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6 Ways to Make Your Careers Site More Accessible

A blue button with the word accessibility on it.

LAS VEGAS—Employers committed to diversifying their applicant pools and improving their candidate experience need to be aware of problems that applicants with disabilities may have when they try to access careers sites, job portals and electronic applications.

People with disabilities need to be able to use these technologies as easily as other applicants, especially now that the job search and application processes are now almost completely online.

"We talk a lot about veterans recruiting programs, or how to recruit Millennials, but there is a real gap in HR on the subject of accessibility for people with disabilities," said Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder and chief innovation officer for Workology, an online community and resource hub for HR and business leaders.

The subject of accessibility in digital recruitment is often overlooked or misunderstood, added Josh Christianson, project director for the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), a federally funded initiative promoting the employment, retention and career advancement of people with disabilities through the development of accessible technology.

Miller-Merrell and Christianson were speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management 2018 Talent Conference & Exposition.

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Accessibility Leads to Better Recruiting

Digital accessibility refers to designing devices, products and environments such that individuals with disabilities or sensory impairments can successfully use the device or product or navigate the environment.

"A prime example of built-in accessible technology is the iPhone," Christianson said. "There are a lot of functions that can be tailored and adapted for people with disabilities."

He added that accessible online recruiting tools equate to better talent acquisition. "We are operating in one of the hottest economies with some of the lowest unemployment levels in recorded history and yet, over 34 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed and looking for work," he said.

According to a user survey conducted by PEAT, 37 percent of survey respondents reported that they experienced accessibility or usability issues when using social media. Additionally, 46 percent rated their last experience applying for a job online as "difficult to impossible;" of those, 9 percent were unable to complete the application and 24 percent required assistance.

"Consider that nearly one in five Americans has a disability, and that one in eight Americans is 65 and older," Christianson said. "If your website isn't accessible to them, you could be losing out on potential job candidates or new customers, and exposing yourself to legal risk."

The Problem Areas

Some of the most common difficulties job seekers with disabilities experience with careers sites and the solutions for those issues include:

Complex navigation. People with visual impairments typically navigate the web using a screen reader that converts text to speech and provides nonvisual navigation commands, Christianson explained. But if your website isn't programmed with accessibility in mind, it can be hard for them to navigate, Miller-Merrill said.

For the assistive screen reader to work, it's important to include detailed and consistent navigational elements in the page structure, such as headers, titles and lists. "It's not difficult, but it has to be written so that a screen reader can make sense of it," Christianson said. "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."

Timeout restrictions. Timed assessments in the application process could unfairly frustrate someone with a disability. Many people using assistive technology require extra time to navigate a website and complete tasks. "Lots of people with cognitive disabilities like brain injuries or learning disabilities can be hindered by timeout restrictions," Christianson said. "If it's not necessary, you could get rid of those, or extend them much longer."

Poor screen contrast. Ensure that people with color blindness or low-vision impairments can use your website by testing design elements for proper color contrast. There is a palette of which colors should be put up against each other for people with various visual impairments, Christianson said. Tools that can help include Chromatic Vision Simulator, which shows what your site would look like to people with different types of color blindness, and VisionSim, which simulates several visual impairments.

Video captions. More employers are adding video to careers sites and publishing videos on social media. Be sure to include captions and transcripts for all recruitment and employer branding media in online videos, Facebook Live, YouTube, and event videos, Miller-Merrell said. "As a bonus, adding captions has been proven to increase your SEO [search engine optimization] online and boost user engagement," she added.

Alt-text descriptions. It's important to make digital images accessible. Some people rely on well-written descriptive text called alt-text, which is visible to screen readers, to understand the images in front of them. The description should include a summary of the image and include any relevant supporting information.

"Alt-text is critical," Miller-Merrell said. "If you have employer branding photos you want to promote via social, go ahead and put alt-text in there. It's important to include alt-text descriptions to digital assets, including PowerPoint presentations, web images, social media, and PDFs."

Keyboard accessibility. One of the easiest initial tests for accessibility is whether you can use a website without a mouse, Christianson said. Can you tab through your website content from start to finish, or do some actions require a mouse?

"Maybe someone has a mobile disability, or doesn't have use of their hands, and needs a keyboard to navigate," Christianson said. "This is more back-end and not really an HR responsibility, but it's often overlooked, so make sure your website can be navigated simply by arrows or the tab key."

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