Last month, PEAT was excited to join a U.S. Senate staff briefing on “Improving Website Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities,” which was sponsored by Senators Bob Casey and Amy Klobuchar. In collaboration with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and partners, we provided Senate staff with concrete ideas for how to improve the accessibility of their websites and digital tools for visitors and employees.

Jennifer Sheehy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of ODEP, launched our discussions on the central role digital accessibility plays in inclusion for the workplace, civic engagement, and other facets of our technologically changing society. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) both require all federal websites to be accessible and usable for people with disabilities.

Wendy Strobel Gower of the Employer Assistance Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) next discussed the integral role digital accessibility plays in their Inclusion@Work(link sends e-mail) Framework for employers seeking to make their workplaces more inclusive. She cited Microsoft as an example of a company that has capitalized on making inclusion and accessibility a core part of workplace culture and brand.

Later, Anne Hirsh of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) described the impact of providing reasonable workplace accommodations to workers with disabilities, and she shared JAN’s toolkit for employers to facilitate this process. She also described how technology solutions enable many people with disabilities to enhance their productivity at work through accommodations that range from telework to assistive technology, such as screen readers. Anne stressed that the average accommodation for work is free, and that the average accommodation with a financial cost is less than $500.

Later in the briefing, PEAT showcased some of the tools we provide to employers, including:

Staff Training Resources: A comprehensive roadmap of steps that employers can take to train staff throughout an organization on accessibility skills relevant to their specific roles
TechCheck, an interactive benchmarking tool to help organizations evaluate the maturity of their accessible workplace technology efforts and find tools to strengthen these activities
Buy IT!, a detailed primer to assist employers and their purchasing staff on working with vendors to infuse accessibility practices and usability principles into their procurement processes for information and communications technology (ICT)

As always, we emphasized that a successful accessibility initiative requires an organization to adopt a strategic, organization-wide, and continuous formal effort. The three tools noted above can help an organization ensure that all of their staff gain a greater understanding of accessibility, why it matters, and how it connects to their own jobs. Everyone, for example, is responsible for making documents accessible—which fortunately keeps getting easier and more streamlined! We closed the briefing by sharing our 10 Tips for an Accessible Website and highlighting simple steps that staffers can take immediately to make their offices more accessible, including:

Use the accessibility checkers in office software, such as the checker in Microsoft Office
Add descriptive alternative text (aka alt text) to images
Use heading structures in documents, emails, and websites
Avoid sending inaccessible PDF documents (or include another file in an alternative format)
Do not rely on visual cues like bolded text, italics, underlining, and different colors
Use tables for organizing data (not for visual layout)
Use CamelCase for websites and social media hashtags #BestPractice
Include captions on all videos and provide transcripts for all audio recordings
Write content in plain language for websites, social media, and other platforms
Use informative link text (e.g., “Download the report” rather than “Click here”)

We all felt excited about our warm reception at this briefing, particularly since Senate staffers seemed eager to learn about how to enjoy the same enhanced employee productivity and stakeholder engagement that businesses increasingly seek through disability inclusion. As Accenture has found, companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more people with disabilities in their workforces earn 28 percent higher revenue; these businesses also double the net income and achieve 30 percent higher economic profit margins than their peers