When Career Websites Aren't Accessible, Everyone Loses

Published October 29, 2020

You may have read articles in the past that detail the consistently lower levels of gainful employment held by individuals with disabilities. You might have reviewed summaries and cases made to highlight how workers with disabilities are more likely to work part-time and less likely to be promoted. You may read articles about one-off opportunities for reflecting on workplace inclusion, like those related to Labor Day or National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This isn't one of those. In fact, this article won't try to convince you of anything. This is more of a public service announcement so you know: When career websites aren't accessible, everyone loses.

To lay some common ground, "accessible" here means that people with disabilities, along with any assistive technologies they might use, can use all the features of the website independently. Sometimes accessibility refers to something being available, but in this context it isn't enough that something is available or reachable if it isn't operable or usable.

Website accessibility should be a given, but most websites are still highly inaccessible and many reports point to the accessibility gap widening. When career websites, specifically, are not accessible, here is who loses:

  • The job-seeker with a disability
  • The organization looking for talent
  • Literally everyone else

The most obvious victim is the individual who can't access career portals

People need jobs. This is hardly a radical idea, but with most job-seeking activities happening online, some people are much more likely to get those jobs than others. Many of us want to believe in the notion that the most qualified person for a job ends up landing it. A lot of times that's true, but often it's also true that the people who get the jobs are not any more or less qualified; rather, they were not prevented from finding or applying for employment because of entirely unnecessary accessibility barriers.

That might not be an easy pill to swallow — maybe breaking it into three parts helps:

  1. Digital content can be made accessible and there is nothing about a career website that would make it an exception. All of the functionality — from creating an account to reviewing openings to uploading resumes and tracking applications — can absolutely be built or fixed to work for everyone.
  2. Nondiscrimination in application and hiring processes is the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes clear that it is illegal for private businesses with 15 or more employees to discriminate against qualified individuals in every aspect of employment, including pre-employment. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 makes clear the same for federal and some private employers. Preventing access by neglecting to follow known and proven accessibility standards (like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is discrimination.
  3. Accessibility doesn't guarantee someone with a disability will or should get the job — but inaccessibility does make sure many will never get the chance. Accessibility is the open door. It's the chance to come on in, poke around, and in terms of employment, at least have a shot. And it isn't an exaggeration to say that when people who visit a career website can't make full and equal use of it, they haven't been given a shot.

The employer, maybe unknowingly, is sacrificing its ability to attract top talent

This article started with a promise of not trying to convince you of anything, so the statistics about how many qualified workers with disabilities there are and how companies who are inclusive outperform those who are not won't be repeated here to prove anything. If those metrics are important to you, they're easy to find.

Instead of the numbers, consider the reality shaped by them:

  • You'll remain unaware of talented workers who may have been interested in working for your company but were unable to use the inaccessible career website.
  • You may be judged (harshly) by how an inaccessible career website reflects on your company, not only by individuals directly prevented from using it but also by their friends, family, and others who prioritize accessibility and inclusion.
  • You are now competing with a national, and sometimes global, web of employers — and people have options.

There's probably a more elegant way to state this, but this will do: So many jobs can be done from home, and COVID proved it. One of the effects of that and one that will long outlast the pandemic is a shift in talent acquisition competition. This means people will no longer be bound by limiting their job search to their geographical location. Said another way, employers are no longer only competing against other employers around them, they're competing against employers everywhere.

Rolling the dice on people not having options may have worked in the past. It won't now.

Literally everyone else loses and here's why

The world misses out from the individual and collective innovation that might have been had a career website been accessible.

From internal processes to external products, limiting diversity necessarily means limiting the spectrum of creation. Bias and presumption that influence how products should be conceived, built, evaluated, and distributed won't ever go away, but companies can do themselves and the greater good a favor by at least welcoming diversity in bias and presumption.

There isn't much that's more important than being able to find and keep employment, and there isn't much that can more greatly impact the world than one individual's ability to find and keep employment. Directly impacted are the individual, their family, public support systems, and global innovation, and that's just scratching the surface. Less-obviously impacted is literally everyone else.

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