Powers Pyles Sutter and Verville principal Bobby Silverstein details the various accessibility policies and how companies can strategize to make this part of their company culture.
Hi, I’m Bobby Silverstein. I’m a principal in the law firm of Powers Pyles Sutter and Verville. I’m also the former staff director and chief counsel to the US Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy, and I was in that capacity when we worked on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Look around. How many companies now use online systems for searching and applying for jobs? The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and the Internet as we now know it did not exist at that point in time. But in 1992, when the regulations were finalized, the Department of Justice recognized that the regulations must keep pace with developing technologies…has taken these general standards, and in numerous settlement agreements with employers—public and private employers—have taken these general requirements and then have specifically stated in these settlement agreements as one of the key components that the entity—the employer—must make their websites accessible and they must make their online systems accessible.
And they make it clear that accessibility is with respect to specific standards and guidelines. In the case of these settlement agreements, it is what’s called WCAG 2.0—the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. In addition, we have Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act that applies to federal agencies and mandates that federal agencies procure, use, design accessible information and communication technology for their employers and the general public. And recently in February of 2015 there was a “refresh” of these guidelines and the major thrust of this refresh was to ensure that there’s a harmonization between the 508 standards for federal government and these international standards so that we will have one set of standards. Then we also have currently what’s called Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act which applies to government contractors and requires non-discrimination and affirmative action. And in terms of 503, we also have recent regs to refresh or modernize Section 503 and they include specific provisions dealing with access to information and one of the things they say is that government contractors must ensure equal access to job opportunities and information provided through information and communication technology.
How do we make accessibility of websites, online systems, information provided in that way, how do we make that part of the corporate culture? And from my perspective it means establishing an infrastructure that makes implementation possible and the adoption of a strategic plan. What is the infrastructure? It starts with leadership. From the top, from the CEO, from the Chief Information Officer. And the message has to go down to managers and supervisors that this is part of who we are as a company. The concept of universal access is a critical concept because it not only enables people with disabilities to benefit from technology or from access to buildings, it helps everyone.
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