Technology for All: The Need For A More Accessible Workplace

Some employers perceive accessibility accommodations to be prohibitively expensive to the business. In reality, the opposite is true.

Julie M. Anderson is principal at AG Strategy Group and expert at

The current employment rate for people with disabilities stands at only 17 percent. This statistic speaks volumes to the fact that more needs to be done to make the workplace more accessible.

More than 20 years ago, the United Nations designated today as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Since that time, the U.S. and countries around the globe have been committed to creating more accessible environments in education, in the arts, and in the workforce.

And while some employers provide tools and resources to make the workplace more accessible, further action is needed. Moving forward, all employers must use technology with accessibility features in the workplace. Here’s a look at how we can collectively take action.  

The United Nations established the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to raise awareness for this issue and ultimately to create a more inclusive workforce. The Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 highlighted the government’s commitment to this issue. Section 503 of The Rehabilitation Act -- focused on federal contractors and subcontractors -- was updated in 2013.  

Among other provisions, these laws prohibit discrimination against candidates with disabilities.  Section 503 also requires federal contractors to “take affirmative action to recruit, employ, train and promote qualified individuals with disabilities.”

The ADA has also given rise to numerous technological innovations in the field such as automatic wheelchair lifts, voice-automated calculators and software programs for the visually impaired. These advancements are inventions that help disabled individuals lead more independent lives.

Employing People with Disabilities is Good Business

Some companies and federal contractors recognize that employing people with disabilities is simply good for business. Employees with disabilities have significantly lower turnover rates, leading to lower recruiting and training costs. They can help stimulate product and service development by offering new ideas and different perspectives in an inclusive team. They also benefit organizational culture and overall workplace climate.

Yet, individuals with disabilities face barriers to hiring and employment. Some employers perceive accessibility accommodations to be prohibitively expensive to the business. In reality, the opposite is true. Ninety-five percent of employers incur a maximum cost of $600 on accessibility functionality per disabled employee.

These accommodations can range from widening doorways for wheelchairs, to ensuring all employees use software applications accessible to people with disabilities. Given the longer tenure of disabled employees, this also means savings from reduced hiring and training expenses.

Improving recruitment, Retention and Success

Employers have a responsibility to help retain employees with disabilities and to help them perform their jobs to the best of their abilities by providing the necessary tools. New resources are available to help employers perform this role. In fact, the White House recently published a resource guide to help companies hire, train and promote people with disabilities.

The guide outlines employers’ legal responsibilities, best practices for employing people with disabilities, and ways to implement more accessible technology. The guidance applies to employers in many industries, including federal contractors.  

The Partnership for Employment and Accessible Technology -- an initiative funded by the Labor Department – offers numerous technology resources employers should use when recruiting and employing people with disabilities. Both initiatives will help employers hire more employees with disabilities and hopefully increase the employment rate over 17 percent.  

Ensuring Technology For All

Most importantly, employers must ensure all technology is accessible. How can this be done? Employers should look for specific features related to accessibility when purchasing technology for use in the workplace. These features include the ability to create accessible content, interoperability with formats, and prompts for a user to ensure the document is accessible.

Document features such as these and additional software, website and hardware features are found in the European standard for accessibility. Employers who deploy accessible technology that complies with this standard will help all employees be more productive. Federal contractors, in particular, must meet their commitment to foster an accessible work environment to not only benefit persons with disabilities, but also serve as an example to employers across the public and private sectors.

Employers play a vital role in helping people with disabilities lead independent and self-sufficient lives through employment. New resources and technologies are now available to help companies employ people with disabilities more effectively, improving the opportunities afforded to people with disabilities. All employers must use accessible technology in the workplace. When employers do more to help employees with disabilities perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, the business and all employees benefit.