Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Accessibility of online tools: report tracks top ideas

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) have completed a report compiling “participation metrics” for an online conversation about making web-based tools easier to use for workers with intellectual disabilities, cognitive issues, traumatic brain injury or other disabilities.

The dialogue was open from Dec. 9 to 20.

I’m gratified that the idea that I backed — concern for personality screening of job applicants — made the report’s “Top 5 Ideas” under “Applying for Jobs.” But I want to express my concern about the competitive nature of the PEAT-ASAN forum. Why was it structured so that people were able to vote down other people’s ideas?

I believe “social suitability” questions pose deliberate discrimination. During typical screenings, applicants are asked to indicate the degree to which they agree or disagree with statements such as these: “I keep my feelings to myself,” “It’s fun to go out to events with big crowds,” “You are unsure of yourself with new people,” “It is easy for you to feel what others are feeling,” “You are unsure of what to say when you meet someone,” “You do not like small talk,” “You know when someone is in a bad mood, even if they don’t show it.”

In my opinion, questions like these fail to gauge my dependability, safety orientation, initiative, team orientation, ability to take direction or leadership (to cite the stated assessment objectives of one “talent acquisition” service).

Instead, the questions seem purposely designed to filter out characteristics associated with the autism spectrum: our uneasiness with crowds, dislike of social chatter and difficulty interpreting other people’s emotions.

(As a commentator put in response to my earlier post, “The main things they test are the ability of the applicant to understand what qualities an employer is looking for and the ability of an applicant to lie effectively and consistently.”)

But something I view as deliberate discrimination received three down-votes to offset 16 up-votes in the PEAT-ASAN forum.

The disability community is so diverse, even among the demographics that were targeted by the online dialogue. Just because I don’t share another person’s challenges, should I be able to decide that they’re unimportant?

In their joint report, ASAN and PEAT indicate that “this metrics report simply summarizes the dialogue’s results” and that participant input and responses are currently being analyzed. These will “ultimately be used to frame recommendations for improving the accessibility of job-related tools for everyone, including individuals with disabilities.”

I want to urge ASAN, PEAT and the U.S. Office of Disability Policy to give consideration to ALL ideas for making online job tools more accessible, not merely the top vote-getters. It concerns me that, out of 42 ideas, only top vote-getters were highlighted in the “participation metrics” document.

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