“If we don’t find new ways to address the digital accessibility skills gap, U.S. workplaces will become increasingly inaccessible not just to workers, but to customers and consumers.”
Kate Sonka, Executive Director of Teach Access
When workplace technologies are inaccessible, job seekers with disabilities can find it difficult, or even impossible, to find, apply to, and retain jobs that fit their interests, skills, and talents. This barrier represents one of the contributing factors to the low labor force participation rate for working-aged (ages 16-64) people with disabilities, which as of 2022 was 37.8%, compared to 77.1% for those without disabilities. It also hinders employers from hiring talented career seekers with disabilities.
According to a 2022 Teach Access survey of employers, “two out of three reported their products are less accessible than they want.” WebAIM also analyzed one million home pages in 2023 and found that 96.3% had accessibility failures. Companies typically lack the digital accessibility expertise on staff to put knowledge into action. Only 2% of employers surveyed by Teach Access reported that it is easy for their organizations to find candidates with accessibility skills.
At the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA), one of our priorities is driving the development of apprenticeship programs for the field of digital accessibility. We support employers in this crucial effort and help them understand how apprenticeships can play a key role to advance full access for all diverse, talented career seekers. This means promoting the value of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in their workforces.
Throughout October, our nation celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an annual observance that encourages employers to consider how they can foster workplaces that fully embrace DEIA. This year’s theme highlights Access and Equity, and it aligns with ongoing events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
In honor of NDEAM and to support employers’ understanding of inclusive apprenticeships, we have developed a resource for employers, in partnership with the DirectEmployers Association, that can help employers assess their accessibility needs and identify how they can create their own apprenticeship programs for the field of digital accessibility.
An Accessible Workplace: What You Need to Know
Over the years, the federal government, standard-setting bodies, and accessibility experts have released regulations, standards, and guidance to help employers apply best practices for accessibility to their workplace technologies. These policy advancements include legal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and and standards for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
“Employer demand for digital accessibility support is on the rise as an increasing number of companies strive to become more inclusive.”
Kate Sonka, Teach Access
Accessibility represents a key example of a growing field. The demand for accessibility professionals will likely continue to surge as emerging technologies—such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality—enter more workplaces. The vast majority of employers surveyed by Teach Access in 2023 (86%) “anticipated this demand for employees with accessibility skills to increase.” Without innovative efforts to address the skills shortage, this gap will likely widen.
Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs) can help employers address their need for a pipeline of skilled and talented digital accessibility experts. These programs can help apprentices sharpen their skills and refine their abilities through engaging on-the-job learning and classroom instruction. Inclusive apprenticeship programs help ensure the skills they learn match the unique needs of each employer.
When technology is accessible, everyone stands to benefit. The Curb Cut Effect supports Universal Design. When jobseekers and workers with historical barriers, particularly disabled people, can gain access, the net societal impact enhances all workplaces. For instance, hiring apprentices with disabilities can result in more inclusive work environments and, in turn, lead to hiring and retaining other diverse workers from underrepresented groups.
Collaborating to Advance Digital Accessibility Apprenticeships
In June 2023, PIA hosted a Think Tank in partnership with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). This event focused on advancing apprenticeships for digital accessibility driven by employers and industry intermediaries. These apprenticeships can help jobseekers, including people with disabilities, ready for careers as accessible technology experts by teaching them the necessary skills.
During the event, PIA sought input from individual accessibility and apprenticeship experts and professionals in the fields of workforce development and vocational rehabilitation. Participants offered their thoughts on key strategies, policies, and practices to advance apprenticeships in digital accessibility.
ODEP Assistant Secretary Taryn Williams shared opening remarks. Afterwards, two organizations paving the way presented on advancements fostering apprenticeships for digital accessibility:
- Helix Opportunity, which manages one of the first RAPs for digital accessibility
- Florida Division of Blind Services (DBS), which recently registered a digital accessibility apprenticeship program with the Florida Department of Education.
“We decided to create an apprenticeship program that focuses on supporting people with disabilities that want to enter this career field. Why? Because having a disability is a key differentiator and competitive advantage in the digital accessibility space.”
David Fazio, Helix Opportunity
Following the event, participants had the opportunity to rank key takeaways in priority order to help inform efforts by employers and service providers to advance digital accessibility apprenticeships. Using this information, we developed the following steps to take to create a more inclusive and accessible workplace:
- Understand the Benefits of Creating an Inclusive Apprenticeship Program: Launching inclusive apprenticeships can result in a significant return on investment, including increased retention and a more diverse workplace. Learn more by reviewing the following resources:
- Ensure Your Workplace Technology is Accessible: For apprenticeships in digital accessibility to work, we need workplace technology to be accessible. Learn how to ensure your technologies are accessible:
- Read Inclusive Apprenticeships: The Importance of Accessibility (Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology, or PEAT)
- Use the TechCheck resource, a powerful tool to help assess your technology accessibility practices. (PEAT)
- Review and share PEAT’s Staff Training Resources, to train staff across your organization on the accessibility skills relevant to their specific role.
- Expand the Focus of Digital Accessibility Apprenticeships:
- Learn more about the potential of digital accessibility apprenticeships from the Helix Opportunity founder David Fazio. Helix sponsored the first RAP with DOL that focuses on training apprentices in digital accessibility. (PIA’s Apprenticeship for All Podcast)
Josh Christianson is Project Director for the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) where he leads efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce through apprenticeship. Josh has extensive experience in supporting the diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts of non-profit organizations, private companies, and government agencies.
He is the former director of the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), where he built cross-sector partnerships to shape the policies and practices contributing to the development of accessible emerging technologies in the workplace.
Before coming to PEAT Josh was a Senior Consultant at Deloitte where he provided talent strategies, change management, and leadership development support to federal agencies.
Prior to Deloitte he spent several years with The Posse Foundation as the Career Program Manager where he cultivated relationships with companies and organizations to provide career development opportunities for Posse Scholars and Alumni.