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Workplace Visions

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S H R M    W o r k p l a c e   T r e n d s    P r o g r a m

HR's Role in Bridging the Divide

A vast number of HR transactions currently occur online, and according to all reports this number will continue to increase. It is vital to gain an understanding of the accessibility of e-HR to be prepared to cope with a Web-based revolution in the workplace, as the Web will become central to the essential functions of many jobs in the near future.

Given that so many HR functions and much of the employment process are increasingly being delivered by Web-based approaches, knowledge of how to access and navigate the Internet is essential for all job seekers and incumbents. The need to be able to access these online opportunities is equally important to people with disabilities. IT can offer people with disabilities a window on the world and access to jobs that previously have not been available to them. However, the inaccessibility of most Web sites, as well as the lack of adequate preparation offered to many youth and older individuals with disabilities to deal with this medium, may widen the already-existing disparity in employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The HR function is the architect of workplace policies and practices governing the employment process. Also, HR pro-fessionals, working with supervisors, often play a critical role in responding to requests for workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities. HR professionals can create a more disability-friendly environment by putting in place policies and procedures that minimize, if not eliminate, needless discrimination against applicants and employees with disabilities. These disability-nondiscrimination polices and practices must be applied to employment-process functions on the Internet. HR professionals can assist their workplace settings to fully realize the potential discriminatory impact of these e-HR applications, and work to make sure that they are equipped to proactively eliminate this needless barrier to the workplace and the employment process. They will have to do this not only to adjust to a changing working population and because it is the right thing to do, but also because employment-nondiscrimination laws require reasonable accommo-dation in all areas of the employment process.

The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accom-modations for applicants and employees with disabilities, including providing accessible computer technology. The idea of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation is likely to shift as technology improves and makes it easier to make changes to computers, software and workstations. As these improvements are made, employers are likely to be held to a higher standard than they may be today. Therefore, employers need to start by being aware of barriers that computers can create and then become familiar with the types of assistive technologies available, receive training in Internet and computer accessibility, and know what resource organizations are available to provide technical assistance. Such proactive efforts toward removing technology barriers will go far to reduce the likelihood that claims of IT-accessibility discrimination will occur. Unfortunately, the Cornell/SHRM research revealed a worrying lack of awareness among HR practitioners of many of the key barriers and issues that could cause accessibility problems for applicants with disabilities and employees generally, and in particular of some of the most common technologies and resources that remove many of these barriers.  

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