Just announced: Level Access and eSSENTIAL Accessibility agree to merge! Read more.

co-written with Debra Ruh, SSB Chief Marketing Officer

A large number of organizations today use the internet to post job openings and receive resumes and online applications. If a person wants to apply for a position they are routed to an online career (jobs) center usually via the organization’s home page. The career site usually contains job postings, information about the organization, a place to submit a resume and often an online application form.

Many career sites ask the applicant to answer questions online, capture key words to help them sort applicant data, and save that information in a database. When a recruiter is looking to hire someone with certain experience, education, technical skills, etc., they plug in key words and out pops all of the candidates that meet those requirements. The recruiter may pull out the cream of the crop, set up interviews, and go through the “typical” process to whittle them down until one candidate is chosen.

If that organization has not designed its HR systems and processes to be fully accessible throughout that entire scenario then they are not only missing out on qualified candidates, but also discriminating against people with disabilities. It’s common knowledge that it’s against the law to not consider an applicant simply because they have a disability, but what if the applicant is never even able to apply in the first place because they are unable to use an organization’s online system?

Let’s say I’m an individual who is an excellent candidate for an open position with an organization and I happen to be blind. I use screen reader software to go to their website and attempt to locate the careers section. The site is not accessible. I’m trying to maneuver using my screen reader but I’m unsure how to get to the job postings or how to submit my resume. I’ve hit a brick wall. Maybe I’m lucky and have a friend or relative who can spend a few hours helping me read the job postings, submit my resume in the appropriate way, fill in the online application, etc. Perhaps a recruiter gets my resume, I’m a perfect fit, and I’m hired. However, on the job I discover that like the careers site, the system I must use to access new employee and benefits information or submit my hours is not accessible. I want to work, I am qualified to do the job, I am a loyal and productive employee and yet inaccessible systems leave me few options.

What if I’m not blind, but instead have low vision? Perhaps I’ll have a little more success in the application process, but if I rely on screen magnification software and developers have created the site in such a way that magnification cannot be used, I’ll also have to rely on a friend or relative to assist me in the process, and I’ll most likely face the same issues using the internal HR systems if I’m hired.

Perhaps I’m a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. I may be fine going through the online job search and application process, but if I’m called in for an interview I will need some type of accommodation—possibly and interpreter or some form of electronic communication. If the organization uses videos on the site and they are not captioned they will be useless to me.

Maybe I’m a person with mobility impairment. If I am fortunate enough to have the use of my hands I can complete the online process without issue. But what if I’m called in for an interview and the office is on the 3rd floor with no elevator? Or the restroom is not accessible? And what if I also do not have use of my hands? If the site requires me to use a mouse to navigate then I’m stuck—I have to be able to complete the process using only a keyboard.

To understand this, I’d ask an employer to go to their own site and without using a mouse attempt to look at job openings, submit a resume or fill out an application using only the keyboard. Can they do it? If not, can they really call themselves an “Equal Opportunity Employer” or an “Employer of Choice?” If an organization uses the internet as its primary means to post jobs and recruit candidates, and that site is not accessible, they are not providing an even playing field for all applicants.

To be an “Employer of Choice” an organization cannot discriminate. We have seen an uptick in Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) and ADA complaints related to discriminatory hiring processes. Plus, the OFCCP is considering strong language to address these problems. In fact, qualitative studies have put the cost to resolve a single EEOC complaint in the U.S. at around $200,000 per complaint. While the chance for such a case is relatively small, the penalty makes it a significant risk. Bottom-line, if an organization’s HR systems and processes are not accessible, not only are they taking a risk, but just as important they may be leaving out some very amazing talent.

Organizations who are intentionally tapping the talent of all people, including people with disabilities, are more likely to succeed in this competitive economy. Being known as an organization that is fully inclusive is a unique way to differentiate your business. Remember, your workplace, marketplace, community and suppliers include people with disabilities. Don’t eliminate them from your talent pool!