Is your company website digitally accessible and inclusive?

On anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act, lawyer urges HR leaders to step up their digital game

Is your company website digitally accessible and inclusive?

Today, July 26, marks the 32nd anniversary of former President George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law.

The civil rights law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, which comprise more than a quarter (26%) of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Despite the progress Corporate America has made over the past three decades, people with disabilities still face major hurdles when it comes to equal opportunities for inclusion. Although many companies have made office spaces physically inclusive, there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to being digitally inclusive, especially in a post-COVID world embracing remote and hybrid work.

As of 2022, only 3% of the internet is accessible for people with disabilities, according to WebAIM, a non-profit based at Utah State University.

Read more: AI-based hiring tools can violate Americans with Disabilities Act

Although the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn’t have a regulation setting out detailed standards, the DOJ’s longstanding interpretation of the general nondiscrimination and effective communication provisions in the ADA applies to web accessibility. Businesses can currently choose how they will ensure that the programs, services and goods they provide online are accessible to people with disabilities. For guidance, the DOJ recommends following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 Standards, which the federal government uses for its own websites.

“People with disabilities aren’t looking to sue you,” Josh Basile, trial attorney at Washington D.C.-based law firm Jack H. Olender & Associates, told HRD. “They usually knock on the door first, asking if you can please make it accessible and invite them in. They’re not out there to make your life harder – they just want to be included. It’s smart for any business owner to realize they can avoid litigation and headaches in the future by making their website accessible.”

Accessibility is a cause near and dear to Basile’s heart.

When he was 18 years old, he and his friends were at Bethany Beach in Delaware. With the water up to his waist, he turned his back to the Atlantic Ocean to watch his friends playing football on the sand. Suddenly, a wave picked him up, threw him over his Boogie Board and slammed him on his head. He heard a loud crack and was immediately paralyzed face down in the water.

“Unable to scream for help or turn over, I remember floating and hoping my friends would see me,” Basile says. “Luckily, they did and saved my life that day.”

Becoming a C4-5 quadriplegic didn’t slow Basile down. He went back to school, graduating cum laude from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s in communications. Three years later, he graduated magna cum laude from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. He fell in love, bought a home and recently had a baby boy with his fiancé.

“No matter what your unique abilities are, if you have access to the world around you, you can still live a meaningful, fulfilling and beautiful life,” Basile says.

Of course, he still faces hardships, especially in an increasingly digital world. Because he’s paralyzed from below his shoulders, Basile must access the internet through different technology, such as voice dictation software and an on-screen keyboard. Think of all the websites you use on a daily basis. Imagine being unable to type your name or enter your credit card information or contact the company. Heck, some websites don’t even have drop-down menus, so Basile is trapped on the home page.

“It’s a pretty scary world if you’re coming to a website with a disability,” he says. “You just want to be able to access information, products and services like everyone else. Sometimes, I get very fatigued, which makes every click matter.”

Last year, he joined accessiBe, a leader in web accessibility solutions and technologies, as community relations manager. The company’s goal is to give website owners the tools they need to move forward with where they’re currently at in their business journey. The AI-powered solution allows developers to create a custom navigation experience within the website. Basile says there are many other options available for companies to rely upon to make their website more accessible, which should be part of every diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitment.

“HR personnel have the superpowers to be the biggest changemakers in all of this,” Basile says. “They have the power to change the business culture and landscape of how a company grows and moves forward. They have the ability to bring in inclusive hiring, recruiting and retention practices. There’s so much talent in the disability world and people with disabilities are natural problem solvers. They bring an awesome skillset of creativity, willingness to try and are a perfect team member for any workforce.”

“But if your website isn’t accessible, they won’t be able to learn about your company, contact you or submit a job application,” Basile adds.

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