How Accessibility Drives Diversity & Inclusion

Accessibility—both physical and digital—is essential to achieving diversity and inclusion in organizations everywhere. Eric Pringle, president of Integrated People Solutions, and John Samuel, CEO of Ablr, which helps organizations be more digitally accessible, provided insights into this important issue in a report from Kennedy Executive Search.

May 30, 2023 – Despite ongoing efforts, bills, laws, and regulations, organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to diversity. Diversity became an integral part of business strategies worldwide in fits and starts. But despite the best of intentions, the results lagged. Enter “inclusion.” Where diversity is about the composition of one’s workforce, inclusion is about creating a work environment that actually enables all employees to participate and get the same opportunities. How can we work to a more diverse world, if on the basis of it all, we are not ready or even willing to be really inclusive? And what if people don’t have access to your company, not just physically but also digitally?

In a report, Kennedy Executive Search shared insights on accessibility from Eric Pringle, president of Integrated People Solutions, Kennedy Executive’s partner firm in the U.S., and John Samuel, CEO of Ablr, which helps organizations be more digitally accessible.

Mr. Pringle believes that as gatekeepers to jobs, the executive search industry should take a leadership role toward greater diversity and inclusion. “We have had employment laws for females and minorities in the U.S. since the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” he said. “These have always bound the industry. However, there is a sad history of people skirting those laws and their intent. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President George H. Bush, sought to open access for the disabled in employment and facility accessibility. In 2010, the regulations were amended to include web access to extend accessibility to folks with sight impairments. Unfortunately, many people involved in HR are still unaware of these regulations or choose not to comply despite the penalties that come with violating them.”

The Global Standard

Mr. Pringle said Integrated People Solutions’ website is now fully ADAcompliant, which means it meets the global standard for global accessibility as stipulated in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The ADA follows this standard. “Those who are sight impaired now have easier access to our services and job offers,” said Mr. Pringle. “Ablr performed an audit of our website and provided a list of recommendations we shared with our website development partner. People can change the font size to fit their visual needs but can also alter contrast, change to grayscale to make text easier to read and navigate. We are still working on a few last details, but we were able to enhance accessibility for people with visual difficulties.”

Ablr’s Mr. Samuel says that being blind himself he often encountered situations in job searches in which the application was inaccessible, and he was unable to tell what fields were mandatory or which fields he filled in incorrectly. “Also, I often would be timed out because it would take me longer than the allotted time to complete the application, and I would have to start all over,” he said. “This was very frustrating, and it showed me that if a company couldn’t put in the effort to make their application accessible, what would they do for me if I got the job and needed support? Digital accessibility, however, is not only for people with visual impairments but benefits all people – including people with disabilities and the aging population. For example, including captioning on videos will make them more accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. When we make content accessible, we follow the POUR framework, perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.”

The Impact of COVID-19

With the pandemic showing that roles need to be revised and especially where they need to be fulfilled needs to be reconsidered, both Messrs. Pringle and Samuel have seen the potential for greater improvements in accessibility. “COVID has shown that many roles can be performed from home,” said Mr. Pringle. “In this way, there may be a tremendous opportunity for people who may have a more challenging time with transportation due to the need for a wheelchair or because they are blind. If they did not have to commute or worry about access to facilities, it could open up significant opportunities for them. And, it opens up broader talent pools for companies.”

Mr. Samuel says that while conducting some interviews with some disability ERG leaders at Fortune 500 companies, someone was talking about how Procter & Gamble was doing a great job in this regard. “One thing that I heard they do is to let people know upfront all the accommodations that they offer, and if they needed any others, please let them know,” he said. “This breaks down the fear of asking for accommodations during the interview process because P&G are proactive about it. As an applicant with a disability, this would make me feel much more comfortable and give me a sense that this company is ready to set me up for success.”

Finding HR Leaders and Diversity Chiefs Remains Hot Spot for Executive Recruiters
More and more, chief executive officers have recognized the strategic role that the human resources function plays in the core strategic issues their companies face, including growth strategy, mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, increased board oversight, and evolving governance and reporting. HR can also ensure that clear changes are made to recruitment and capability-building processes by determining the characteristics of a “purpose driven” employee and embedding these attributes within recruitment, development, and succession planning.

At the same time, diversity and inclusion executives have emerged as key leaders during this period of transition. With a global workforce shifting in complexity, there is a growing need for diversity experts who can shape the vision, culture and very face of organizations. Recruiting these senior leaders and their direct reports remains a key reason why search firms are so busy today.

The benefits of digital accessibility apply to candidates and recruiters alike, said Messrs. Pringle and Samuel, in that it opens the door to people who couldn’t even reach that door before and get the opportunity to meet new talent. “I have a personal experience that took place some time ago, but I am reminded of it again and again because it illustrates the benefits of accessibility so well,” said Mr. Pringle. “Back in the ’90s, Wells Fargo was one of the first major companies to open up job postings and applications on a company website. I happened to be the HR person for online banking, and we wanted to use the web to attract people to apply to build a new way of banking. Our very first hire happened to be a minority. We had no idea throughout the process until he showed up for his final interview. It showed that the web was color blind, and we felt fortunate to get an excellent hire who also happened to be diverse. At the same time, there is still a bit of a digital divide between access to the web and high-speed internet access in communities of varying income groups. That has closed a lot in recent years.”

Digital Accessibility

This shows well that accessibility should be available both physically and digitally, says Mr. Samuel, pointing to the passage of the Infrastructure Bill, “a once in a generation investment in U.S. infrastructure to, among other things, ensure every American has access to high-speed internet and invest in better public transport for communities that have too often been left behind.”

At the time, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg illustrated how highways and overpasses needed to be rerouted and redesigned. “Their historically racist design drove commerce out of minority neighborhoods and made it harder for their residents to seek employment outside of them,” said Mr. Samuel. “This will most certainly benefit accessibility. However, we interpreted ‘access and broadband’ to include digital accessibility. We are working with the arts community in Raleigh (NC) to ensure that their infrastructure is accessible for the digital era. We are mapping out their facilities so that people with visual impairments can use their phones to navigate different venues. We are also making their websites accessible.”

For the executive search, recruitment, and HR industry challenges remain in taking accessibility to the next level. “The primary challenge is a lack of knowledge,” said Mr. Pringle. “After that, it is not that expensive and time-consuming to get compliant, but it does help to have experts like the Ablr team at your disposal. We just launched a compliant site, and Ablr reviewed it and came back with four or five suggestions on how to make it even better, and we will be working with them on those tweaks in the coming months. It really is that simple.”

Related: Attracting Top Talent in the Age of AI

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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