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Disability Management: Policy Mandate and Business Case for Providing Accessible ICT

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This note from the American Office of Disability Employment Policy makes a business case for providing accessible ICT for persons with disabilities from a policy perspective.
Civil rights laws require that covered entities provide equal opportunity to qualified individuals with disabilities. Equal opportunity means an opportunity to obtain the same level of performance, or to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges that are available to similarly situated individuals without disabilities. It is unlawful for the covered entity to use standards, criteria or methods of administration that have the purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of disability. This includes entering into contracts or other arrangements that have a discriminatory effect. In other words, a covered entity is prohibited from doing indirectly that which it is prohibited from doing directly.

In addition, civil rights laws include responsibilities for government contractors and federal agencies to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment individuals with disabilities and disabled veterans, including but not limited to recruitment, advertising and job application procedures. These job application procedures include online application systems.

The duty to take affirmative action regarding the employment of qualified persons with disabilities subsumes the duty not to discriminate.

Non-discrimination is the starting point: the first step required of any government contractor or federal agency in fulfilling its affirmative action obligation. However, affirmative action includes much more than nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by an employer; it includes instituting a system of proactive/positive measures/steps that provide qualified persons with disabilities effective opportunity with respect to all employment activities for example, recruitment, selection, hiring, placement, promotion, transfer, layoff, termination, compensation and training at all levels of employment, including the executive level.

The system of proactive/positive measures/steps includes efforts by government contractors or federal agencies to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability before it occurs by periodically carefully and thoroughly evaluating and monitoring their employment practices to Identify/detect barriers to employment and, where such barriers are identified, eliminate/remedy them. Affirmative action also includes expanded outreach, recruitment, mentoring, training and management development and creating a work environment that actively welcomes and fosters advancement of qualified persons with disabilities. Affirmative action does not include quotas or granting preferences to individuals with disabilities.

In addition to civil rights laws, international treaties provide civil rights protections for people with disabilities and international organizations are establishing accessibility standards for websites.

Below are key laws, international conventions and international accessibility Standards/guidelines that may have applicability to employers:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Sections 501, 503, 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
  • Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Business Case for Providing Accessible ICT

In making the business case for developing, procuring, maintaining or using accessible ICT, it is important to recognize that every company is different and every CEO or leading figure within each company is different every business has a different motivator. Thus, there is a need to provide business leaders and decision makers with different approaches, opportunities and information to determine what constitutes a compelling business case.

Below are examples of factors that can be used to make the business case for developing, procuring, maintaining or using accessible ICT. 

  • In an era when technology is redefining the workplace and creating a knowledge-based economy that places a high value on communication, collaboration and mobility, accessibility is increasingly essential in doing business.
  • Accessible technology addresses the personal needs of all computer users, including those with sensory, physical, and learning and language impairments and age-related limitations, making it easier for companies to empower employees as well as serve customers and engage with partners.
  • As technology continues to transform the workplace, demand is growing for accessible technology that can accommodate the needs and preferences of all users.
  • Businesses are looking for more effective ways to recruit, empower and retain valuable employees and to increase their efficiency and productivity.
  • In today’s connected world, technology is at the heart of all of these initiatives. Yet to achieve these goals, companies must make technology and its benefits accessible to the largest possible number of people, regardless of age or ability.
  • Accessible technology can make it easier for anyone to see, hear and use a computer.
  • Accessible technology enables people with a wide range of abilities, including those with disabilities, age-related impairments or temporary limitations, in addition to novice computer or Web users, to adjust technology to accommodate their individual visual, dexterity, hearing, learning and language needs and preferences or to modify their personal technology experience.
  • Accessibility makes it easier for anyone to see, hear and use a computer and to personalize their computers to meet their own needs and preferences. If technology is truly accessible, it can be adjusted to meet the needs and preferences of people with a wide range of abilities, not just those with disabilities.
  • Most people who use computers also benefit from at least some accessibility features and settings that enable them to personalize their computers and work environments.
  • Accessible technology helps businesses support workforce diversity, recruit from a larger pool of candidates and enhance team collaboration and communication among all employees, including those with disabilities. For example, accessible technology can facilitate communication between sighted and non-sighted colleagues by providing just-in-time delivery of information without the need for special printing by enabling people who are blind or who have vision impairments to enlarge or customize fonts, choose high-contrast settings for greater visibility, or use a screen reader to access team documents.
  • The percentage of the workforce represented by individuals 55 years and older is increasing.

  • As a result of functional limitations that result from aging, these employees will require environmental modifications and/or technology accommodations. As the global population continues to grow older and the number of age-related impairments increases, so does the need for accessible and assistive technology. Many people with age-related disabilities develop those impairments during their working lives.
  • Companies that make accessibility a priority are sending a clear message to employees and customers alike that their needs matter. And that can breed satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Companies that make accessibility a priority in their business can advertise job openings, requests for proposals, and other opportunities on the websites that are accessible.
  • Another powerful consideration for making accessibility a part of any business is the sheer number of people around the world who need accessible technology, could benefit from using it, or choose to use accessible technology for a more comfortable or convenient experience. In the U.S., about one in five residents’ 54.4 million people reported having some level of disability in 2005. Microsoft and Forrester Research report that more than half 57% of computer users in the U.S. could likely benefit from accessible and assistive technology due to mild to moderate difficulties or impairments that interfere with their ability to use a computer or to perform routine tasks.
  • In addition, many nations are extending civil rights protections for people with disabilities that encompass accessibility and digital inclusion. Some governments are requiring procurement officials to purchase the most accessible products available, creating economic incentives for businesses to build accessible technology products.
  • For companies that manufacture technology, building accessible products and marketing them to people with disabilities can be advantageous. Customers with disabilities and their families, friends and associates represent a trillion dollar market segment. Like other market segments, they purchase products and services from companies that best meet their needs and when buying technology, that means products that are accessible and usable.

Indeed, best and promising business practices regarding accessible ICT are emerging. These business practices include securing support from executive leadership, such as the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, and a company-wide involvement and designation of respective roles and responsibilities by key managers’ team approach, including the Chief Information Officer, the Chief Acquisition Officer, and the Chief Procurement Officer, human resources, education and training, financial and marketing. These business practices also include: 

  • The development and implementation of a comprehensive strategic action plan that includes assessing needs and current levels of accessibility of websites and other ICT used in the company;
  • Setting accessibility goals and establishing priorities;
  • Adopting policies, practices and procedures regarding design, content production, purchasing, training and deployment;
  • Establishing a corporate-wide infrastructure; and
  • Adopting monitoring, accountability and continuous improvement mechanisms and strategies to meet the goals, including the establishment of measurable objectives and benchmarks and the appointment of a Chief Technology Accessibility Officer
Source: Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Republished from the website: