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, PEATworks.org, 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 geta 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.
Tell Us about Your Experience Applying for a Job Online
To shed light and spur action on this important issue, PEAT is conducting a nationwide survey about the accessibility of online job applications and other related systems. If you’re a technology user with a disability, or any type of limitation that affects your use of computers and technology, who has recently looked or applied for a job online, we want to hear from you. Please take a few minutes to complete our online survey by January 15, 2015.
We’re looking for a broad range of users to take the survey, so please help spread the word by sharing it with others you know. The results, which will be posted on PEATworks.org, will help focus and support our work with employers and technology providers to improve the accessibility of their online job systems.
Join the Conversation
There are other ways to follow and collaborate with PEAT, as well. You can engage on social media, share your personal technology experiences and make recommendations on other subjects you’d like PEAT to tackle. Whether you’re a person with a disability, an employer, a technology provider or simply someone interested in shaping a more accessible future, now is your chance to engage and effect change.
Given technology’s undeniable impact on how we live and work, it’s never been more important to make accessible ICT a natural element of an inclusive workplace. By working together, I know we can make a more accessible future a reality.
Kathy Martinez is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy. In this role, she advises the Secretary of Labor and internal agencies on how departmental policies impact the employment of people with disabilities. She also leads the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), which funds the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT). Prior to serving in her current position, Ms. Martinez was the executive director of the World Institute on Disability and served on the National Council on Disability, the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the State Department’s advisory committee on disability and foreign policy.