Workplace accessibility is more important than ever from business, ethical, and legal standpoints. Your business might find it easier to focus on accessibility when emphasizing the potential to reach a larger audience than ethical or legal penalties.
More people are living with disabilities than you might expect; the Disability Compendium 2017 report claims 12.8 percent of the U.S. population lives with a disability, while the CDC estimates 50 million Americans live with a disability.¹,²
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of several laws designed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. Updates to the ADA, like the Amendments Act of 2008, expand the law’s definition beyond physical accommodation.³ The ADA covers publicly accessible digital properties like websites, documents, and applications. While ADA requirements have existed since 1990, state and local governments continue to adjust them with technology.
Many employers still have questions about how to comply with ADA requirements. Creating an accessible work environment for employees with disabilities and avoiding undue hardship with public accommodations is much easier when an organization has a clear understanding of what legal requirements they need to follow.
Accessibility compliance is an interesting case because it is a legal requirement that increases organizational value as a whole. Performing the following six essential functions can guide your business through the ADA compliance process.
1. Avoid Disability Assumptions
Upwards of 10 percent of people in the U.S. live with an invisible disability.4 While the previously mentioned statistics might sound surprising, it makes a great point that disabilities aren’t always obvious.
As an employer, you should always consider that every qualified applicant could be living with a physical or mental disability that you can’t see. The ADA requirements are just as important with all people with disabilities, regardless of how easy it is to tell if a person has a disability.
Whenever an employee or job applicant mentions a physical or mental condition that might impact their work, you must treat them according to the ADA guidelines that the government has established. Ignoring one of your employee’s health problems because you don’t believe it is serious or important could potentially lead to legal recourse.
2. Follow the the Official Process
The ADA protects both employees and customers. While conforming to ADA requirements isn’t always easy, the government lays out the process. Your organization should follow the established process when accessing an employee’s needs and determining the necessary assistance measures.
The assistance should help the employee perform all functions of the job. An employer should follow the official process when investigating an employee’s disability and whether reasonable accommodations can be made in the workplace.
Businesses do not need to go to incredible, impractical, and excessively expensive lengths to accommodate employees with disabilities. However, businesses that fail to follow the correct procedures leave themselves open to legal challenges from job applicants, current staff, and former employees who feel mistreated.
Keep in mind that compliance with ADA regulations means more than just arriving at a solution that employees and job applicants find fair and acceptable. Compliance also means that a business has taken the correct legal route to arrive at a solution.
3. Maintain Thorough Documentation
The burden of proof falls on your organization for addressing employee ADA regulation issues. Therefore, it’s best for your business to fully document every step it takes in addressing accessibility issues – regardless of how insignificant those steps may seem.
This accessibility documentation is evidence that will support your case if your business ever needs to defend itself in an ADA regulation violation lawsuit. For instance, one such lawsuit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handled involved the United States Postal Service. The USPS had been in question over the organization restricting duty hours for individuals with disabilities in permanent rehabilitation positions.5
Documentation can show your organization was fully compliant with the rules. This means documenting all the interactions you have with an employee or job applicant regarding disability issues, even if it’s just a short conversation over the water cooler.
4. Treat Workers As Individuals
Workers with a disability should be treated as individuals. The rules underlying the ADA require that businesses avoid using a one-size-fits-all approach to deal with their employees with disabilities. Each case is unique and requires individualized solutions. Just because two of your employees have the exact same disability, doesn’t necessarily mean that their workplace needs will be identical as well.
For instance, there are disabilities that are progressive in nature, meaning that two employees with the same condition might be at different stages of that condition, requiring different accommodations. This is why it’s vital to listen to your employees you and to respond based on those conversations, instead of attempting to put in place a standard set of accommodations for that particular disability.
5. Digital Accessibility Matters Too
Not all accommodations involve changing office space or purchasing equipment. Sometimes, reasonable accommodation means modifying an employee’s schedule or moving a desk closer to natural light. Your digital properties also need to be accessible for both employees and potential job seekers.
Your organization’s website, job portal, software, inter-office documents, and social media profiles all need to meet the technical requirements of the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Bringing in accessibility consulting experts can help evaluate your properties to make sure they’re ADA compliant.
6. Keep in mind the FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides employees with the right to requires work leave under certain circumstances. Businesses are not allowed to simply terminate employees on the spot when they have to miss work because of family medical issues or their pregnancy.
In addition to this, employers are not allowed to dismiss employees who exceed the allowed FMLA leave period. Instead, employers have to carry out an ADA analysis to determine if the employee can be transferred to another position in the company that would be more suitable to their circumstances.
Making sure your company is fully in compliance with ADA requirements isn’t always easy. But it’s essential if you and your business would like to avoid any expensive courtroom battles in the future. By following the process laid out by the ADA and conscientiously communicating with employees or job applicants with disabilities, you can guarantee that your business is ADA compliant.
To learn more about how you can help your company meet today’s ADA requirements, request a demo from eSSENTIAL Accessibility today. We look forward to helping you meet the needs of every employee and applicant.
- 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report. Disability Compendium, 2017
- CDC: 53 million adults in the US live with a disability. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- ADA Amendments Act of 2008. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2008
- Invisible Disabilities: List & Information. University of Massachusetts, 2015
- USPS Settlement. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- FMLA (Family & Medical Leave). United States Department of Labor, 2018
Editor’s Note: This post was updated in February 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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