Accessibility Conversations Featuring Jeff Kline
In this installment of Accessibility Conversations, our CEO Sanjay Nasta and accessibility expert Jeff Kline explore the crucial role human resources plays in a creating culture of accessibility in their organizations.
Sanjay Nasta: Thanks for joining me today, Jeff Kline. Let’s start by discussing the importance of HR’s involvement in accessibility initiatives.
Jeff Kline: Absolutely. HR plays a crucial role in ensuring accessibility across the organization. This starts at the strategic level, meaning HR should be involved at some level in decisions regarding the accessibility of its IT. whether for internal use, procured, or internal/third-party development projects. Accessibility must be considered from the early and often. If this does not occur, you run the risk of disenfranchising employees and external users, screwing up people’s career paths internally, and ultimately, ending up in litigation for discrimination.
Sanjay Nasta: I agree. HR should have a say in these decisions and carry the same weight as other stakeholders.
Jeff Kline: Exactly. HR staff should have representation that understands accessibility compliance, like WCAG standards, and asks the right questions in evaluations to ensure projects meet those standards. Internally, IT accessibility issues will fall squarely in HR’s wheelhouse, in addition to other areas of the organization.
Accessibility in the hiring and recruiting process
Sanjay Nasta: Moving on to hiring, how can HR ensure they recruit and hire individuals committed to accessibility?
Jeff Kline: It starts with identifying and including accessibility criteria in job descriptions for relevant roles. This includes positions like developers, content creators, document producers, procurement specialists, and even legal professionals.
For example, if you are hiring an IT developer responsible for components with user interfaces, whether administrative or end-user, accessibility skills need to be explicitly included in the job description. In the candidate interview and hiring process, developers’ understanding of accessibility principles such as WCAG and accessibility testing processes need to be evaluated.
If you hire a person for an IT position and accessibility skills are required, but they don’t understand anything or much about developing for accessibility, you will need to invest in training them, possibly delaying their actual deployment to a project. If it’s a contract developer without those skills, you may need to tell the contract company to remove them and replace them with someone with the proper skills and hopefully, they have someone. If not, project schedule delivery and functionality may be compromised, putting the project at risk.
Sanjay Nasta: How do we evaluate candidates against these criteria?
Jeff Kline: During the screening process, you should look for IT accessibility experience on resumes as a 1st step. Then in the interview process, you must assess the candidate’s experience and skills more specifically. This could involve asking specific questions about their experience with accessibility tools and methodologies, work examples, etc.
Assessing candidates’ understanding and commitment to accessibility during the interview process is essential. That’s why establishing clear accessibility criteria for relevant roles is crucial. Integrating IT accessibility into the job description, roles and responsibilities, and ensuring someone with accessibility knowledge evaluates candidates is essential. It is also important that HR and recruiters equip themselves with the skills to assess candidates’ alignment with these established accessibility criteria.
Of course, the level of required expertise will vary depending on the role. Someone producing content will require a different set of skills vs. someone creating an accessibility policy.
Integrating Accessibility into Performance Plans
Sanjay Nasta: That makes sense. Let’s talk about integrating accessibility into performance plans.
Jeff Kline: Accessibility should be integrated into performance plans at all levels, from individual contributors to senior executives. This ensures everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in creating an accessible workplace and has a level of accountability for it.
Sanjay Nasta: Can you provide examples of how accessibility criteria can be included in performance plans?
Jeff Kline: For developers, performance plan criteria could include ensuring all code written is compliant with WCAG standards and is validated as such. Accessibility language regarding ensuring skills currency on platforms used should also be part of performance plans. It is not one and done.
As you go up the organization for managers, as an example, it could be ensuring accessibility criteria are included, in IT projects. For executives, it could be establishing and measuring IT accessibility goals metrics across their organizations.
I would argue that even with the procurement organization, there should be some criteria established for each of the places where accessibility would play a role. Not if you’re buying pencils and cardboard boxes and drinking water, etc. But clearly, anything that has to do with IT or telecommunications.
Obviously, this is a summarized version, but that’s what I mean by integrating IT Accessibility criteria into the performance plans for relevant roles.
Onboarding, Training and Education
Sanjay Nasta: This is very helpful. Now, let’s discuss training and education. How can HR ensure all employees have the knowledge and skills to be effective accessibility advocates?
Jeff Kline: HR should provide role-based accessibility training for all employees. This can be done through internal learning management systems, external training courses, or even bringing in contract trainers. The key is tailoring training to different roles and responsibilities.
Even if you include accessibility criteria for new hires, plenty of people within the organization may still require accessibility training, so there are probably a lot of knowledge gaps in the existing employee base. HR needs to be responsible for filling those gaps in whatever accessibility training is deployed throughout the organization.
Sanjay Nasta: A great point. Moving back to accountability, what metrics or indicators should HR use to measure the success of their accessibility initiatives?
Jeff Kline: There are many metrics we could track, such as:
- Job requisitions with accessibility criteria
- Number of people trained and hired with accessibility expertise.
- Number of products that are accessible.
- Number of exceptions filed (ideally decreasing over time)
These are just a few examples, and the specific metrics will depend on the organization’s needs and goals.
Workforce Retention and Inclusivity
Sanjay Nasta: Finally, let’s touch on recruitment and inclusivity. How can HR attract and retain people with disabilities?
Jeff Kline: HR plays a vital role in creating an inclusive recruitment process. This includes using accessible job boards, interview tools, and communication channels.
Things start to go amuck when you hire somebody with a disability, let’s say, who’s blind, and the IT that they are required to use is not accessible to the blind or is non-compliant with accessibility standards.
Now you’ve got a real problem because you’ve hired somebody to do a job, and they can’t do the job because they are unable to use the IT needed for them to do their job. In many cases, that ties back into procuring and developing accessible products and services.
Once hired, it’s crucial to provide employees with disabilities the necessary tools and accommodations they need to thrive in their roles. But waiting for them to arrive to try to do that may not be the best approach.
Accessibility Resources for HR Professionals
Sanjay Nasta: How can HR ensure performance evaluation systems are fair to employees with disabilities?
Jeff Kline: This is a complex issue. HR needs to ensure proper accommodations are in place, especially when dealing with inaccessible IT. Evaluating someone with a disability against someone without a disability requires careful consideration and may involve adjustments to ensure equity.
I think that HR needs to have a sound accommodations system in place so that people can do their jobs in a way that provides them success and independence.
People with disabilities may require more time to complete tasks, making direct comparisons with non-disabled individuals challenging. However, I’ve witnessed individuals with disabilities, such as blind developers, who outperform their peers in terms of skill and productivity, given the proper tools and access. Even when resources are limited, their resourcefulness allows them to find solutions and deliver exceptional results. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider individual abilities and needs when evaluating performance, rather than rely solely on direct comparisons to the general population.
Sanjay Nasta: What advice would you give an HR professional starting to focus on accessibility? What’s a good starting point for them?
Jeff Kline: Well, I’ll shamelessly plug my book, Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization – 2nd Edition. It delves into all the pieces and parts of accessibility and how they fit together, providing a clear understanding of HR’s role in the process. I cover HR in various sections of my book. However, the book aims to provide a broader understanding of accessibility, its significance, and the role of HR within it.
Attending conferences for professional organizations like SHRM’s is crucial. SHRM (the Society for Human Resources Management) has embraced accessibility, and most HR professionals are members, so I suggest reviewing their resources. If they lack resources, they can point individuals to relevant ones. Additionally, staying informed about the legal landscape is vital. Lainey Feingold’s LF Legal website provides information about recent court cases and settlements. This gives insight into the legal landscape, both domestically and internationally.
Resources like these are essential for HR professionals involved in IT accessibility.
Sanjay Nasta: Jeff, this has been a very informative conversation. I appreciate your insights on how HR can contribute to a more accessible workplace.
Jeff Kline: My pleasure, Sanjay. Organizations need to recognize the importance of accessibility and take concrete steps to make the workplace inclusive for everyone.
HR is truly responsible for the well-being of all employees, including those with disabilities.
They must make sure that those people can also, you know, thrive, and grow with the organization.
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