Disability employment: the three key questions

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Monday, 16 March 2015 12:45pm

Answering three key technology questions for job seekers, employers and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) lies at the heart of improving disability employment in Australia.

Computer keyboard with 'Find Job' button in the shape of the Enter key

The first of the three questions—‘What is the best way to provide ICT support to job seekers with disabilities?’—is an obvious one. But yet, it’s one that isn’t considered all that often.

The simple fact is that if a job seeker with a disability can’t access a job advertisement, can’t apply online for a job, or can’t participate in a job interview, then how can they hope to gain employment?

The issue here is one for employers, and it is that they need to make their employment processes accessible to people with a disability, Media Access Australia’s resident web accessibility expert, Dr Scott Hollier, suggests.

“In practical terms, that means making sure that documents related to hiring—position descriptions, forms, selection criteria, etc.—are accessible, so that people who use assistive technology such as screen reading software can read them,” he said.

“The websites job seekers use—to apply online and research the employer or role—also need to be accessible. That means, conforming to the global standard in web accessibility, WCAG 2.0, to the AA level."

“For applications, consider accepting submissions in multiple formats—not just a written Word document. And for the interview process, discuss with applications how they can use accessibility features in existing systems (Windows, Mac) and what their access needs are.”

The next question—‘How can employers ensure that their workplace environment is accessible?’—is one for both job seekers and employers.

“For employers, it’s again about understanding your ICT environment and ensuring that any websites, online systems and software are accessible to people with disabilities,” Dr Hollier says.

“Where job seekers can play a role in this is in communicating their needs to employers, and in helping educate employers about the accessibility features that are already in their ICT systems and how these make employing you easier.”

The final question—‘How can mainstream technologies be better used to help job seekers with disabilities?’—is one for the NDIA, the agency running the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The NDIS seeks to help people with disabilities set goals for their lives and help them achieve those goals. The reality for many people with a disability is that a major goal is getting a job.

The issue here is that in helping people with a disability get a job, the NDIA appears to be geared toward providing specialised and often expensive assistive technology at the expense of cheaper, mainstream technologies.

“While assistive technology can be literally life-changing for people with disabilities, the reality is that in recent years mainstream technology—Apple’s iPad or Microsoft’s Surface tablet device—has come a long way in building-in accessibility features,” Dr Hollier said.

“That means that perceptions of mainstream technology need to change within the NDIA so that when staff hear a job-seeker asking for a consumer device they know what features they have and how it can actually help people apply for jobs or use it in the workplace.

“Mainstream consumer devices are often far cheaper than dedicated assistive technologies, and they are often much easier to use, so they can be a win for people with disability and for the public purse.”

Dr Hollier will be speaking on supporting employment with accessible communications at the National Disability Summit 2015 in Melbourne, Victoria 18-19 March.

Media Access Australia provides professional accessibility services, practical advice and advocacy, such as through its NDIS-funded service providers accessibility guide.

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