We are operating in one of the hottest economies with some of the lowest unemployment levels in recorded history. Recruiting and hiring teams are exerting greater time and effort than ever before to attract and engage qualified talent. Unfortunately, the hiring and recruiting process isn’t always a great candidate experience for all job seekers.
According to a user survey conducted by The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), 37% of survey respondents reported that they experienced accessibility or usability issues when using social media. Additionally, 46% rated their last experience applying for a job online as “difficult to impossible;” of those, 9% were unable to complete the application and 24% required assistance.
Despite a near-zero unemployment rate overall, the unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.5 percent in 2016, about twice that of those with no disability (4.6 percent), according to a 2017 report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, there are around 621,000 people with disabilities in this country who are ready and willing to work, but simply can’t find an organization that will hire them. At the same time, businesses report difficulty finding qualified, competent workers.
What do these numbers mean for recruiting and hiring teams? Companies who are committed to hiring the best talent and improving the candidate experience should also be committed to being inclusive and accessible to all candidates, including those with disabilities.
How Recruiting for Diversity and Disability Can Benefit Your Company
In the United States, one of the greatest challenges experienced by individuals with disabilities is employment. Research indicates that employer attitudes contribute to this pervasive problem. Specifically, some employers have misperceptions about the abilities of individuals with disabilities and the costs associated with the provision of accommodations. Understandably, employers are concerned with the bottom line.
However, according to a study by DePaul University, people with disabilities tend to stay on the job longer, are absent less, and have job performance ratings nearly identical to their peers without disabilities. An additional benefit to hiring people with disabilities, according to the study, was the diversification of work settings, which led to an overall positive work environment.
There is also a strong link between diversity and innovation. When companies recruit, hire, and retain individuals with disabilities (including veterans), they benefit from a wider pool of talent, skills, and creative business solutions. New research reported in the Harvard Business Review offers compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth—a finding that should intensify efforts to ensure that executive ranks both embody and embrace the power of differences.
When companies recruit, hire, and retain individuals with disabilities (including veterans), they benefit from a wider pool of talent, skills, and creative business solutions. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2wn2GB5
By correlating diversity in leadership with market outcomes as reported by respondents, the research showed that companies with diversity programs out-innovate and outperform others. Employees at these companies are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.
What You Can Do Right Now
Recruitment today is digital. It starts with your own website: According to recruitment trend experts, potential employees are scrutinizing your brand online to get a sense of your identity, culture and reputation. Your online presence plays an increasingly vital role in attracting qualified job candidates. Job searches, applications and screening are also online.
It’s no longer optional to improve your online apply process to accommodate persons with disabilities. Considering that nearly 1 in 5 Americans has a disability, and that 1 in 8 Americans is 65 and older, if your website and apply process isn’t accessible to them, you could be losing out on potential job candidates, or new customers, and exposing yourself to legal risk.
If your website and apply process isn’t accessible to them, you could be losing out on potential job candidates, or new customers, and exposing yourself to legal risk. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2wn2GB5
Under existing regulations for implementing the ADA, discrimination on the basis of disability includes the failure to provide applicants and employees with disabilities with effective and meaningful opportunities to enjoy the privileges of employment. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has entered into settlement agreements with State and local governments that specifically cover accessibility of websites relating to any facet of employment, employment opportunities, and/or the process of applying for employment. The settlement agreements include a reference to the applicable web accessibility technical standards, like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Below, we’ve outlined seven things you can do right now to make your online hiring process more inclusive and accessible.
#1 Screen Reader Compatibility
People with low vision, people who are blind, people with hearing loss, and people with dyslexia typically navigate the web using a screen reader that converts text to speech and provides non-visual navigation commands. For this assistive technology to work, it’s important that you include detailed and consistent navigational elements in the page structure, such as headers, titles, and lists. Most operating systems today include a built-in screen reader that you can use to test your website, including Narrator on Windows and Voiceover on Mac OSX.
#2 Video Captions
Include captions and transcripts for all media, such as online videos, including Facebook Live, YouTube, and event videos. As a bonus, adding captions has been proven to increase your SEO online and boost user engagement.
#3 Alt Tagging
People who can’t see images rely on well-written descriptive text (called an “ALT attribute”), visible to screen readers, to understand the information they convey. There is one basic rule when it comes to ALT attributes: describe the function of the image. This does not always mean that you describe the actual image–and it definitely shouldn’t mean one-thousand-word ALT attributes. Instead, you need to thoughtfully consider how and why you are using each image.
#4 Extended Time to Complete Assessments
Many people using assistive technology require extra time to navigate a website and complete tasks. For web pages with time limits, the user should have options to turn off, adjust, or extend that time limit.
#5 Color Contrasts
Did you know that red–green color blindness affects up to 8% of males? Additionally, low-vision conditions increase with age, and half of people over the age of 50 have some degree of low-vision condition. Ensure that they can use your website by testing your design elements for proper color contrast. There are tools to help you with this, including Chromatic Vision Simulator, which shows what your site would look like to people with different types of color blindness, and VisionSim, which simulates macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa and cataracts.
#6 Keyboard Accessibility
One of the easiest initial tests for accessibility is whether you can use a website without a mouse. Can you Tab through your website content from start to finish, or are there “keyboard traps”?
#7 Adding ‘alt-text’ to Your Digital Images and Assets
It’s important to make online images accessible. This means adding alt-text descriptions to PowerPoint slides that include images, web images, social media, PDFs, and others. The description should include a summary of the purpose of the image and include any relevant supporting research, statistics or information.
Companies that are serious about diversity in their work force should get serious about digital accessibility. Let potential job candidates know they are welcomed from the moment they visit your brand online. Eliminate any barriers from your website. Make sure that your online application process is fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Many free automated tools can help you get started with identifying accessibility issues, though please note they are only a starting point. A knowledgeable person will always need to test the site manually, followed by user testing by people with disabilities. Finally, you can use PEAT’s TechCheck tool to assess the current state of your company’s technology accessibility practices.
By complying with these digital accessibility standards, your organization will reap the rewards of tapping into a rich talent pool, diversify your reach and engagement, and you’ll differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Jessica Miller-Merrell is a workplace change agent and author focused on human resources and talent acquisition. She lives in Austin, TX and is recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer. She's the founder of Workology.