EEOC Provides Guidance to Employers on Accessible Workplaces
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published an article, “Providing an Accessible Workplace,” in response to President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order 14035 on “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.” Although the article is targeted towards federal agencies, it contains suggestions that are equally applicable to private employers, in keeping with the EO’s intention for the federal workforce to serve as a model on DEIA.
Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (applicable to the private sector) and the Rehabilitation Act (applicable to federal agencies) prohibit employers from discrimination on the basis of disability and require them to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants absent an undue hardship. The EEOC’s article “focuses on accommodations that improve access to job facilities, physical spaces, and information technology.”
Buildings, facilities and physical spaces: The EEOC reiterates that facilities must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, and that accommodations must be effective in ensuring such access. This includes during periods of renovation. It also applies to outdoor spaces, including accessible (and perhaps reserved) parking spaces. The article references recommendations from the U.S. Access Board (which enforces the Architectural Barriers Act, the federal law that ensures accessibility to federal and federally-funded buildings). Among these recommendations include the following:
- Identifying a high-level official to be responsible for facility accessibility, including new construction and alterations.
- If employees or visitors report a barrier, work to remediate it.
- Consider universal/inclusive design best practices to be implemented to afford the greatest access and reduce need for reasonable accommodation requests.
- Ensure that existing accessible elements, such as elevators and assistive listening systems, are properly maintained and in good working order.
- Ensure that accessible routes and circulation paths, as well as access to accessible elements, are kept clear of obstructions such as trashcans, surplus furniture, copiers and other devices, and other clutter.
Access to information: The EEOC emphasizes that employees should have access to documents and information, both physical and online content. Those with disabilities must have comparable access to information and communication technology (ICT) as non-disabled individuals. Under the Rehab Act, agencies must determine how users with disabilities will perform functions supported by ICT, and how ICT will be developed, installed and maintained to support those with disabilities.
Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to enable employees with disabilities to access ICT. Types of reasonable accommodations include adaptive computer software (which must be compatible with existing hardware and other software) and hardware (e.g., larger monitors). Employers should also provide new adaptive equipment whenever they make changes to computer systems.
Additional resources: The EEOC provides some additional resources available from the Department of Justice, as well as Digital.gov on “Improving the Accessibility of Social Media in Government” (again, with suggestions that may be helpful to private employers), and the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas, which has created a Community Toolbox with information on ensuring access to physical spaces and information for individuals with disabilities.