Online Applications

If you're like most employers, your top recruiting priority is to get great people into the talent pipeline—and more importantly, to keep them there. Unfortunately, a job applicant's first impression of a company is sometimes a long, complicated online job application that may or may not be accessible.  

According to PEAT's national survey, 46% of respondents rated their last experience applying for a job online as "difficult to impossible." Of those, 9% were unable to complete the application, and 24% required technical assistance. But that assistance is not always effective, with 58% being unable to complete a job application even with employer-provided technical assistance.  

Pain Points for Users with Disabilities—and How to Fix Them

Is your online job application accessible? Here are some common accessibility issues related to job application technologies, along with tips for ensuring their accessibility. Below, we have also included the most common issues we learned in our survey. More issues are identified in the featured resources section.

According to PEAT's national survey, 46% of respondents rated their last experience applying for a job online as "difficult to impossible." Of those, 9% were unable to complete the application, and 24% required technical assistance.

Complex Navigation

Online job application software can be quite complex, consisting of many layers of screens and sections that can be difficult for some users to navigate—particularly users with visual impairments or with cognitive disabilities. Lack of consistency from one screen to another makes navigation difficult as well. And when systems "timeout," users frequently lose their data and need to begin again—or drop out entirely. Such issues don't just challenge people with disabilities; they are common complaints of users in general and serve to remind us about the virtues of usability and user experience best practices. The bottom line? Keep it simple, for all users.

Solutions:

  • Break applications up into manageable, easy-to-follow sections.
  • Keep the page simple by limiting the amount of graphics and text.
    • Ensure that instructions are clear, and provide an alternative way to submit an application for those who may have technical difficulties.
    • Present text in a font size of 10 or higher, and ensure text can be enlarged.
  • Include a spell check feature.
  • Format questions so that responses require less typing. For example, use a multiple choice checkbox, and allow for the applicant’s data to pre-populate duplicate information into the application form.
  • Make sure there is enough time to complete sections for those who may need additional time. Ask the user if they need more time with a prompt, or provide a way to disable the timeout feature if your application has a time limit. 
  • Allow the user to easily go back and forth without loss of data, and ensure there is an option to save sections and return to complete the application later. 
  • Notify the user when a form is complete and submitted.

For example, CareerBuilder’s resume upload feature is broken into steps that the user can navigate between. The number of fields required for each step are limited, and the user is presented with a confirmation message when a resume has been successfully uploaded.

CareerBuilder.com screenshot of "Add Your Resume" page showing fields showing "Desired Job Title", "City/State/Zip", "Attach Your Resume", "Privacy Settings", and "Continue"

Inaccessible Form Fields

Most online job applications contain a variety of "form fields," such as checkboxes, data fields, radio or option buttons, and other places for applicants to enter data or make selections. But if these form fields aren't explicitly labeled, they are often inaccessible to individuals who use certain types of assistive technology (AT), such as screen readers.

Solution:

  • Explicitly label the form fields in your job application. Labels should tell the user that they have encountered a field, explain what type of field it is, and in some cases, provide additional cues to let the user know what type of information the application needs.     

Screenshot displaying a form field for "Phone Number (10 digits, no spaces or hyphens)            

Keyboard-Inaccessible Navigation

People who use some types of assistive technology devices, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and voice recognition, utilize keyboard commands to navigate an application or website instead of a mouse. Unfortunately, some online job applications are not keyboard accessible or compatible with these tools.

Solutions:

  • Set the order of your online job application content programmatically so that when AT users are navigating the form through means other than a mouse, e.g., the tab key or through voice commands, the cursor moves in the intended order needed to complete the application. 
  • Ensure that the input focus does not jump to advertisements or skip entire sections for keyboard users.

For example, The tab and reading order on the indeed.com search results page follows the visual flow of the page layout. The green numbered circles indicate the order and direction of tabbing through the page using the keyboard. 

Indeed.com screeshot with green lines showing the the visual flow for 3 columns and the order and direction for tabbing using the keyboard.

Untagged Images and Graphics

When a person using a screen reader encounters an image in an online job application, they may or may not know what it is (or if it's there at all) if it is not tagged properly with meaningful alternative text. As a result, users with certain visual impairments may miss out on key components of your online application. 

Solution:

  • Tag all images within an application with meaningful alternative text descriptions that can be recognized by a screen reader. This applies to photos, logos, graphic buttons, and any other type of non-text image.

For example, the image below contains information that is not provided in the first text alternative. The second version shows a more complete text description and indicates where the reader can find additional data. 

2 bar charts are displayed for "claiming age" and "estimated benefits". Chart 1 is simply labeled "Retirement Chart". Chart 2 is labeled "A bar chart shows increases in monthly retirement benefits based on retirement age. If you retire at age 67, your estimated benefit will be $2532 per month. Refer to the table below for additional data"

Lack of Support for Mobile Devices

While many people with disabilities own (and prefer to use) mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, online job applications are not always optimized for mobile access. In fact, PEAT's national survey of people with disabilities found that while 56% have searched for jobs via a mobile device, only 28% applied for a job this way—likely because of display variations and because it is difficult to complete form fields and upload resumes via a mobile device. 

Optimizing job applications for mobile is crucial, because today, mobile devices are used to access half of all Internet traffic, and the number of mobile-only users (11.3%) now exceeds the number of desktop-only users. Experts predict that by 2020, mobile devices will be the primary means that people use to access the internet globally—and that the future of job applications also lies in mobile, especially because it gives applicants the ability to apply anywhere, anytime. In fact, some studies have found that as many as 77% today's job seekers already use a mobile device to search for a job.  

Many people with disabilities work best from mobile devices, which often include robust accessibility features that traditional web-based systems lack. In fact, employers are increasingly adding Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies for their employees to help bridge accessibility gaps in their workplaces.

Solutions:

  • Follow accessibility best practices for responsive design and mobile development.
  • Deque’s Accessibility 101 App is an excellent starting point for checking whether the mobile systems you use are accessible.

Inaccessible Videos

Some employers include videos within their online job applications. However, videos that are not captioned or audio-described are not accessible to people with hearing and vision impairments.

Solutions:

  • Videos should always be captioned to ensure that job applicants who are deaf or who have hearing impairments can access their content.
  • They should also be audio-described so that people with visual impairments know what is occurring in the video. This means adding voice-over narration that describes general imagery and reads any on-screen text. 

Lack of User Support

Often, online job applications lack contact information for customer/user support—leaving users with and without disabilities helpless if they are having technical difficulties with the application.

Solution:

For a more in-depth look at the issues above, please see the featured resources presented on this page.

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Experiences in Employment Accessibility