Monday, December 15, 2014

Charting a Pathway to a Technology Accessible Workplace

By Guest Blogger Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy
Someone recently asked me to name the one thing I couldn’t live without at work. My answer? Technology. I couldn’t do my job – or live my life – as effectively as I do now without information and communication technology (ICT).
Considering that I’m blind, this answer is sometimes met with surprise. Some people don’t realize that individuals with disabilities also rely on technology – as long as it’s accessible – to perform daily tasks. I certainly do. I use a screen reader to relay the information on my computer screen, a Braille note-taking device and a smartphone with built-in accessibility features. To say that I’d be lost without these innovations is an understatement.
Technology is paramount for all of us – whether we have disability or not – and this is particularly true in the workplace. From computers to mobile devices to email platforms and other Web-based applications, ICT is a central driver of productivity. It streamlines operations, boosts efficiency and forges instantaneous connections. It empowers us in transformative ways. And this phenomenon is not limited to office settings. Whether you work in an office, a warehouse or a retail establishment, chances are technology is part of the job.
But imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t access or navigate all that technology. It’s an unfortunate reality experienced by many people with disabilities who are faced with workplace technologies that are neither accessible to them nor compatible with assistive technology devices. And that’s unfortunate—not only for workers and jobseekers with disabilities, but also for employers.
When certain individuals are unable to perform basic job duties because they can’t access basic workplace tools, it limits their opportunities to succeed. On the other hand, when technologies are accessible to all users, they become powerful productivity enhancements, enabling all to perform on the job and fully contribute.
The barrier of inaccessible workplace technology was the driving force behind the launch of the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), a multi-faceted initiative sponsored by the agency I lead, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). PEAT is working to improve the employment and career advancement of people with disabilities through the promotion of accessible technology. In addition to maintaining a free, information-rich Web portal,, PEAT conducts outreach, facilitates collaboration and provides resources to serve as a catalyst for policy development and innovation related to accessible technology in the workplace.
Of course, before a person can succeed on the job, he or she needs to get a job in the first place. That is why one of the important topics being explored by PEAT is the recruiting and hiring phase of the employment life cycle. Unlike the “olden days,” today most people find job openings online and apply for them online. Some companies even conduct pre-employment assessments on the Web and “virtual” interviews before they ever meet a job candidate in person – if they do at all. But regretfully, too many of those job application websites, forms and pre-employment tests are not accessible, which is preventing many qualified individuals with disabilities from fairly competing for job openings.