Ensuring Access to Jobs for People with Disabilities

May 12, 2015

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division

Americans with disabilities can face many unnecessary barriers to employment, both during the job application process and on the job.  These barriers can prevent people with disabilities from finding and maintaining a job, receiving promotions and ultimately being economically self-sufficient and independent. 

During the job application process, applicants with disabilities may not want to disclose their disabilities to potential employers for a number of reasons, including the risk that the employer would refuse to hire them because of their disability.  Sometimes employers stereotype people with disabilities or take adverse employment actions because of misinformation or ignorance about certain health conditions.  Having to disclose a disability can deter people with disabilities even from applying for jobs out of fear of discrimination. 

Recognizing these real risks, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to ask about whether an applicant has with a disability or about the nature of such disability before making a conditional offer of employment.  Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, however, federal contractors subject to affirmative action requirements must invite an applicant voluntarily to self-identify as an individual with a disability, consistent with certain requirements.  

Despite the ADA’s prohibitions, some employers still ask job applicants if they have a disability and about the nature of the disability, in violation of the ADA.  Over the past few months, the Department of Justice found that several public employers were making these kinds of inquiries right in their job applications.  To resolve these violations, the department entered into settlement agreements with nine different public entities.  These jurisdictions include the entities Parowan, Utah; Española, New Mexico; DeKalb, Illinois; Vero Beach, Florida; Fallon, Nevada; Isle of Palms, South Carolina; Hubbard, Oregon; Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico; and Florida State University. 

These settlement agreements require the entities to remove the unlawful questions from the applications and follow all requirements of the ADA with respect to job applicants and employees.  Further, to help prevent future violations, the settlement agreements require that the employees who make hiring and personnel decisions be properly trained on the requirements of the ADA.  In addition, the entities must designate an individual to address ADA compliance and report on compliance to the United States.   

Today, many job applications are completed online.  Another barrier to employment faced by some people with disabilities, such as those who are blind or have low vision, are deaf or hard of hearing, or have physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity (such as limited ability to use a mouse), is that online job applications are not fully accessible to them.  Individuals with these disabilities use assistive technology, such as screen reading software and captions, to access online information.  But websites need to be designed to work with these technologies.  Without the ability to access a job application, people with disabilities will not even have the opportunity to apply for a job in the first place.  Several investigations conducted by the department found that the public entity’s online employment opportunities website or job applications were not fully accessible to people with disabilities.  To resolve these violations, the entities must ensure that their online employment opportunities website and job applications comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which are industry guidelines for making web content accessible.

Ensuring that job applications are free from unlawful questions and accessible to all applicants is essential to enable people with disabilities to find work and advance in their jobs.  With equal access to employment, hardworking Americans with disabilities can contribute as valued members of the workforce, and both justice and economic advancement are served. 

For more information on the department’s ADA Title I employment discrimination settlement agreements and consent decrees, visit www.ada.gov.

Updated May 12, 2015