American Job Centers and Digital Access: A Guide to Accessible ICT

About This Guide

On July 22, 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law (Public Law No. 113-128). The Act—which supersedes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) and amends the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—reaffirms the role of the customer-focused one-stop service delivery system. It enhances coordination among several key employment, education, and training programs.

Within WIOA is a provision stating that all comprehensive American Job Centers (AJCs) and affiliated sites1 must be physically and programmatically accessible to individuals with disabilities. More specifically, information and communication technology (ICT)2 designed, procured, maintained, and used by AJCs must comply with the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity provisions of Section 188 of WIOA and its implementing regulations.

This means that AJCs must use technologies—including websites, online systems and courses, and applications—that are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

For many AJCs, addressing accessible technology issues may be new territory. With that in mind, two technical assistance centers sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) partnered to create this guide3. It is designed to promote the importance of ICT accessibility issues and point out helpful “how to” resources to help AJCs ensure that their ICT is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. It also includes an Appendix featuring a glossary of commonly used definitions and acronyms.

This guide includes the following sections:

Why AJCs Should Care About Accessible Technology

There’s no question that information and communication technology (ICT) is everywhere in today’s workforce development system. AJCs use websites, online systems, mobile applications, and other technology to widely disseminate information about their products and services—whether they’re related to employment, education, training and support services, programs, or other activities that individuals need to succeed in the labor market. It’s easy to understand why technology is such an important workforce development tool. After all, the Internet and other forms of ICT offer a quick and efficient way to communicate information and data, encourage more individuals to take advantage of AJC services, and deliver programming.

Among those using AJCs are people with disabilities who often face technology-related barriers to access. That’s because many websites, online systems, mobile applications, and other forms of ICT fail to incorporate or activate accessibility features that enable users with disabilities to access all of the information or data elements available4. As a result, there is a digital divide between how citizens with and without disabilities access key employment, education, and support services that AJCs make available to the public. Some leading examples of these barriers include websites that are not compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers, training videos that lack open captioning and audio descriptions, and electronic documents whose images lack alternative text.

Under WIOA, comprehensive AJCs and affiliated sites must be “physically and programmatically” accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition, electronic delivery systems must be in compliance with the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity provisions of Section 188 and its implementing regulations. With respect to ICT, the December 2, 2016 revised Section 188 rule5 specifies that “when developing, procuring, maintaining, or using [ICT], a recipient must utilize [ICT], applications, or adaptations which:

  1. incorporate accessibility features for individuals with disabilities;
  2. are consistent with modern accessibility standards, such as Section 508 standards* and the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA; and
  3. provide individuals with disabilities access to, and use of information, resources, programs, and activities that are fully accessible, or ensure that the opportunities, and benefits provided by the [ICT] are provided to individuals with disabilities in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.”

In addition, WIOA outlines how AJCs undergo certification to receive funding based on certain criteria. This criteria includes standards for physical and programmatic accessibility. First, each State Workforce Development Board is responsible for establishing objective criteria and procedures for the certification process. Then, Local Workforce Development Boards use their state’s criteria to certify the AJCs in their area every three years. Both State and Local Boards review and update certification criteria every two years as part of State Plan modification. AJCs can look to their State and Local Boards for specific guidance. This criteria reinforces the importance of accessible technology in the workforce development system.6

*Note: While AJCs are not required to comply with Section 508, its standards and related education resources can help AJCs set modern accessibility goals.  

How to Get Started: Promising and Emerging Accessible Technology Practices for AJCs

The following section of this guide expands upon examples of promising practices issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration in “Training and Employment Notice No. 01-15, Promising Practices in Achieving Universal Access and Equal Opportunity: A Section 188 Disability Reference Guide.”

With the passage of WIOA and its corresponding regulations, AJCs and their partners are recognizing their responsibility to improve access to the workforce development system by ensuring the accessibility of their ICT. In the process, AJCs are learning that adopting accessible technology practices doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s all about appointing effective leadership, assessing the current state of existing ICT products, implementing good accessible technology practices, and ensuring AJCs are accountable and open to continuous improvement.

How should your AJC get started? Consider developing a comprehensive strategic action plan for ICT accessibility that includes the following areas:

  1. Leadership and Team Approach
  2. Needs Assessments and Priorities
  3. Formal Policies and Procedures
  4. Agency-Wide Infrastructure
  5. Evaluation and Accountability‚Äč

Leadership and Team Approach

  1. Secure leadership at the highest levels of your AJC in order to facilitate “buy-in” and establish and sustain organizational commitment.
  2. Establish a network of individuals responsible for implementation (e.g., an accessibility team composed of managers across divisions, including ICT, procurement, education and training, financial and marketing, Equal Opportunity compliance, and human resources).
  3. Make the “business case” for ensuring that technology procured and used by your AJC is accessible to the largest possible number of customers. The business case includes meeting legal requirements, improving efficiency by addressing the needs of all ICT users (including individuals with disabilities), supporting workforce diversity, and enhancing team collaboration and communication among all employees and customers with disabilities7

Needs Assessment and Priorities

  1. Consider all of the ICT used or offered by your AJC and make a list of those platforms, devices, and applications. 
  2. Hire a consultant or secure in-house expertise to evaluate accessibility by testing your ICT applications with automated accessibility testing tools and by considering the user experience of employees and customers with varying abilities.
  3. Establish a process and adopt criteria that can be used to facilitate the implementation of formal, written policies, practices, and procedures to enhance equal opportunity through accessible ICT. 

Formal Policies and Procedures

  1. Adopt specific technical ICT accessibility standards and functional performance criteria regarding websites, web-based intranet and Internet information applications, software, computers, telecommunication equipment, video and multimedia products, multi-function office machines (e.g., copiers and printers), and information kiosks and transaction machines. Consistent with the revised Section 188 rule, adopt technical standards and functional performance criteria that incorporate accessibility features for individuals with disabilities that align with modern accessibility standards, such as Section 508 standards and W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA7.In addition, follow relevant state guidance and criteria for certifying the physical and programmatic accessibility of AJCs.   

Agency-Wide Infrastructure

  1. Delineate the respective roles and responsibilities of key personnel within your AJC, including, where applicable, your chief acquisition officer, chief information officer (CIO), chief accessibility officer (CAO), and equal opportunity officer.

The CAO role differs from that of the CIO in that it is laser focused on accessibility. In a technology company, a CAO is focused on how users experience the company’s products and services, ensuring that they are accessible when they go to market. In all workplaces, the CAO sets the tone for the organization's accessibility mindset, establishes accessibility goals, and ensures the organization builds and buys accessible ICT for its employees and other stakeholders. CAOs often report to CIOs, and the two roles should work collaboratively. Several state governments (including Massachusetts, Texas, and Wisconsin) have recognized the value of appointing a CAO.

  1. Appoint an advisory or working group responsible for:
    1. making recommendations regarding the adoption of procurement protocols and procedures that are consistent with federal and state policies.
    2. evaluating and certifying accessible and usable ICT.
    3. outlining planning, training, and technical assistance.
    4. monitoring, reporting, and enforcement. 

    The advisory or working group should include individuals with disabilities and their representatives.

  2. Conduct training for in-house staff, including program managers, contracting and procurement officers, and, where applicable, software developers, web developers, video-multimedia developers, and IT help desk staff.
  3. Deploy accessible ICT throughout the agency. This can be done by establishing a mechanism for centralized expertise with respect to and/or payment for accessible ICT.
  4. Provide outsourcing guidelines to suppliers, vendors, and partners, including copies of the ICT accessibility standards. Ensure that contracts stipulate suppliers will, where relevant, apply ICT accessibility standards.
  5. Establish clear procurement policies, including a solicitation policy that indicates ICT must be accessible, the accessibility standards that apply, and that deliverables will be inspected based on those standards.

Evaluation and Accountability

  1. Appoint a chief accessibility officer (CAO).
  2. Ensure that the CIO/CAO notifies managers and employees about your AJC’s ICT accessibility policy.
  3. Adopt complaint resolution procedures under which any individual with a disability may file a complaint alleging that the AJC has failed to comply with the ICT accessibility and usability requirements and standards, including denial of access to ICT or denial of access to information and data.
  4. Design and implement an audit and reporting system that measures the effectiveness of your AJC’s strategic ICT management plan, including:
    1. testing of ICT accessibility to determine the degree to which its goals, priorities, and objectives have been attained.
    2. any need for remedial action.
    3. where the strategic ICT management plan is found to be deficient.
    4. necessary action to bring the program into compliance.
  5. Track issues and trends that could be used to assess and make informed decisions about the effectiveness of your accessible ICT policies.
  6. Create an ICT Accessibility Checklist that may serve as a benchmarking tool and provide a framework to build into your AJC’s self-assessment and strategic plans.
  7. Establish a continuous feedback mechanism that includes a state-of-the-department briefing to the CIO/CAO (or other staff responsible for accessible ICT) every six months with respect to the accessibility and usability of ICT. Report annually to your AJC’s director with respect to progress made in implementing accessible ICT policies, including reaching benchmarks.
  8. In strategic plans and related quarterly reports, identify completion dates, managers responsible for accessibility-related action items, and whether action items are completed in a timely manner.
  9. Terminate any contract or procurement for default if the contractor fails to cure a breach of the ICT accessibility policy within a reasonable time.

Where to Find Accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Tools and Resources

This section includes background, strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make an organization’s technology accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities.

General Background and Accessibility Basics

A web portal of the General Services Administration (GSA) that serves as a central hub for training and information on the Section 508 accessibility standards. Users can access each of the topic-specific courses that address Section 508 implementation and explore web links and a glossary of Section 508-related terms.

A step-by-step roadmap developed by ODEP’s Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) to ensure that the technology in your workplace is accessible to all employees and job seekers.

PEAT’s online tool for employers and human resources professionals that helps ensure their online job applications and other eRecruiting technologies are accessible to job seekers with disabilities. PEAT created the tool based on its national survey of people with disabilities, through which 46% of respondents rated their last experience applying for a job online as "difficult to impossible."

Accessibility Testing and Assessments

A PEAT resource that helps organizations assess their accessible technology practices and find tools to improve them.

A quick reference guide from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) on testing websites for accessibility.

Web Accessibility

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) developed strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the web accessible to people with disabilities. Useful resources include the following:

Web Accessibility Basics

Web Accessibility Tips

Related Resources

GSA Resources on Accessibility for Websites and Other Office Products

  • How to Make Web Sites 508 Compliant contains links to helpful resources on ensuring Section 508 website compliance.
  • HTML File Remediation is a checklist to follow when addressing HTML file accessibility.
  • Guides and tutorials from GSA provides resources to help you make your content accessible and Section 508 compliant in the following areas:
    • How to Create Accessible Word Documents
    • How to Create Accessible PowerPoint Presentations
    • How to Create Accessible Excel Spreadsheets
    • How to Create Accessible PDF files Using Adobe and Nuance
    • Accessibility for Multimedia
    • Accessibility and Mobility: Tablets, Mobile Phones and Applications
    • Accessibility for Windows 7, Office 2007, and IE9 

Buying Accessible Technology

Buy Accessible Wizard

Designed as a service for federal procurement staff, this GSA tool can assist any buyer—public or private—in completing the market research necessary to ensure they are buying the most accessible IT products and services available. Procurement staff can search the site by specific product or service type and see all vendors who have provided links. Users can then follow the links to reach the template information and product or service descriptions necessary to complete their market research. The tool also produces suggested solicitation language tailored to specific ICT deliverables that users can copy and paste into their procurement documentation.

Accessibility in IT Procurement

A two-part series from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) that addresses accessibility requirements as part of IT procurements.

Appendix A - Definitions and Acronyms

This list includes commonly used key terms and acronyms surrounding information and communication technology (ICT)9

Access Board

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, generally just referred to as the Access Board, is the independent federal agency that develops and maintains accessibility guidelines and standards, provides technical assistance and training on the guidelines and standards, and enforces accessibility standards for federally funded facilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the Access Board to publish standards setting forth a definition of electronic and information technology (also referred to as information and communication technology or ICT) and technical and performance standards.

Accessible technology

Technology that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. It incorporates the principles of universal design. All users are able to interact with the technology in ways that work best for them. Accessible technology is either directly accessible—in other words, it is usable without assistive technology—or it is compatible with standard assistive technology10

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunication relay services for people with hearing and/or speech-related disabilities.

Assistive technology (AT)

Any item, piece of equipment, or system—whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized—that is commonly used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capacities of individuals with disabilities. The term includes traditional assistive technology (both hardware and software) along with mainstream technology used for assistive purposes, virtual assistive technology delivered as a web service, and the integration of products into a system that provides assistive technology functions. AT examples include:

  • Screen enlargers that act like magnifiers to help people with low vision.
  • Onscreen keyboards that allow people who are unable to use a standard keyboard to select keys using methods such as a pointing device or switch.
  • Voice recognition (instead of using a mouse or keyboard).
  • Alternative input devices that enable individuals to control their computers through means other than a standard keyboard or pointing devices (e.g., head-operated pointing devices and sip and puff systems controlled by breathing).
  • Screen readers that allow users who are blind to hear what is happening on their computer by converting the screen display to digitized speech.

Disability

As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the term “disability” means that an individual has:

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  2. a record of such an impairment
  3. being regarded as having such an impairment11

Government Product/Service Accessibility Template (GPAT)

GPAT is a solicitation documentation tool produced by the BuyAccessible Wizard to assist federal contracting and procurement officials in fulfilling the market research requirements associated with Section 508 regulations.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)  

ICT includes information technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the creation, conversion, or duplication of data or information. ICT also includes information technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, analysis, evaluation, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data or information. The term includes, but is not limited to:

  • electronic content, including e-mail, electronic documents, and Internet and intranet websites
  • telecommunications products, including video communication terminals
  • computers and ancillary equipment, including external hard drives
  • software, including operating systems and applications
  • information kiosks and transaction machines
  • videos
  • IT services
  • multifunction office machines that copy, scan, and fax documents

Note: “Electronic and information technology (EIT)” is the term used in the 1998 amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to define the scope of products covered under Section 50811.

Interoperability

Assistive technology and ICT interoperability is the ability of assistive technology and standard ICT from multiple vendors to exchange and use information meaningfully and without adverse system consequences, or when possible, without the need for special configuration or adaptation on the part of the user.

Online application system

An online application system includes, but is not limited to, all electronic or web-based systems that an employer uses in all of its personnel activities.

Section 508

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, requires that federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, and use accessible information and communication technology (ICT). Federal employees with disabilities must have access to and use of ICT that is comparable to the access and use by federal employees without disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that publicly available ICT must be accessible to individuals with and without disabilities who are members of the public. On January 18, 2017, the Access Board published in the Federal Register a final rule refreshing the Section 508 accessibility standards. The Section 508 rule incorporates by reference WCAG 2.0 A and AA.12

Telecommunications

The transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.

Universal design  

The concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities. This includes products and services that are directly usable (without requiring assistive technologies) and those that are made compatible with assistive technologies.

Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

VPAT is a tool used to document a product's conformance with the accessibility standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The purpose of the VPAT is to assist federal contracting officials and other buyers in making preliminary assessments regarding the availability of commercial information and communication technology products and services with features that support accessibility.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 

WCAG are recognized voluntary international guidelines for web accessibility created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines detail how to make web content and web applications accessible to individuals with disabilities. The most recent and updated version is WCAG 2.0, published in December 2008. The revised Section 508 final rule incorporates by reference WCAG 2.0 A and AA.

Notes:

  1. The term “AJC” includes the one-stop delivery system, which brings together workforce development, educational, and other human resource services in a seamless customer-focused service delivery network that enhances access to the programs’ services and improves long-term employment outcomes for individuals receiving assistance.
  2. Information and communication technology (previously referred to as electronic and information technology) means information technology and other equipment, systems, technologies, or processes, for which the principal function is the creation, manipulation, storage, display, receipt, or transmission of electronic data and information, as well as any associated content. Examples include computers and peripheral equipment, information kiosks and transaction machines, software, applications, websites, videos, and electronic documents.
  3. The two ODEP-sponsored technical assistance resource centers are: the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) and the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD Center).
  4. See U.S. Department of Justice conclusion that “Reliance on voluntary compliance with Web site accessibility guidelines, however, has not resulted in equal access for persons with disabilities.” [81 FR 28661 (May 9, 2016)]
  5. See [29 CFR 38.15]
  6. See American Job Center Certification: A Tool to Maximize State's Quality & Consistency
  7. Framework for Designing and Implementing Accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Strategic Plans: Accessible Technology in the Workplace Initiative (ODEP); Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization.
  8. Federal agencies must design, procure, maintain, and use ICT that is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities pursuant to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and implementing regulations issued by the Access Board. The Section 508 regulations were recently updated (82 FR 5790 from January 18, 2017) to incorporate by reference WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
  9. The definitions are taken from several sources, including Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards (final rule codified at 36 CFR Part 1194) [hereinafter referred to as the Section 508 Accessibility Rule]; Draft Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines (published in the Federal Register on March 22, 2010 at 75 Federal Register 13457 [hereinafter referred to as the Section 508 ANPRM]; and the BuyAccessible Wizard Glossary at https://app.buyaccessible.gov/DataCenter/Glossary.jsp.
  10. http://www.accessibletech.org/access_articles/general/whatIsAccessibleEIT.php
  11. See http://www.ada.gov/reg2.html
  12. See http://www.access-board.gov/508.htm

 

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