Chris Heselton & Tom Babinszki
Head of Talent | VP, Accessibility eSSENTIAL Accessibility

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Chris and Tom from eSSENTIAL Accessibility about how your career site inaccessibility is shrinking your talent pool.

Some Conversation Highlights:

I think to tying back to our origin story, if I look at our co-founders and why they did this, no one was out there doing this. So many years ago, they kind of raised their hands to the challenge and thought, why don’t we apply our efforts into this? And they had some history in assistive technology. Out of that really evolved EA in its current state and what we do.

From a TA perspective specifically, I think, talent is a key strategic advantage, especially with the talent pool and markets the way that they are nowadays. If you look at any kind of studies, there’s a plethora of them out there, a diverse workforce with an inclusive culture, it really only stands to strengthen your business performance. So think about that for a minute, an attraction or retention perspective. But when you think about the diversity of thought that it brings, opinions, different skill sets, there’s some incredibly talented people out there who are faced with these issues every day. So I think from my perspective, it’s an untapped resource.

 

Tune in for the full conversation.

Clinch A Modern Tailored Experience

Listening time: 32 minutes

 

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Music: This is Recruiting Daily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup

William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today we have Chris and Tom on from Essential Accessibility and our topic is something we haven’t talked about before. It’s career site inaccessibility is shrinking your talent pool. I can’t wait to learn and I can’t wait to talk to Chris and Tom. So why don’t we just do some introductions. Chris, why don’t you go first, introduce yourself and then Tom, you follow and introduce yourself.

Chris: Thanks very much willing for having us. Thrilled to be here. I think it’s such timely, important and topical subject matter that we’re talking about today. So really excited. Just to introduce myself, Chris Hessels, and I head our talent strategy here at Essential Accessibility. For the benefit of those that don’t know us, EA is a digital accessibility, is a service startup. We’re based in North America. And what we do is, we work with partners and brands to really create inclusive and accessible web mobile and product experiences. Not only just to comply with global regulations, but more importantly, to ensure that people of all abilities have equal access.

William Tincup: I love that. Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Tom: Also thank you for having us. My name is Tom Bobinski. I’m the vice president of accessibility. And also what would be interesting for the sake of this conversation, is that I am completely blind.

William Tincup: Which gets us right into accessibility. For the audience, we’ll just kind of break it down into some simple parts. Most folks might not know about accessibility. So Chris, why don’t you start and then, Tom, you come in second. Let’s just paint the world. What should talent professionals, especially TA and HR, what should they be thinking about as it relates to their career site, as it relates to accessibility?

Chris: I think stepping back even just from wider aperture, if you look at the world by and large, whether you’re in North America, Europe, Asia, or anywhere, really what we’re trying to do as a company… It’s purpose driven for one. So we’re trying to democratize access for digital frontiers. So think about it. Physical accessibility years and years ago was a topic where companies, and anybody really, was facing a lot of issues surrounding that. Nowadays, especially with everything to do with digital transformation, people working from home, the problem is only compounded. And if you look at the statistics, roughly one in five people have a disability. And it’s not just people who may be blind, like Tom, it could be cognitive or physical or otherwise, or life events happen.

I think to tying back to our origin story, if I look at our co-founders and why they did this, no one was out there doing this. So many years ago, they kind of raised their hands to the challenge and thought, why don’t we apply our efforts into this? And they had some history in assistive technology. Out of that really evolved EA in its current state and what we do.

From a TA perspective specifically, I think, talent is a key strategic advantage, especially with the markets the way that they are nowadays. If you look at any kind of studies, there’s a plethora of them out there, a diverse workforce with an inclusive culture, it really only stands to strengthen your business performance. So think about that for a minute, an attraction or retention perspective. But when you think about the diversity of thought that it brings, opinions, different skill sets, there’s some incredibly talented people out there who are faced with these issues every day. So I think from my perspective, it’s an untapped resource.

William Tincup: I love it. Tom, why don’t you give us your perspective as well?

Tom: I always think of inclusion when I think about accessibility. I think what’s really important is that everybody should have a seat at the table, regardless of background. And people with disabilities are really a large segment of society. And I think if we miss out on them, we miss out on a whole lot of talent is one thing. But the other thing is, it’s just simply the right thing to do. Not to mention that another aspect of it is aging, now that we tend to live longer and longer into our 70s, 80s, 90s. As we are aging, we are going to start acquiring disabilities. Blindness is something that I was born with, but as years go by, acquiring other things as well. And we really need to start thinking about, how can we continue integrating people so that they can feel equally useful and they can equally contribute? Because everybody has something to contribute, it’s just the matter of what it is.

William Tincup: So as we think about the talent pool, I want to get y’all’s take on remote as a concept, especially because of COVID, right? We had remote employees before COVID, so it wasn’t new. However, when everyone had to be remote, I wonder if that impacted accessibility in either positive or negative ways. And Chris, won’t you start and Tom, you come in after.

Chris: Sure. Happy to chime in. I think it’s really interesting to see this evolution, I guess, especially in the past years when everybody was pushed to work from home. Naturally, that complicates things for certain people in the audience, right? Companies before, they thought about physical accessibility and is it accessible to even get into the office? Do you have braille signage? Do you have the right assistive technology tools there to help them? People might need support animals or any kind of extension of that. And I think I saw a term that inclusively used that was quite clever, success enablers, because everybody has different accommodation needs.

So I think it’s now where a lot of companies are looking hybrid or return to office. The ones that are smart are going to lean into the flexibility. And I saw a study actually today that LinkedIn published, and it was about in the UK, the CEBR, the Center for Economics and Business Research. They were saying this will actually open up 1.3 million people to be able to go into the workforce just by being flexible, which I thought was great. But from my perspective, and maybe shared by others, that’s only part of the equation. It’s one thing to be able to get them a flexible work set up, but do they have the right tools, the right environment in the workforce, regardless of whether they’re actually physically there or at home. And I think that’s the divide. That’s where the gap is right now.

William Tincup: And Tom, your perspective?

Tom: You know, in my previous life, I used to build a center for entrepreneurship, for blind people. And one of the major reasons why many blind people went into entrepreneurship is because they live in rural areas and they were not able commute because of the lack of public transportation and they had to figure out something online. When COVID started, that’s what I was thinking about. So finally, now everybody gets it. Now we all are coming from the same place. We very much need similar services. We are dealing with the same things, having technology available at home, having ergonomic equipment, having a quiet place to work. And I think it was very helpful for accessibility, that all of a sudden what was necessary for some of us, it was very useful for many other people, and that we could start the conversation that people could relate to. And it was a much easier conversation.

William Tincup: One of the things I wanted to pick up on is something Chris said, I think Tom, you mentioned it as well, is the phrase, accommodation, which I think we’ve incorrectly kind of put people into certain categories of accommodation. I think everybody that works needs some accommodations and I think just thinking of that word, it might have had some stigma before. I have two sons who have ADHD and they have accommodations at school. It has to be documented every three years and all that stuff, and their teachers sometimes struggle with that. So I can understand that employers, HR in particular, might not understand kind of the breadth and depth of what accommodations can and should be. First of all, do I have any of that right? And what’s been y’all’s experience?

Tom: I very much lack your approach because everybody needs accommodation. Some of us are good at math and some of us are good at computers or languages, and that we all need each other’s help. And there is no situation or circumstance where we can just get it all done. And some of us a disability and where we need help is a little more defined. But it’s very important. Accommodation is so important when we think of hiring or careers, particularly because let’s say there is a hiring process when everything is fully accessible, the interviewing process, the website, the resume submission, everything. And then all of a sudden, when you get to your workplace, you are presented with tools which are not usable for you because of your disability.

And then what do you do? You just don’t get what you bargained for. You are stuck somewhere because you completely fit the environment, fit the job, at least theoretically, but in practice, you cannot get your work done. It doesn’t matter why, it’s either because you cannot go up the steps with your wheelchair, it’s because you have a hearing impairment and you don’t have a sign language interpreter, or the companies using tools which are not accessible with a screen reader. And I think that’s where we need to think about the accommodation. I would venture to say that, think about accommodation before you even think about hiring.

William Tincup: Oh, I love that. Go ahead, Chris.

Chris: I was just going to say, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s a term that applies to every one of us, so well said, Tom.

William Tincup: So let’s jump into the career side, because again, I think folks might not know. Well, we don’t know what we don’t know. So let’s bring the audience in too. If you’re building a brand new career site, what should we be thinking? Let’s bring some of the elements into their field of view. Chris, will start with you and go to Tom. What if… a blank screen? Don’t have a career site. Let’s just imagine they don’t have a career site. They don’t have those things. How do we kind of construct it from the ground up with accessibility in mind?

Chris: That’s a really broad based question. I think there’s, call it very popular, career sites that are probably well known. To throw out a few names, like LinkedIn, Indeed, or whatever name you might conjure in your head. Those companies that have been around for a while and have a firm grasp on the market, I’m sure, Tom, you’d agree, they’re not fully accessible to begin with. So inherently as a primary medium for job seekers to go through, that’s kind of an issue when those become the defacto source, if you will, for companies to try to court and attract talent. So even when we look at our own website, we’ll self audit and try to make sure that every single component of the process, from application through to the interview being booked and everything else in between, we’re making those steps inclusive and accessible.

I think if somebody were to design it from a blank slate, hopefully that they would actually code it and build it the right way and shift left, to use the technical term, to think about the end user and make it a digital experience that’s accessible by everyone, simply put. If I think about why we chose our applicant tracking system or talent relationship management platform, it was the only one of the bunch that had actually done a V-PAT, which is a voluntary product accessibility template. So it explains how information and communication technology is linked to IT accessibility and section five, I don’t mean to get technical there.

But that for me was one thing that was important is for us to walk the talk kind of idea. When I look at other mediums, we’re working with organizations like the National Federation for the Blind and other industry associations we have, it’s a completely different process. And what we’re trying to think about going forward is how can we continue to invest in that and not just check a box and say, you know what? We did an okay job at it, but really try to make it the best we possibly can to embody the values and the mission that we’re on. And with that said, I think we still have a long way to go. So it’s exciting.

Tom: Right. And Tom, your take?

I think the most important thing when you have a blank screen and start building a site is, think about accessibility upfront. That should be one of the first things. As much as you think about security, think about accessibility. And here’s why. If it’s an afterthought and you have to build it in later, it’s going to cost you so much more. It will be so much more time consuming that it’s not worth it. Build it in the design phase and continue developing for accessibility, continue testing for accessibility, make sure it’s part of the life cycle. That can be very helpful. When I go to an accessible website, I can tell if accessibility was part of the thinking from the ground up, or it was an afterthought. It just shows. It’s so interesting. I can’t explain it, but things are just very, very choppy even though they meet all the requirements that they have to meet.

William Tincup: You can tell the experience. It wasn’t thought of at the beginning. They literally went and retro retrofit, which again, we’ll give them credit for retrofitting, that’s fine, but they could have done that on the front end and thought about it from the beginning. And a lot of these career sites need to be torn down and built back up with accessibility at the center, which is really inclusion, which both of y’all have hit on already. If we really want to be inclusive, then we’re talking about accessibility for all.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting though. You have to start where you are, right? So if you have to build accessibility into it so be it, but it’s not ideal. And this is what we are trying to stay away from as much just possible. Although I have to say the majority of the cases, this is what happens, that we get a site because somebody was sued or received a demand letter. And now they want to figure out how to make it accessible either because they didn’t think it was important or because nobody really thought about it. So yes, you have to start somewhere and it’s really annoying when you have to tear it all down and build it back, although it has its advantage, at least from accessibility point of view, that it’ll be much better than just building it in after the fact.

William Tincup: And Chris, your perspective?

Chris: I think that’s the whole equation really. I think brands are waking up to the fact that if they don’t do it from the get go, not only is it reasonably expensive, we’ll put it that way, it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s leaving people behind. It’s not inclusive. I think I saw a cool quote from somebody called Eve Anderson at Google and it’s, the accessibility problems of today are really going to be the mainstream breakthroughs. You look at studies from 10, 20 years ago, it benefits all of us. So it’s the smart thing to do, it’s good optics obviously for brands, but it also spurs innovation. So think of what the other benefits, like extending your brand reach, and just handling your company in the right way.

William Tincup: So Chris, we’ll start with you with this one. How do we know that we have achieved some level of accessibility? Because I feel like we might not know, especially TA and HR, they might not know, again, more ethical and moral. I think everyone’s on the same page. Yes. It should be done. If not done, done well. Okay. Check. But how do they know that they’ve reached that goal? How do they know that they actually are accessible for all?

Chris: I think it’s putting things under a microscope. Yes, we have a social responsibility, we have to do it, but not everyone’s equally aware. So I think it starts with education and really getting people onsite to understand why it’s being, why it’s important and it’s not just a nice to have or a future ambition, but a lot of companies are really starting to invest in this. We’re seeing that in the market. If I think about it from a talent perspective, from first touch engagement all the way through to the everyday employee experience, to Tom’s kind of component, we need to train people on how to communicate the right way, the tools and technology, the training. We have an LMS and it was really eye opening to me to understand, okay, if I’m communicating with somebody over Zoom, what kind of barriers might there be for some people? I’ve used TTY which was through a telephonic service and it was somebody that was deaf, so I had to learn how that technology worked and learn the right cadence of the interview process to structure it.

And it goes beyond the basics, I think from there, where it’s educational. The people that are involved in the hiring process to do with the hiring managers, leaders, even C-suite, we’re going to be doing this at EA, rolling out a training on inclusive hiring practices and how to work at things the right way. But again, it’s kind of dissecting it piece by piece. So is the website accessible? Is the career application process accessible? Is the whole interview process formatted the right way? Are we actually putting not just disclaimers, but are we actually stepping up and rising to the challenge and willing to help? There’s some stigma out there to use your word from before, when people self ID, they’re worried about that bias, that inherence on objective way that they might be treated or viewed. And I think you’ve got to be objective at all times as much as possible. So it’s a constant active refinement, I guess.

William Tincup: And before you answer, Tom, you said something that really, really triggered me in terms of a have to. I think it’s moving people’s mentality from have to want to. They’ve got to actually want to make things accessible. And again, we’re talking about the career site, but both of you have touched on the entire process of hiring. So what does the interview look like? All the micro experiences that happen in hiring, again I think if we move our minds over to want to, it becomes easier.

Chris: Completely. And Tom, do you have anything to add to that? That I might have overlooked?

Tom: Yeah. I think we are definitely getting to the want to. We have many clients who are not looking for just checking the box, but they are definitely thinking about the experience. As far as where do you know what’s accessible, when is it accessible? I think you definitely need to look at much more than the website itself, as a Chris pointed to it, because that’s the whole process and if anything breaks, then the whole thing will break. But for example, when you look at the website, the one thing that you can look at is guidelines or legislations, especially if you’re not familiar with accessibility. There’s a set of guidelines that’s called the web content accessibility guidelines. If you test against it and you comply, you know that you can go wrong here.

That’s one thing that you can look at and then take it from there. But the other thing that will tell you, and probably it’s even more important, is to have your site checked by somebody with a disability or several people with different disabilities and doesn’t make sense to them. Because when you see all those accessibility lawsuits, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, nobody’s suing because you don’t meet the web content accessibility guidelines, they’re suing because it’s not accessible for people with disabilities. And I think that’s something to look at. Am I able to get the service or not able to get the service or are the conditions sufficient for me to go from applying to being hired?

One example that I can give you that was a deal breaker, and I have encountered it several times in my life where everything was pretty accessible, at least usable enough to go through, but at the end I had to sign something. So in order for me to use the mouse or the touch screen to sign it, I had to turn off my screen reader. But if I turn off my screen reader, I can’t see the screen. And I was stuck. At that point I needed help and fortunately I had help. But if I was on my own, that would’ve broken the process and there would be no way for me to get past the very last step. And that’s the signature.

William Tincup: Right. And then again, that’s a person that just bows out of the process and we’ve lost that talent. Getting back to the topic at hand, is we’re trying to increase our talent pool. Like I talked to a gentleman the other day who was talking about felons. There’s 70 million felons or people that have felonies in the United States. We kind of paint them all with same brush. First of all, not all felonies are equal, and not all felonies happened yesterday. So you can kind of open that up to open up an aperture to then think about talent differently. And y’all are opening up the minds of the audience in much the same way. It’s like, hey, there’s a massive talent pool worldwide that you could open yourself up to. Yeah, you’re going to have to rethink some things. Actually, you’re going to have to rethink everything. But that’s not a bad thing.

Tom: No, absolutely not. You know, you have a really, really good point here about the different talent pool, because some people tend to be extremely loyal. So it’s not only that you lose talent. Unfortunately, we understand that in so many instances, we are just not going to have the same experience. Something is going to be inaccessible, either the hiring process or the work conditions. And we are extremely loyal to those companies who can provide everything that makes it possible for us to work. And what’s interesting is for example, at least I can talk about people with disabilities, that they tend to stay with a company for much longer because it’s exponentially harder to find a similarly accommodating place. And until everything is going to be accommodating and accessible, that’s going to be the case.

William Tincup: Yeah. And Chris hit on a really important part where we didn’t even start with a career site. We start with, hey, how do you get to find the job through LinkedIn or Indeed or whatever service you use. Those sites aren’t as accessible as they should be, much less the career sites of a lot of firms. I love that you hit the loyalty thing, because that’s also something that was mentioned when we were talking about folks with felonies is, they finally found a firm that gets it. And so it’s a little bit different, they could go apply for a job obviously a little bit easier, even though there’s stigma around their background, but they finally found like a home and so they feel like there’s a sense of belonging, which I can’t help, but think is similar for folks that have challenges with accessibility.

Tom: Absolutely. You know, there’s still differences. Maybe I shouldn’t call it discrimination or intentional discrimination, but it kind of still exists. I mean, there’s, there’s bias in this world.

William Tincup: Right.

Tom: And there are segments of the population for whom it’s much more difficult. I’m sure you’re aware of the long list that’s out there, but that’s difficult, and I don’t even know if there is a perfect way of breaking down the unconscious bias.

William Tincup: I think I’d start by acknowledging that there is a bias if they’re on HR and recruiting. Recruiters in particular, they want things to be easier because the job is hard enough. And to add in another layer as they would see it, of complexity, would make things more challenging. But that’s shortsighted. Again, if we think about accessibility from the very get go, from the jump, then we’ve opened our talent pool and things aren’t harder. They’re actually easier because you have more candidates, better candidates applying for jobs, which really every TA person, every recruiter I know, that’s what they want at the end of the day. They want more, both more in quantity, but more in quality as well.

Last question that I’d like to ask y’all is as we think of the pipeline, because we’ve talked about the career side, but we’ve also kind of gotten into the important parts all the way through the hiring. What kind of metrics, accessibility metrics… and we’ll just start with like some other kind of say marginalized groups, women and African Americans or people of color, keep it simple. And I think folks have gotten their hands around, okay, when I look at a pipeline for a software engineer, a front end developer, I know that my candidate pool, when I hand the slate of candidates over at the end of the day, it should look representative of the population. It should look like us.

I don’t think that accessibility is thought of that way. So I don’t think it’s thought of that way from both strategically, but also through the funnel and through the pipeline. So what have y’all seen with your clients and maybe how they’re thinking about metrics and the way that they kind of look at the different conversion rates and steps in the funnel and just to make sure that they haven’t lost people inadvertently or on purpose, but in inadvertently they’ve lost people because something wasn’t accessible? And Chris, will start with you first and Tom, you can close us out.

Chris: Would be happy to. To unbundle that, I guess it depends on the nature of your company and your business model. If you’re a 60,000 person organization, you’ve probably invested in this and built entire divisions, teams and resources specifically to address this, right? So the maturity of their tech stack and ability to diagnose and look at the pipeline, the analytics, the data, a lot of that falls down to budget. If you’re a startup more in our neck of the woods, that’s circuit 200 people, we’re doing our utmost to make sure that we have measures in place for that to do with candidate experience surveys, DEI surveys, opt in, opt out, self ID, accommodation notices. So there’s a whole slew of things you can do on a relatively skit budget.

But in terms of breaking down and ensuring, say every short list has a complete representation of the population that you might see, with the competitive market the way that it is these days, I don’t know that’s entirely realistic with certain company size. There’s a limitation to their brand awareness, their employer brand, their ability to attract, and which sources they might choose to leverage. I think that gets magnified the bigger you get. So they have more optionality with respect to that, but I think it would behoove any company not to think that way.

William Tincup: Yeah. Awesome. Tom, thoughts?

Tom: Yeah. It’s interesting because when everything is accessible, then there’s nothing to measure. And when you start measuring is when it starts becoming inaccessible. And also when we’re talking about disabilities, it’s one category. There is X number of percentage of the population that has a disability. So let’s meet that percentage. But the reality, what kind of disability are we talking about? Hearing, visual, cognitive, physical? Are we talking about invisible disabilities, visible disabilities? Are we talking about aging or not including that into the category? Or are we overly conscious about hiring people with physical disabilities but not with invisible disabilities? And you could go on and on. There’s there’s no just here. There’s no right here. I think its the matter of being inclusive and being available for everybody so that you don’t have to turn anybody down because of the background that they’re bringing to your organization.

William Tincup: Tom and Chris dropped the mics and walked off stage. Y’all did a wonderful job. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking to us about this.

Tom: Well thank you for inviting us.

Chris: Thanks so much, Will.

William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks everyone listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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