Larry Goldberg is Head of Accessibility at Verizon Media and a founding member of Teach Access. Teach Access is a unique collaboration among members of higher education, the technology industry, and advocates for accessibility. It has a shared goal of making technology broadly accessible by infusing accessibility into higher education.
Teaching Access: Fostering Inclusive Workplaces by Closing the Skills Gap
Every July, we celebrate the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and other places frequented by the general public. The ADA was a seminal victory for disability inclusion when it was signed 28 years ago, and it remains an important force today in the fight for equal access.
However, one place where we continue to see inequality for people with disabilities is in the area of information technology—whether it's on the Web, our personal devices, or the digital tools that power our daily lives. Too many people with disabilities can't readily access the technology they need to work, live, and play. Too many tech products also reach the marketplace in a state that is inaccessible to many users with disabilities.
The reasons for these realities all boil down to knowledge and awareness—or in this case, the lack thereof. Unfortunately, there is limited knowledge of accessibility fundamentals among today’s technology developers, designers, and programmers; many of these professionals did not have the benefit of learning essential accessibility skills during their schooling and job training. As a result, many tech companies can’t find job candidates with the accessible tech skills they need.
Based on discussions with 70 respondents from Teach Access member companies, partners of the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), and others in the technology sector, PEAT recently reported a significant accessible technology skills gap among employees and job candidates across a broad range of public and private organizations. Among the findings:
- 57 percent of the respondents reported that their products and services are less accessible than they want.
- 63 percent of the respondents reported that their current staff don’t have the skills necessary to meet their organization’s goals.
- 60 percent reported that it is “difficult or very difficult” to find job candidates with the accessibility skills that their organization needs.
- When asked how this gap impacts their organizations, respondents cited increased costs and decreased productivity.
Considering that one in five Americans has a disability, and that 93 percent of our research respondents said that demand for accessibility skills is growing, it’s never been more important for us to close this skills gap and make accessibility a central part of technology education.
Teach Access and PEAT are taking action together to address the issue. Earlier this year, PEAT partnered with us to support the development of resources for colleges and universities to infuse the teaching of fundamental accessible technology concepts and skills into their computer science and design curricula. The fruits of these efforts have included the creation of a new grant award program for faculty members working to incorporate accessibility principles into their existing courses. Our Teach Access team also recently hosted an inaugural Study Away program in Silicon Valley, bringing together 25 students from partner universities throughout the U.S. for a total immersion experience in the field of accessibility.
Through these and other efforts—such as PEAT’s work with Apprenti, an IT apprenticeship intermediary—leading tech players are making important progress in our quest to bridge the skills gap. By continuing to work together, we can ensure that current and future generations of technology designers and developers make accessibility an imperative—not an afterthought, and we can create jobs in a growing sector of the tech industry in the process.