The IRNA guide to the latest trends in online recruitment- Accessibility
By Gary Bunker
If you run a bricks and mortar business, what would you do if you found out that one of your store managers was barring wheelchairs and guide dogs from the store? What if you found out that the manager was also refusing to talk to disabled customers and was not allowing them to buy products?
It's a 'no-brainer' of course - you'd step in and rectify the situation immediately, one way or another. But what if it was your Internet site that was doing this..?
In all likelihood, you are doing this right now. There are relatively few web sites that are truly accessible, so unless your web site team have made a specific effort to ensure the site is accessible, then you could well be turning away disabled visitors.
Who are you turning away..?
1. Visitors who are blind, or visually impaired
Visitors who are blind will be likely to be using a audio browser, software that 'reads' a web page to them and allows them to navigate and interact with it. Visitors with a visual impairment might be using the same technology, or they may use standard browsers with greatly increased font sizes or reduced colours (for increased contrast). There are currently approximately 350,000 registered blind or visually impaired people in the UK. Oh and by the way, don't forget the colour blind - one in twenty Caucasian males might be unable to use your site if you pick poor colour combinations .
Visitors who are deaf will generally not have too many difficulties, unless you're presenting your information in multimedia format without text subtitles. But if you are, then you may be locking out 8.7 million deaf or hard of hearing visitors.
Visitors with a physical disability might be using a specialist interaction device to drive the PC (for example, mouth operated controls), or they may use a standard PC without a mouse, as finite mouse control can be too difficult. In general this will mean they can navigate a page, but if you're using mouse-only controls or auto-navigating controls (for example menus that jump straight to a page without you needing to click on a 'Go' button), they this can stop them in their tracks.
Visitors with a cognitive impairment, for example dyslexia, can be completely thrown out by confusing web design and lack of feedback in the interface. Designs that other visitors might find frustrating, dyslexic visitors can find impossible to use. Severe dyslexia affects approximately 4% of the UK population, and a further 6% suffer from some level of dyslexia. That's potentially one in ten of your site visitors.
Why is this important?
As I've already mentioned, there are very few web sites that are truly accessible, and it takes disabled visitors time to find them and time to learn how to use them. Once they learn to use them, these people tend to be quite loyal visitors. Most of us tend to stick with the sites we know well, even when the learning curve is quite low - people with a disability have a huge learning curve to go through for new sites, so the impetus to stay with something that works is tremendous.
For example, earlier this year Tesco launched the Tesco Access service, an online shopping site designed to be completely accessible. Business is booming, and so it should be - Tesco have exclusive reach to an extra 350,000 customers just for starters! What's more interesting is that many non-disabled customers are switching from the main Tesco site to the Tesco Access site, because they find it easier and faster to use! In general when you improve access to your site for the disabled, you also make life easier for every other visitor as well. For example, the television remote control was originally designed to assist disabled viewers who could not easily cross the room and change channels - but this device now helps just about everyone with a TV set.
Think of it this way - when your web site was designed, it was probably built to be viewable in most of the top browsers that your visitors use. If you found out that 15% of your visitors were using Netscape 4.0 and couldn't even open your home page, the chances are that you'd want to fix that pretty quick - who wants to lose 15% of their site traffic before you even start? Accessibility comes down to the same issue - only instead of just a browser, these visitors are coming to you with different skill requirements and/or technology. And if your site isn't accessible, they may well be stopped dead at the home page. Your Netscape 4.0 visitors at least have the option of upgrading their browsers, visitors with a disability or impairment don't have that luxury.
The web is a wonderful tool for many people with disabilities, it gives them control and freedom that many of them do not easily gain in the physical world - if you build it to be accessible, they will come
Now for the stick. The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) has been in place for a while now ('96 for part II, '99 for part III), and this act has huge implications for any provider of online services - recruitment included. There has yet to be a test case for this act, but here are the main points of interest.
What does the act say?
Secondly, the act also covers people who provide goods and services to the public - this includes online provision of information, including recruitment information. It states that it is against the law for someone to run a service, or provide goods or facilities, in a way which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use the service or goods.
For example, if a visually impaired employee or job seeker were not able to access online recruitment information due to the information not being accessible via an audio browser, but that same information was available to all others, this would be covered by the act.
So in essence, this means that your web site, including your recruitment section, needs to be accessible to everyone, and it needs to be provided at a consistent standard to everyone. In practical terms, you're going to fall foul of the act if any disabled visitors are unable to use the site, or if they experience a lower level of service than other site visitors - for example, in not being able to read all the information you provide, or in not being able to use an online application form.
Under the act, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where visitors with a disability are not able to use your site. This may include changing access to the information so that it is accessible, offering an alternative way to access the information, or offering aids or services to make it easier for disabled people to access.
The act makes mention of 'reasonable adjustments', and there are a number of factors to consider to identify which steps would be reasonable in any circumstance. The main factors when considering web site design are going to be:
So basically, if the cost of making your site accessible would be prohibitive and unreasonable, then you may find yourself on the right side of the law. However, you need to look carefully at a breakdown of the costs involved for different steps in making your site accessible - if it's unreasonably expensive to make the entire site accessible to everyone, it might be relatively inexpensive to take some steps to make large parts of it accessible to many disabled visitors. You also need to consider how much it would cost to place this information in an alternative form (for example, plain text only pages) on the site.
Right now there are no test cases for this act, but one is likely to appear at any moment - and you don't want it to be you
Another impact to consider is your own policy on equal opportunities. If you are an equal opportunities employer, then you may be in breach of your own policy if your online recruitment information is not completely accessible. This may again open your organisation up to the risk of litigation.
In the mean time though, there are some quick steps your designers can take to start fixing up site accessibility: