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by Sue Dafoe and Dean Askin

The nature of work is rapidly changing and is creating opportunities for jobseekers who have a disability. But for the more than 600,000 employable Canadians who have a disability, many still face barriers to securing employment. 

Today, a majority of the job search happens online. The problem is mainstream job boards and recruitment sites take a one-size-fits-all approach. They’re not designed with accessibility and disability in mind. 

Key barriers for jobseekers who have a disability

Jobseekers who have a disability identify many barriers to accessing mainstream recruitment sites. These barriers include inaccessible websites, accessibility issues once inside the platforms and biases with automated screening tools, to name a few. 

Today, nearly 4.9 billion people use the Internet, including 80.5% of Canadians who have a disability. Web accessibility hasn’t kept pace.

In 2021, TheWebAIM Million, an annual accessibility study of the top one million web pages, found that 97.4% of home pages don’t conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG2). This was down only slightly from 2020 (98.1%).

What does this mean?

It means, for example, that a website doesn’t allow for the pairing of assistive technology such as a screen reader. Or that the site lacks embedded accessibility features enabling users to increase font size or adjust colour contrast.  

Without WCAG2 features built into a website, many people who have a disability can’t view the web pages, let alone interact and potentially search and/or apply for a job. 

Once inside a website, people who have a disability also encounter barriers to interacting with platforms not designed with accessibility in mind.

Cumbersome online application discourages jobseekers

A 2021 Harvard Business School/Accenture study, Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent notes that cumbersome online application processes make many “hidden” jobseekers – including people who have a disability – give up applying for jobs either temporarily or altogether.

Among high-skilled workers, 36% give up temporarily and 24% of middle-skilled workers do the same, the study found. Permanent job-search abandonment happens with 28% of high-skilled workers and with 18% of middle-skilled workers.

Lastly, many online recruitment platforms use built-in artificial intelligence (AI) that screens out candidates based on specific criteria – often, an applicant’s work history and experience. Inflexible algorithms in automated recruiting systems focus on the negative, not the positive. They look for what job applicants don’t have rather than what they do have to offer. They don’t take into consideration the skills and abilities of jobseekers who have the required skills, if they do not have the exact desired experience criteria in a job description. 

The Harvard/Accenture report noted that “almost half of the companies surveyed weeded out resumes that present … a ‘work gap’. If an applicant’s work history has a gap of more than six months, the resume is automatically screened out by their RMS (Recruitment Management System), based on that consideration alone” (p. 22).  This means a qualified candidate’s application will never be seen even though it may fill all of the employer’s requirements.  

A jobseeker who has a disability may encounter one or all of the above-mentioned barriers to employment. 

Deliberately inverting the traditional recruitment pyramid with unique AI technology

The Hidden Workers study also emphasizes that businesses are perpetuating talent shortages because they’re relying on these “inflexibly configured automated recruiting systems” that are exclusive instead of inclusive. The result is the need for more online recruitment platforms designed with accessibility, and jobseekers who have a disability, in mind.

Enter Jobs Ability Canada, an online recruitment platform created by and for people who have a disability. It launched in October 2021.

In the United States, Jobs Ability has been levelling the playing field for jobseekers who have a disability since 2018. There are several job sites in the U.S. geared toward jobseekers who have a disability, but the AI technology design of Jobs Ability and Jobs Ability Canada is unique.

Accessibility isn’t an issue; it’s built in. It allows for screen readers, colour contrasts, and font size increase or decrease. The platform has many other features including an ADHD-friendly mode and an Epilepsy-safe mode.  

Jobseekers can take their time building their profile and return at any time, picking up where they left off.  The AI virtual job coach, “Abi,” supports jobseekers if they need help. The technology of Jobs Ability Canada lets users decide how and when to interact with “Abi.” 

The Jobs Ability Canada platform uses its AI technology to screen in, not screen out, unlike other online recruitment platforms. The technology matches key skills, abilities and jobseeker location to employer job postings first, not work history or experience. In essence, the Jobs Ability Canada model inverts the traditional recruitment pyramid — making it somewhat of a “disruptor.”

Trail-blazing toward a new recruitment state of normal

On the flip side, the AI technology of Jobs Ability Canada helps businesses intentionally looking for qualified candidates who have a disability as part of their recruitment and business strategy. The AI technology automatically uploads postings and keeps all job postings current. As well, businesses can search the database of qualified candidates based on key skills, abilities and preferred location.

Right now, Jobs Ability Canada is blazing a trail to break down recruitment and employment accessibility barriers for both jobseekers who have a disability, and businesses, that contribute to the talent shortage.

The hope is, however, that all businesses and online job platforms will follow the path being cleared by this unique application of AI technology – thus, making accessibility for jobseekers who have a disability part of recruitment operations as usual.

This post was originally published as a guest post on the CareerWise by Ceric blog.

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