Is your IT organization doing all it can to accommodate employees with special needs?
This isn't a theoretical question. On March 24, 2014, new guidelines take effect under the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These guidelines, found under Section 503 of the act, require Federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to hire, retain, and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. According to the guidelines, "all covered contractors and subcontractors must also include a specific equal opportunity clause in each of their nonexempt contracts and subcontracts."
Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2015, 50% of organizations will have technology projects underway to support the enablement of special needs employees. Andrew Johnson, managing VP at Gartner, highlighted the role of IT in a prepared statement released March 12:
While internal HR staffs may be versed in labor law, they may not be fully aware of the scope and scale of the impact on IT infrastructure. IT will need to work with HR to help determine which assistive technologies can reduce barriers for special-needs candidates and review an internal communication plan that is sensitive to the special-needs employee.
Even if your enterprise doesn't have any federal contracts, considering new ways to enable access to information for disabled employees is worth considering. Patricia A. Shiu, director of the US Department of Labor's Office of Contract Compliance Programs, addressed the issues during a keynote address at a Cornell University conference in October 2013:
Last year, the unemployment rate for working-age people with disabilities was 15%, nearly double the 8% rate for working-age individuals without disabilities. This substantial disparity persists despite years of technological advances that have made it possible for many people with disabilities to apply for and successfully perform a broad array of jobs. Even more troubling, a staggering 4 out of 5 working-age Americans with disabilities are out of the labor force entirely -- that is, they were not employed, and they have stopped even looking for a job. But as you and I know, many of these so-called "discouraged workers" – or, as I prefer to call them, "prospective workers" -- can be valuable assets in workplaces across our county. When we match people with disabilities to jobs aligned with their interests and abilities, when we educate employers about the business case for hiring workers with disabilities and when we set clear targets for hiring people with disabilities, they can make important contributions to our labor force and to the American economy.
According to Gartner's Johnson:
Opening up a position to a disabled job candidate may be as easy as delivering an assistive accessory, modifying an application or changing a workspace. Access to information is critical to empower employees to thrive in their current position and the specific challenges that disabled employees face accessing an organization's systems should not be overlooked. If the IT operations staff doesn't know about or have the resources to assume this work, consider outsourcing it.
Johnson's comments are based on a recent Gartner report titled "What IT Leaders Need to Know About New Rules and Opportunities When Hiring People with Disabilities."
Want to learn more about assistive technologies for disabled workers? The Department of Defense has been operating the Computer/Electronic Accommodation Program since 1990 and has provided more than 130,000 assistive technology solutions to federal employees and members of the armed forces. The US Centers for Disease Control offers a guide entitled "Workplace Personal Assistance Services & Assistive Technology." The Massachusetts-based organization Work Without Limits also offers a list of national resources that can help you learn more about assistive technologies.
What does your IT organization do to accommodate employees with disabilities? What would you like to see happen in the workplace to improve the information technology experiences of those with special needs? Tell us in the comments section below.
— Susan Nunziata, , Director of Editorial, EnterpriseEfficiency.com