ADA and Emerging Tech: Key Considerations for Employers

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often overlooked in employment-related technology development, acquisition and deployment.  As new and emerging technologies enter the workplace (see my earlier post, here) there are several key considerations related to the ADA to bear in mind.

By way of very brief background, the ADA (and state analogues) typically require employers to make reasonable accommodations for their employees and applicants with disabilities.

Key considerations:

  • All technology designated for use by employees or applicants should be reviewed for usability by individuals with disabilities, including those using Adaptive or Assistive Technologies (AT).*
  • Security policies and procedures (especially those in a mobile environment that seek to isolate workplace apps from non-workplace apps) must be designed to work with — and certainly not block — AT.  Other security policies, such as equipment related to two-factor authentication, should be designed to work with AT, especially those users with a visual impairment.  For instance, RSA security tokens feature interoperability with Windows screen readers for visually impaired users.
  • Ensure that in-house social networking or collaboration sites, video meeting technologies, in-house learning technologies consider employees with disabilities.   Similarly, your websites, intranets and employment-related documents and forms must be accessible.
  • Online job application platform and/or any application-related apps must be usable by individuals with disabilities and should be compatible with a wide range of AT.
  • Any inventory of apps on a device (especially in a BYOD environment) should be done with sensitivity to the fact that the very presence of some apps on a device (for instance, an App that monitors diabetes) may be protected health or disability-related information.
  • New tech, such as wearable devices, should be designed with individuals with disabilities in mind — it is far easier to consider this at the design phase than at the deployment phase.  Similarly, RFPs/agreements for new workplace technology ought to insist on compliance with the ADA.  In short, accessibility must be a fundamental part of your technology acquisition and development program.
  • International employers must be aware of the various disability-related regulations that cover their non-domestic workers.
  • Employees and applicants should have a way of discussing the need for technological accommodation — and not necessarily solely with someone in an IT department.   From a pure risk-management point of view, the ability to quickly flag, report and remedy barriers for employees and applicants with disability could be very important to the employer.

The good news is that the number of available AT resources are increasing.  From apps that assist those with speech-related or preventing conditions to those that assist the visually impaired to read, the universe of AT-related apps is expanding.

Two resources:

  • Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy recently held a conference called Designing an Inclusive Digital World, the proceedings of which can be viewed here.

* – A good definition of AT can be found here:

Assistive or Adaptive Technology (AT) commonly refers to products, devices or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that are used to maintain, increase or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

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