Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, along with Titles I and IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits discrimination related to employment for people with disabilities. Section 503 targets federal government agencies and contractors, and covers a wide range of employment processes including recruitment and applications. Titles I and IV of the ADA also include the application and hiring process, but are directed toward private and public employees.
Today 78% of companies have some kind of career section on their websites, and 98% of job seekers use the Internet for their employment searches. This is why applications for conducting job searches, posting resumes, completing online job applications, and even doing online interviews should be fully accessible and compliant with disability employment laws. In addition, these internet-based hiring processes also comply with provision 1194.22 of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which covers Internet information and applications.
The Office of the Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has launched an initiative called “Ensuring the Accessibility of Online Application Systems.” The basis of this initiative is to ensure applicants with disabilities have equal access to internet-based hiring process. One of the ways that the OFCCP has implemented this initiative is to perform audits on federal online applications. Questions presented in the audits are worth examining to give any employer, whether federal or not, a good idea of what an accessible hiring process entails.
Does the employer have an online application system used as a method for accepting applications for employment?
Just placing a job application on the Internet or a company’s Intranet is a giant step towards accessibility. Otherwise, if an employer offers paper forms or PDF forms that cannot be completed online, applicants with dexterity or vision impairments may have to depend on someone else to fill out the application for them. Questions have to be read and/or answers have to be written.
Do non-online applications exist that are accessible?
Although all job applications may not be in an accessible electronic format, other accessible versions may still be available. Companies may offer job applications in Braille or audio. A hiring manager may also ask the application questions verbally to persons with vision impairments. Another alternative is to have applicants with dexterity or vision disabilities scan the forms onto their computers, complete them in a word processing program, and fax or e-mail them back to the HR manager.
Is the employer’s online application compatible with assistive technologies?
A company’s employment website must be accessible to individuals who are blind and use screen readers, as well as those with other visual impairments who use magnification and color contrast software.
Images and graphic interfaces should have text equivalents (i.e. a descriptive Alt attribute of “Upload Resume” for a button with a graphic of a piece of paper) so screen readers can identify them for their users. Form fields must also be labeled so screen reader users can navigate to them and input information easily. If a job portal has data grids or trees, they must be structured properly so screen readers can associate table headers with data cells or list items with each other.
If a job application is in PDF format, it should be an interactive form that can be completed on the computer. Accessible PDF interactive forms can be created with Adobe Acrobat Pro or LifeCycle. For screen reader users to identify form fields, descriptive tooltips must be added. The form fields also must be in a logical tab order so screen reader and keyboard-only users can navigate to them.
For magnification software to work properly content must be in measurement units that can be resized (i.e. em units). If content is styled with Cascading Style Sheets (“CSS”) the style sheets can be disabled so text can be resized also. Applying color through CSS further allows users to contrast background and foreground colors to desired levels.
If companies provide online job examinations all the above must be considered plus time limits must be extended. Screen reader or AT users may need more time in completing online exam questions.
Are job application options accessible to individuals with mobility impairments?
Persons with dexterity impairments must be able to navigate companies’ job portals or online applications from the keyboard. In other words, each button, link or form field must be able to be reached by tabbing to it and then pressing Enter to activate it. A user should be able to navigate radio buttons and options of combo boxes by using the arrow keys. If an interface cannot be tabbed to a keyboard shortcut should be assigned to it.
As with AT users, keyboard only users also need extended time in completing online employment exams, as tabbing through form fields takes longer than moving the mouse cursor and clicking on them.
Do hearing impaired applicants have visual options?
If a company’s career portal has podcasts or videos, these media presentations must have captions or transcripts so hearing impaired individuals can access the audio content. This also applies to videos presented in the company’s office. Furthermore, the company must provide sign language interpreters for job interviews or job recruiting events. If a hearing impaired applicant calls via a Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) to inquire about an available position, HR staff should know how to take a relay call.
Providing accessibility throughout every phase of the hiring process ensures that more persons with disabilities will be employed. This is not only a winning situation for applicants with disabilities, but also for the employer who will get qualified, diligent employees. Since the OFCCP is committed to enforcing disability employment regulations, employers should comply with them and reap the benefits of this process.