasons: the kind of recourse allowed through the law and the agencies tasked with enforcing the law.

Under Title III, consumers and the public cannot seek personal monetary relief against an organization for accessibility violations, though they can seek non-monetary solutions and attorney’s fees.

But that’s not the case under Title I. Employees who are discriminated against based on their disability and are unable or are denied the opportunity to work can seek damages including lost and future wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and legal fees.

Title I compliance is also under the purview of a specific compliance agency. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) share responsibility for enforcing Title I of the ADA. In contrast, the DOJ is the only agency tasked with Title III complaints.

There have been significant lawsuits won on behalf of disabled employees under Title I of the ADA. Let’s look at two recent cases.

Bartleson V. Miami-Dade County School District

In 2019, a federal court ruled in favor of Dr. Janice A. Bartleson, a blind counselor who was an employee with the Miami-Dade County School District, one of the largest school systems in the country.

Bartleson sued the system as she was unable to use the school district’s website, forms, and software. She claimed they were not compatible with her speech reader tools or her refreshable Braille display and she would regularly have to rely on the help of sighted co-workers to file sensitive student reports and access her employee benefits information.

Bartleson claimed the inaccessibility violated Title I of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Florida state law. The court issued a consent decree ordering Miami-Dade County Schools to pay Bartleson $250,000 and to overhaul all of its digital content and applications to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards.

EEOC V. FedEx Ground

In May 2020, FedEx Ground agreed to settle a six-year lawsuit filed by EEOC in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. In 2014, the EEOC charged FedEx with discriminating against its deaf and hard-of-hearing package handler employees and failing to provide reasonable accessibility accommodations for them, including closed captioning or American Sign Language translation in training videos.

A two-year consent decree ordered FedEx to pay $3.3 million to more than 200 employees and required the company to make several remediations to ensure deaf and hard-of-hearing employees could enjoy equal employment. This included adjusting equipment features to feature visual alert lights and special ADA compliance training for management and human resources.

UserWay Provides Critical Compliance Solutions & Audits

If you are unsure if your digital accessibility is up to par and providing equal opportunity to all of your employees, UserWay can help you empower your team and protect your business through its Web Accessibility Compliance Audit Report. This service leverages expert insights to check adherence to ADA & Section 508 regulations based on WCAG 2.1 level AA and AAA success criteria.

The report provides your organization with clear and actionable checklists for each and every accessibility violation on your site, and how exactly it should be fixed. These reports are also signs of good faith, which build confidence with disabled employees and build liability protection.