Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) Five-Year Impact Report

2013-2018

I. Executive Summary

In FY 2013, the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) launched the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT). Through FY 2018, PEAT has served as the leading national resource to promote policy action and collaboration to increase the development and adoption of accessible workplace technology.

Consistent with ODEP’s mission, PEAT has focused on how accessible technology policies and practices can facilitate the recruitment, hiring, employment, retention, and career advancement of people with disabilities (PWD). ODEP established PEAT to fill a significant void that other government agencies, research institutions, and advocacy organizations had not addressed. The PEAT initiative has garnered unprecedented success in convening and assisting employers, technology providers, policymakers, advocates, and PWD to understand the vital role accessible technology plays—breaking down barriers to employment for PWD and increasing the productivity of all workers. PEAT has continually created high-profile opportunities for leadership at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to engage with the critical intersections of technology, disability, and work.

PEAT’s Think Tank represents a defining achievement of the initiative. Established in 2014, the Think Tank has created a landmark forum for technology and business leaders, advocacy groups, and government entities to interact. Think Tank members have met to discuss how to leverage key policies and partnerships in fostering accessible workplace technology. This forum has included representatives from leading Fortune 500 businesses, such as Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook, Apple, Oracle, Intuit, Amazon, Cisco, Oath, IBM, and Google. We also collaborated with leaders from key government, academic, and nonprofit institutions. Participants have agreed the Think Tank is unique in convening diverse stakeholder organizations to meet outside of typically siloed spheres. These thought leaders have provided critical feedback and direction to ensure PEAT’s work stays relevant and cutting-edge.

By engaging experts from the field, PEAT has amplified its message about the relationship between accessible technology and public policy. PEAT worked regularly to develop and distribute policy research, analyses, and other helpful tools. As our guidance expanded over the years, the PEATworks.org web portal achieved wide acclaim. Audiences have praised the usefulness and applicability of the robust information and resources housed on the site. These resources include the Policy Matters micro-site outlining laws and other policies related to technology accessibility, the TalentWorks tool for accessible eRecruiting, the Buy IT! procurement tool, and the PEAT Talks webinar series. Overall, the PEAT website has received over 290,000 page views since October 2014. Our popular eNews newsletter now draws nearly 3,000 subscribers, and it has a read rate that consistently surpasses the median rate for federal agencies. PEAT has promoted key priorities from a grassroots lens by detailing actionable issues in both high-level analytic memos and plain language primers. For example, our resource How is the Department of Justice Addressing Website and ICT Accessibility? has been linked frequently for its analysis on the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to digital accessibility.

Through our grassroots initiatives and relationship-building with the technology industry, PEAT has catalyzed many multi-pronged approaches to address major challenges and develop innovative solutions. Some partners have already updated their organizational policies to reflect a new accessibility mindset. Tech giant Oracle has cited PEAT’s research on inaccessible eRecruiting practices as a primary motivator for accessibility enhancements to Taleo, the world’s leading HR software platform. Similarly, AudioEye credits PEAT with helping them to understand competitive market advantages of building with accessibility in mind. This objective prompted AudioEye to partner with payroll company ADP to create an accessible version of their platform, which they showcased at the 2017 international HR Tech conference.

In response to our recent research identifying the accessible technology skills gap as a major priority focus, PEAT built a new partnership with Apprenti, a DOL-registered apprenticeship program intermediary; we have jointly fostered inclusive apprenticeship programs to help PWD gain training, certification, and placement in the tech industry.

Further, PEAT has forged several important industry partnerships to make mainstream technology more accessible. Our partnership with Teach Access has worked to investigate and close the accessible technology skills gap. PEAT has provided project management support for the project’s collaborations with technology companies and universities to hone the accessibility skills of  future designers, engineers, and researchers in the tech industry. In 2018, our support helped them successfully debut a faculty curriculum development awards program. They also held an inaugural Study Away program to connect students interested in accessibility to top companies in Silicon Valley, including Google, Oath, Adobe, and Facebook. PEAT has also collaborated with the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) to support the research and development of a free database of accessible technology training resources.

PEAT has also earned wide recognition as an authoritative voice and a national free resource on  accessible technology for employment and emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. Through our online and offline work, we have made significant inroads in increasing awareness of accessible workplace technology issues to mainstream audiences through our messaging. In 2016, for example, PEAT coordinated the Deputy Secretary of Labor as the keynote speaker at the 2016 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference (CSUN); this bridged the connection between accessible technology and disability employment at the premier international event on accessibility. Over the years, our work has likewise been featured in interviews, articles, and media appearances for Forbes, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) HR Magazine, the Huffington Post, CNET, and Bloomberg BNA.

Looking forward, a primary Think Tank recommendation from the most recent 2017 meeting is for PEAT to continue stakeholder engagement. Citing the value of the day’s event, several attendees expressed an interest in PEAT continuing to convene diverse groups to collaborate on shared goals for accessibility and employment of PWD. One participant noted: “Today has been among the most powerful I’ve had in 15 years of working on this issue. Instead of getting stuck on issues of stigma and discrimination, we’ve moved the discussion forward today toward technology and innovation. We’re not stuck on fear-based thinking. Can we please keep this going? Because we finally have gotten to a place where we can make it work.” As the PEAT initiative moves forward, we are confident that these relationships and collaborations we’ve sparked around the critical intersections of technology, disability, and employment advance opportunities for PWD.

II. Major Accomplishments

Since its public launch in 2013, the PEAT initiative has emerged as a widely recognized and trusted national resource that collaborates with leading technology companies, disability advocacy organizations, government entities, and others. PEAT’s overall objectives focus on:

  • Facilitating the removal of systemic technology-related barriers to hiring, employing, retaining, and advancing people with disabilities;
  • Promoting and increasing the use of accessible technology in the workplace; and
  • Serving as a catalyst for collaboration and innovation on accessible technology as it relates to all aspects of employment.

PEAT has continually created high profile opportunities for DOL leadership to engage with important issues related to technology, disability, and employment. These opportunities have looked ahead to include emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. PEAT focuses on three major outcomes to fulfill its mission:

  1. Working with technology leaders to promote accessible technology;
  2. Helping American companies attract and retain diverse talent, including people with disabilities; and
  3. Educating technology developers and designers on accessibility and universal design.

III.a Fostering collaboration and action on accessible workplace technology

In December 2014, PEAT convened a landmark invitation-only forum of technology leaders, advocacy groups, and government entities to discuss issues, potential collaborations, and solutions surrounding the topic of accessible workplace technology. PEAT’s Think Tank has met regularly in subsequent years in both in-person and virtual spheres. It has created a tangible space for diverse entities, both public and private, to collaborate in identifying problems and potential solutions related to ensuring people with disabilities can use new and existing technologies. These thought leaders provide grassroots feedback and direction to keep PEAT’s work relevant and cutting edge. The participants have lauded the uniqueness of the space, which brings together many disparate entities to meet outside of their normally siloed spheres.

Members include:

  • Representatives from leading Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook, Apple, Oracle, Intuit, Amazon, Cisco, IBM, Oath, and Google, as well as a number of small and mid-tier companies;
  • Academic and nonprofit leaders from entities such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Coleman Institute on Cognitive Disabilities, and Georgia Institute of Technology’s Wireless RERC; and
  • State, local, and federal IT and policy leaders.

These advisors have helped PEAT create tangible data outlining problems and potential solutions, which served as a springboard for PEAT’s work. At the inaugural Think Tank meeting in 2014, participants identified a short list of tangible project ideas through daylong working groups. These findings laid the groundwork for PEAT’s nationwide eRecruiting and Accessibility Survey. PEAT then developed the TalentWorks tool in response to the needs this data identified. In addition, comments we received regarding the need to investigate skills building and education on the developer end led to PEAT later establishing Accessibility Hackathons at the annual W4A conference.

Throughout 2016, PEAT held a three-part Think Tank series on the need to increase awareness around issues regarding the development, use, and promotion of accessible technologies in all aspects of employment. This began with an in-person Roundtable at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference (CSUN) led by the Deputy Secretary of Labor, followed by an in-person working group meeting at the M-Enabling Summit with the ODEP Deputy Assistant Secretary. It culminated with a nationwide online public dialogue garnering public recommendations, such as creating training tools related to procurement best practices so that purchasing personnel understand why and how to write accessibility requirements into their requests for proposals (RFPs), and how to test the accessibility of the products they receive from vendors. In response, PEAT developed the Buy IT! tool. Other Think Tank recommendations included supporting initiatives to instill accessible technology skills in job requirements, and developing mentoring programs for young developers. These ideas laid the groundwork for PEAT’s partnership with Teach Access.

In 2017, PEAT partnered with Microsoft and GSA to hold a daylong meeting at the Microsoft offices, where participants identified the accessible technology skills gap as the next major area needing investigation. In response to these findings, PEAT focused our primary work in Year Six on closing this gap. This included creating a national survey on this topic, and building new partnerships related to the areas of focus emerging from the meeting. PEAT established a new partnership with the apprenticeship intermediary Apprenti to investigate the strategy of inclusive apprenticeships in the tech sector. We also built a formal collaboration with the Teach Access consortium to support and amplify their work to create collaborations with universities to ensure that computer science and design courses include training in accessibility concepts and skills.

Closing comments from attendees at the most recent meeting included:

  • “I’m struck by the support and connection I’ve found in this room. Today has been among the most powerful I’ve had in 15 years of working on this issue. Instead of getting stuck on issues of stigma and discrimination, we’ve moved the discussion forward today toward technology and innovation. We’re not stuck on fear-based thinking. Can we please keep this going? Because we finally have gotten to a place where we can make it work.”
  • “What’s clear is that PEAT is able to pull together a terrific group. I would say to DOL and others, I hope you’re hearing that we need to continue these conversations. I had skepticism of PEAT at the start, but I’m really impressed by the progress made.”
  • “I thought it was a great day, with a great group of folks committed to the same mission. We should be talking to each other more. You’re trying to drive the strategy on the government side, and on the industry side, we are, too. We should be collaborating more.”
  • “The private sector and government sector need to talk about accessibility in a more cohesive way. Today we sit 35 days out from the 508 refresh. If we’d had this conversation two years ago, there would be no ground for commonality. Today, we’re getting closer to speaking the same language. It made me optimistic, and I loved the sense of collaboration today.”
  • “We need to keep doing this and make sure we have a space for this kind of collaboration. PEAT is willing to keep this up. From a DOL perspective, we need to look at Administration priorities and shape PEAT’s work accordingly. For instance, we can tie apprenticeships to technology and show that accessibility is a workforce issue.”
  • “There’s been a lot of conversation today that needs to continue. How far we’ve come since my early days of making IBM DOS accessible!”
  • “PEAT...provides a unique perspective otherwise not represented in the disability community and contributes to our shared vision of full inclusion, economic self-sufficiency, and improved quality of life for all U.S. citizens. I was fortunate to have been invited to the first PEAT Think Tank and have seen the evolution and success of the project. I can honestly say that unlike other entities, the PEAT team not only harnesses valued direction and feedback from a diverse and passionate group of national leaders, but they also successfully develop quality tools and products for general consumption based on that feedback. This unique ability to critically listen to the community and successfully execute shared goals sets them apart from other entities.

III.b Producing meaningful and clear policy resources

PEAT’s overarching priority has focused on conducting policy research and analysis in the field of accessible workplace technology. First, this critical initiative has assisted employers in understanding the relevant laws and regulations, court decisions, and government resources that help make their businesses inclusive of both employees and customers with disabilities. Second, PEAT provides a service to jobseekers and employees with disabilities as they benefit from accessible technology policies and practices at work. Third, PEAT’s partnerships with the technology industry help influence organizational policies that are built on clear national and international accessibility standards. PEAT has promoted key priorities from a grassroots lens by detailing actionable issues in both high-level analytic memos and plain language primers. Topics have ranged from publicizing the Section 508 refresh to discussing how the Department of Justice has interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements as they pertain to digital accessibility.

To summarize our policy work, PEAT created an online micro-site called Policy Matters. Our audience was delighted when we responded to their requests for resources to learn about and understand laws and regulations, court decisions, and government resources related to accessible workplace technology. For example, the site includes a resource that outlines the technology angle of laws like the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. The resource “How is the Department of Justice Addressing Website and ICT Accessibility?” has been linked frequently for the analysis it has provided regarding the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to accessibility in digital spheres.

PEAT has frequently collaborated with other government entities to strengthen our shared resources and partners. We have worked with DOL internal partners JAN, EARN, and NCWD/Youth throughout the years on joint conference presentations, webinars, Twitter chats, and external articles, and have also worked with each to cross-promote our resources. To assist state and local governments with policies that support accessible workplace technology, we collaborated with other ODEP partners in the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). We provided data for the report “Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities” (2017). We also partnered to host a Twitter chat on apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities as key ways to create pathways to employment for youth and young adults with disabilities.

We’ve also built a strong relationship with the General Services Administration (GSA) and have often collaborated with them on issues and projects related to accessibility and Section 508. For several years, we have partnered with them in hosting the agenda and resources for their yearly

Interagency Forums on Accessibility. At the 2017 PEAT Think Tank, GSA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Information, Integrity and Access (I2A) within the Office of Governmentwide Policy (OGP) led a TechTalk with representatives from various federal agencies regarding the future of accessible information technology (IT). We have also supported GSA’s case study efforts.

III.c Expanding to new spheres of influence and collaboration

PEAT has brought many important new external partners to DOL through our grassroots initiatives and direct relationship-building with America’s technology leaders. The initiative has catalyzed numerous significant new collaborations and multi-pronged approaches to tackle the range of issues we’ve uncovered over a six-year period related to disability, technology, and employment.

III.c.1 Direct relationships with technology leaders

PEAT’s connections to America’s technology leaders in particular have yielded tangible results. Tech giant Oracle has cited PEAT’s research in inaccessible eRecruiting problems as a primary motivator for accessibility improvements to Taleo, the world’s leading HR software platform. Following a PEAT presentation in 2015, Oracle’s accessibility team vowed to come back in one year with an accessible product. One year later they unveiled major accessibility improvements to Taleo and credited PEAT as the call to action.

AudioEye also credits PEAT with helping them to understand the competitive market advantage of building with accessibility in mind. This prompted AudioEye to partner with ADP, a major payroll company with 600,000 clients, to create an accessible version of their platform, which they unveiled at the 2017 international HR Tech conference.

III.c.2 Partnerships with top accessibility initiatives powered by the tech industry

PEAT has forged several important partnerships with leading initiatives within the tech industry to make mainstream technology more accessible. Our partnership with Teach Access has worked to investigate and close the accessible technology skills gap. Collaborations with technology companies and universities are helping to prepare future designers, engineers, and researchers in the tech industry with accessibility skills. PEAT’s project management support to Teach Access allowed the organization to facilitate the review of dozens of applications for 20 curriculum development awards of $5,000 each to faculty who want to infuse accessibility topics into their existing courses. PEAT also developed a promotional video documenting Teach Access’s inaugural weeklong Study Away program in Silicon Valley in May 2018, which invited 27 students from 4 universities to tour the campuses of Google, Oath, Adobe, and Facebook and to learn about those companies’ approaches to accessibility.

In 2018, PEAT established a partnership with the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) to support the research and creation of a free database of accessible technology training resources. This work required representatives from PEAT to serve on subcommittees charged with identifying technical requirements of the tool that will store all of the training resources metadata as well as designing and overseeing the process for collecting and categorizing accessibility training resources from around the world.

PEAT has also built important new relationships in the tech industry through a series of accessibility hackathons at a premier yearly event, the W4A Conference. Our 2016 partnership with Google and H5P in creating the 2016 W4A Accessibility Hackathon generated tangible crowdsourced accessibility improvements to H5P, a learning module used widely in workplaces and schools. In September 2016, H5P reported that “several of the pull requests from the W4A Hackathon have been published and are being used by millions of users.” This work also informed PEAT’s later understanding of the accessibility skills gap and connected us with related organizations, such as Teach Access.

III.c.3. Increased awareness among mainstream employer and HR audiences

PEAT has long identified increasing mainstream awareness of accessible workplace technology issues as a primary part of our mission, particularly after Think Tank members overwhelmingly called out awareness as the prime cause of inaccessible technology in the workplace.  PEAT has made progress in this area by expanding DOL’s SHRM alliance significantly to work more directly with them on accessible workplace technology issues. This partnership has included cross-promotion of several articles and blog posts, presentations at several of their conferences, including SHRM annual and SHRM Diversity & Inclusion, as well as support and promotion of inclusive apprenticeships in the tech sector at the 2018 SHRM Job Fair.

Our partnership with the popular HR blog Workology.com has similarly reaped many rewards by bringing PEAT resources and messaging directly to mainstream HR audiences. Our joint podcast series, the Future of Work, has garnered over 30,000 page views across the Workology and PEAT websites since launching in December 2017. Since then PEAT and Workology have produced 12 podcast episodes together on topics such as artificial intelligence, the gig economy, machine learning, and virtual reality. These podcasts had over 8,500 downloads between 2017 and 2018. Creating a strong relationship with Workology also won us important introductions to many external partners, including key personnel at SHRM, as well as high-profile media placements.

III.c.4 Partnerships forged with advocacy organizations and educational institutions

PEAT has likewise built and utilized a strong network of partnerships with many advocacy organizations and research institutions, particularly in cross-promoting resources. PEAT has formed relationships with organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities. They were integral to promoting our eRecruiting and Inaccessibility Survey of employees and job seekers with disabilities to a national audience. Similarly, PEAT has often collaborated with the Wireless RERC to disseminate news about comment opportunities related to accessible workplace technology. We have also worked closely with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) for several years. In 2016, PEAT helped AAPD shape the agenda and invite speakers to the White House Disability and Inclusive Technology Summit. We have also regularly participated in their monthly Tech Forum meetings throughout the life of the grant.

Similarly, PEAT has built relationships with initiatives related to employment for veterans with disabilities to ensure that our resources and messaging reach these audiences. These efforts included a partnership with the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) to cross-promote resources, and to guide PEAT’s knowledge and research of tech apprenticeship program models. PEAT has also worked closely with Amazon’s Military Program to explore their veterans’ hiring and apprenticeships programs as a model, which helps transitioning service members secure jobs with Amazon in the IT sector.

III.d Developing a trusted reputation as an authoritative voice and national free resource

Over the last several years, PEAT has built a reputation as an authoritative voice and a national free resource on issues related to accessible technology and employment. In 2013, we launched the PEATworks.org web portal, which is well known today as a free, official educational resource to promote awareness of accessible workplace technology issues. PEAT’s resources have provided critical framing infrastructures for building awareness nationally about the critical intersections of technology, disability, and work. Some of PEAT’s products include core infographics for the Accessible Workplace Technology Lifecycle, New Data on the Accessibility of Online Job Applications, the Accessible Workplace Technology Ecosystem, and the Accessible Technology Skills Gap. Overall, the PEAT website and its associated resources have received over 290,000 page views since October 2014.

Our in-depth resource tools have been met with wide acclaim, including:

TechCheck: This interactive benchmarking tool helps companies and organizations evaluate the maturity of their accessible workplace technology efforts and find tools to develop them further. One user reported in 2017 that he was “thrilled that there is as much activity around this sort of higher-level conversation about accessibility. I can see parts of the TechCheck hitting the nail on the head for the audience we’re addressing now as we help to create the plans and processes that Oklahoma will use to implement WIOA here.” Former Wireless RERC Jim Mueller similarly commented in 2018 that “throughout my consulting career in disability management, I expect that many of my clients would have preferred to use a tool like this to identify internal accessibility issues themselves vs. exposing their business practices to external scrutiny…I hope ODEP/DOL devotes some resources to promoting this tool effectively among the business community.”

TalentWorks: Created in response to PEAT’s national research on inaccessible eRecruiting practices, this tool was met with wide acclaim upon release. This robust online resource helps employers and HR professionals make their eRecruiting technologies accessible to all job seekers through a wealth of video resources, articles, and tipsheets. TalentWorks has been widely promoted in a number of prominent external publications, both online and offline, and was also centrally integrated into the course curriculum for the online course “Introduction to Inclusive Talent Acquisition.”

Buy IT!: Created in response to feedback generated at the 2016 Think Tank meetings, this resource helps employers and their purchasing staff work with vendors to build accessibility and usability into their ICT procurement processes. In 2018, top leaders at Oath reported to PEAT that they plan to use this tool in training their in-house staff.

Staff Training Resources: This resource updated PEAT’s original “Action Steps for Accessible Technology” in response to user feedback from our online audiences. It provides a comprehensive roadmap of steps that employers can take to train staff across an organization in the accessibility skills relevant to their specific roles.

Future of Work Series: PEAT began a new series in 2018 focusing on the changing world of workplace technology, exploring topics ranging from the gig economy to technologies such as live video, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR). Resources range from a podcast series co-produced with Workology.com to policy analysis of the implications of emerging technologies with respect to employment and the gig economy.

PEAT Talks Webinar Series: The PEAT Talks webinar series has garnered significant attention and praise since its inception in 2015 as a resource connecting online audiences with individuals and companies taking actionable steps related to accessible technology and employment. The most recent webinar in the series, for example, featured an engaging discussion with Facebook’s Director of Accessibility Jeff Wieland, during which 140 live attendees asked significantly more questions than he could cover during the half-hour Q&A period.

Implementing Accessibility Series: Created in response to feedback from both our online audiences and the Think Tank, this series of webinars, blogs, and articles provides plain language primers on the nuts and bolts of getting started with web accessibility. Featuring the expertise of Gian Wild, founder of Accessibility OZ, it covers subjects such as making images, videos, and PDFs accessible.

eNews Newsletter: PEAT’s popular bimonthly newsletter draws a highly-engaged audience and steady readership, with open and read rates that consistently exceed the median federal government rates. The June 2018 edition of PEAT eNews, for example, had a 54.24% open rate and 25.42% click-through rate from nearly 3,000 subscribers. In 2017, the median open rate for federal agencies was 14% and the median click-through rate was 2.2%.

A variety of national entities have also reached out to PEAT over the years for assistance and support. In 2016, PEAT helped Disability:IN (formerly known as USBLN) integrate questions related to accessible technology into their Disability Equality Index, a nationally recognized benchmarking tool that offers businesses an opportunity to receive an objective annual score of their disability inclusion policies and practices. In 2017, PEAT similarly assisted the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) in updating their grant language to address accessible technology. In 2016, Perkins School for the Blind also initiated a partnership with PEAT to integrate TalentWorks resources centrally into the curricula for the online course they offer to HR professionals to learn inclusive hiring and recruiting practices. GSA Section 508 coordinators have likewise used PEAT as a resource for questions and support.

III.e Driving mainstream awareness for accessible workplace technology

PEAT has made significant inroads in increasing awareness of accessible workplace technology issues to mainstream audiences through our messaging. Throughout the years, we’ve received significant national media coverage to a variety of mainstream audiences. Our work has been featured in interviews and articles published in Forbes, SHRM’s HR Magazine, Huffington Post, CNET, and Bloomberg BNA. PEAT personnel have likewise made notable appearances on a number of popular external webinars, as well as the international TV show The Stream, which broadcasts to more than 270 million households in more than 140 countries. We have also built substantive following on social media, and regularly host engaging live events, such as our Twitter Chat series. Since PEAT began tracking our social media metrics in 2015, we have increased Facebook likes 134%, and our Twitter followers by 122%.

In 2018, PEAT partnered with Microsoft to hold a daylong preconference primer on accessible workplace technology at the annual DirectEmployers conference, and was also involved in promoting inclusive apprenticeships at the 2018 SHRM job fair. PEAT coordinated the Deputy Secretary of Labor as the keynote speaker at the 2016 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference (CSUN), bringing the connection between accessible technology and disability employment center stage at the premier international event on accessibility.

III. Key Recommendations

Based on an in-depth analysis of the insights gleaned from our years of work with our partners and stakeholders, PEAT has distilled a set of tangible ideas gathered from our Think Tank meetings and partnerships that DOL can use to help prioritize new and existing efforts related to accessible technology and increased access to employment for people with disabilities. At-a-glance, these recommendations are as follows:

V.a Work to close the accessible technology skills gap

PEAT’s findings have established that demand for accessible technology skills is growing, but companies are struggling to fill job openings because too many prospective employees lack these skills. The next steps are for DOL to scale existing programs that work with tech companies and higher education institutions, such as the Teach Access model, that encourage students and apprentices to learn key accessibility skills early in their tech educations.

Other needed areas of work include the creation of resources to help foster better education around accessibility for both students and existing workers, such as a searchable database of accessibility training programs and profiles of developers that illustrate how accessibility acumen can advance someone’s career. PEAT began a collaboration with IAAP in 2018 to build such tools, and we hope this nascent partnership continues to receive DOL support. It could also be useful for IAAP to involve the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) in building this resource. Likewise, we recommend that DOL provide policy support to incentivize accessibility skills-building. For example, DOL could create an accessible technology apprenticeship designation.

V.b Expand government apprenticeship and workforce programs for people with disabilities

Inclusive apprenticeship programs in the continually expanding technology sector offer exciting possibilities for increasing the labor participation of people with disabilities. In addition, accessible technology can also increase the accessibility of apprenticeship education and training programs, as well as increase their availability, to the benefit of all workers.

DOL can foster systemic change efforts in this area by creating new opportunities that expand on traditional approaches. These could include disability apprenticeships and hiring programs modeled on the success of veterans programs, initiatives to encourage virtual internships and apprenticeships for less-mobile candidates, and cohesive training programs that offer transferable skills and/or credentials across industries.

Hand in hand with these efforts, DOL should provide policy support to advance necessary changes, such as:

  • Reciprocity of Uniform State Standards and licensures
  • Apprenticeship programs that are pathways to Return to Work
  • Disability benefits reform so that people can pursue work opportunities without fear of losing benefits
  • New public-private partnerships around disability employment
  • Strengthening of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.
  • Raising awareness about accessible technology and the skills and talents of people with disabilities
  • Creating catalogs of best practices, stronger rating programs for exemplary businesses, and national public education campaigns

V.c Encourage awareness and prioritization of accessible technology​ to grow further

PEAT’s work has established that accessible technology is integral to breaking down barriers to employment for people with disabilities. It is vital that DOL continue to build upon PEAT’s efforts to create resources and foster conversations to advance the creation and adoption of accessible products. Two specific potential resources that PEAT’s stakeholders and online audiences have identified a need for include a guide on best practices related to accessibility in an agile environment, and a repository of companies and consultants who specialize in accessibility.

DOL should also provide policy support that encourages the development of accessible products, such as a shift in focus from accessibility compliance to the principles of the Section 508 standards. 2017 Think Tank participants also suggested the possibility of a requirement for companies of a certain size and scope to have an accessible technology policy for the products they sell.

In disseminating its message, DOL should prioritize mainstream messaging to promote issues related to disability employment and accessible technology. PEAT found significant success with our practice of creating high-level policy briefs coupled with plain language primers and mainstream awareness campaigns, and we recommend that this model continue. DOL should also work to raise awareness of the importance of accessible technology among IT decision makers within companies, and encourage peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and holistic approaches to accessibility that span both internal and external efforts.

PEAT could also make meaningful impact in the future by continuing to monitor accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and Section 508, and possibilities for developing new educational and policy analysis resources. For example, PEAT could develop benchmark materials to help employers understand the recently released WCAG 2.1 standards and to work toward them as goals.

V.d Continue to grow PEATworks.org as the top source companies seek for finding resources and training in how to utilize accessible technology to attract and retain employees with disabilities.

DOL should also continue to grow PEATworks.org and its reputation as a trusted free source for information, news, and resources related to accessible workplace technology. As it scales upwards, the PEATworks.org platform should continue to explore diverse messaging mediums and platforms to engage new audiences, including opportunities such as podcasts, videos, and opportunities for live participation. Perhaps the most significant opportunity for expansion would be to seek out external partnership opportunities through the stakeholder partnerships that PEAT has already built.

V.e Continue to build public-private partnerships and to offer collaboration spaces for all entities in the Accessible Technology Ecosystem to meet and discuss problems and collaborative solutions.

PEAT’s greatest success has been in the creation of unique collaboration spaces for many different, and often siloed stakeholder entities to meet and discuss collaborative solutions to promote accessible workplace technology. We strongly recommend that DOL continue to organize Think Tank meetings and other collaborations, both virtually and through in-person events.

We also recommend that DOL build upon the primary partnerships that we have developed in the landscape of accessible workplace technology, primarily through in-person conference activities. Public/private partnerships with large tech companies offer exciting possibilities for the future. DOL should also work with professional IT organizations to promote and grow resources for accessible technology professionals. In particular, we hope DOL continues the nascent partnership PEAT established in Year Six as the newest member of the Professional Development committee, in order to help IAAP develop an accessible technology training database and search tool.

Based on the relationships PEAT has already forged, collaborations with trade associations could also offer promising potential to scale and grow PEAT messaging in mainstream spheres. Other obvious next steps for PEAT would include continuing to target and build a presence at major mainstream technology venues, and to continue to build partnerships with government organizations and educational and research institutions.