Federal laws and regulations, such as “Section 508” and the “21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act” (CVAA) provide helpful and detailed information about technical standards that employers can use to guide their use and procurement of technology that is accessible to all users, including people with disabilities.
Legal requirements are often a prime motivator for employers who are working to make their workplaces accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, and the relevant U.S. laws and regulations concerning accessible workplace information and communication technology (ICT) are described below. Please note that this overview is only a brief summary and not a substitute for professional legal advice. For in-depth guidance related to a specific legal question or situation, be sure to contact your own legal professional.
Ensuring Equal Opportunity
At their core, federal rules related to accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT) are all about ensuring opportunities to access information and data for people with disabilities that are equal to and as effective and meaningful as opportunities provided to others. Our nation has laws that prohibit discrimination against qualified people on the basis of disability in all aspects of employment. This means that covered employers must provide equal and effective opportunities to qualified individuals with disabilities to:
- apply for jobs,
- obtain the same level of performance, and
- enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges that job applicants and employees without disabilities receive.
Some of the federal laws summarized below prohibit employers from using standards, criteria, or methods of administration that discriminate on the basis of disability (whether intentionally or not). In addition, some of these laws require certain employers—specifically federal agencies and federal contractors—to take affirmative actions to employ and advance in employment individuals with disabilities and certain veterans with disabilities. This applies to recruitment, advertising, and job application procedures, including online application systems.
You don’t have to be a legal expert, but it’s important to have a basic understanding of the federal laws that affect accessible information and communication technology in the workplace:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act)
- Section 255 of the Communications Act
- The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
- The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA)
In addition to the federal rules, some states have additional laws and initiatives promoting accessible ICT in the workplace, state government, and educational institutions. For more information, please visit the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).
Employer Responsibilities and Best Practices
Most private and public sector employers in the U.S. are legally required to buy and use accessible information and communication technologies. However, even for those without a legal mandate, accessible ICT is considered a “best” or exemplary business practice, in large part because it makes good business sense. In addition to giving companies a competitive edge, being proactive in procuring, using, and promoting the use of accessible ICT in the workplace helps employers achieve human resource, productivity, and other business goals.
PEAT encourages all employers to make the workplace information and communication technology they buy and implement accessible to all of their workers and potential job seekers by taking these steps:
- Ensure that all employees can access the information and communication technology currently in place, from computers, to online applications, to company-issued smartphones. If devices or applications are not accessible, your company should provide necessary assistive technology (AT) and ensure such applications operate with your current IT systems.
- Create websites that meet or exceed accepted accessibility standards maintained by the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- Commit to purchasing only accessible products when procuring new technology for your workplace.
- If you manufacture technology, develop accessible, interoperable, and universally designed products for your customers.
- For those employers with legal staff who are familiar with disability nondiscrimination laws, such as the ADA, it can be helpful to have that legal expertise on the accessibility team and, at the very least, to keep them informed about your accessible ICT efforts.
For information about how to implement, you can get started by visiting PEAT’s Staff Training Resources.