New U.S. government rules requiring employers to take more affirmative action to hire people with disabilities will mean that by 2015, 50 percent of organizations will have technology projects underway to support the enablement of disabled employees, according to Gartner, Inc.
On March 24, 2014, new guidelines under Section 503 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973 go into effect in the United States. Section 503 requires Federal contractors and subcontractors to take more ambitious affirmative action to hire people with disabilities. There are similar global regulations impacting companies to boost the hiring of people with special needs or disabilities and a total of 158 countries or regional integration organizations have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.
"Now is the time for IT leaders to meet with human resources (HR) counterparts and review these new rules," said Andrew Johnson, managing vice president at Gartner." Then consider the bigger picture of how an overlooked talent pool can contribute to longer-term workforce planning. Even if an organization doesn't do business with the U.S. federal government and has no employees with special needs, a fresh review of assistive technologies may uncover new ways to help boost productivity for every employee."
Mr. Johnson said that the new rules are the latest in a plethora of complex domestic and international labor laws.
"The HR aspect is best managed by internal legal or HR or external service providers that know the full details and government reporting policies," Mr. Johnson explained. "However, while internal HR staffs may be versed in labor law, they may not be fully aware of the scope and scale of the impact on IT infrastructure. IT will need to work with HR to help determine which assistive technologies can reduce barriers for special-needs candidates and review an internal communication plan that is sensitive to the special-needs employee."
As the new rules take effect, application and Web development staffs should review how mobile and desktop applications can be optimized for accessibility to open positions to disabled candidates.
"Opening up a position to a disabled job candidate may be as easy as delivering an assistive accessory, modifying an application or changing a workspace," said Mr. Johnson. "Access to information is critical to empower employees to thrive in their current position and the specific challenges that disabled employees face accessing an organization's systems should not be overlooked. If the IT operations staff doesn't know about or have the resources to assume this work, consider outsourcing it."
Reviewing internal systems against benchmarked accessibility will not only smooth the onboarding for new employees with special needs that may come with Section 503 compliance, but it may likely reveal new positions within the company that can be filled by people with disabilities. Call centers, data center facilities and work-at-home positions are often optimized for employees with disabilities. Several studies indicate there is no incremental cost of accommodation, on other cases it is less than $500 per employee.
New assistive technology products and services will allow IT managers to deliver more-productive endpoint solutions. Smartphones and tablets, for example, have been a huge leap forward by delivering personalized accessibility solutions at very low costs.
Gartner predicts the number of organizations that have technology projects to support the enablement of disabled people in the workplace will increase. Going forward, several factors will boost the number of organizations initiating technology-related projects to enable disabled employees. More government regulations, lower-cost IT solutions, public pressure and customer demand are four key factors to drive an increase in these types of projects. Gartner recommends that assistive technology options are reviewed on an ongoing basis so that IT can react quickly to changing needs.
More detailed analysis is available in the report "What IT Leaders Need to Know About New Rules and Opportunities When Hiring People With Disabilities." The report is available on Gartner's website at http://www.gartner.com/doc/2679515.