EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.
December 17, 2003
This responds to your letter dated November 18, 2003, which requests an interpretation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as to whether Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers who use online job information and recruiting tools to use technology which is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. You state that the very nature of mass internet recruiting restricts opportunities for requesting or obtaining reasonable accommodation.
Although the Commission has not taken a position on whether an employer's use of the internet for listing job vacancies and receiving job applications discriminates against applicants who are visually impaired, we recently responded to a letter raising a similar concern. That letter asked whether it would violate the ADA for an employer to use a "web based employment center" that does not contain access to a larger type version for users with vision impairments who need larger type. Addressing the issue as one of reasonable accommodation, the Commission cited the long-standing interpretation of Title I of the ADA by both the Commission and courts that "[g]enerally, the individual with a disability must inform the employer that an accommodation is needed." See EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship (as revised October 17, 2002). However, you have raised additional legal theories, namely that an employer who uses an inaccessible website format violates Section 102 (b) (1) of the ADA by limiting blind job applicants in a way that adversely affects their opportunity to learn of or apply for jobs. You also state that utilizing an inaccessible technology is a method of administering the recruitment and application process which has the effect of discrimination against blind applicants and thereby violates Section 102 (b) (3) of the ADA. As you may know, there is no case law interpreting these provisions in this manner. However, the legal theories you raise may both be viable under Title I.
Notwithstanding how the requirements of Title I may apply to this situation, the Commission always encourages employers to use a variety of methods to expand the pool of applicants considered for vacant positions.
With respect to federal agencies (as opposed to private sector employers), which are covered under sections 501, 504, and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, there are two federal regulations that address the specific accessibility requirements for electronic and information technology under Section 508:
Both the Access Board and the General Services Administration are responsible for providing technical assistance for compliance with Section 508. In addition, the Department of Justice maintains a Section 508 website, http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/508, which contains a resource guide listing organizations that provide technical assistance and research on the type of issue you have raised and other useful information.
As this is an emerging issue, the Commission will continue to monitor this and other developments that impact Title I of the ADA. I hope this information has been helpful. Please note that this letter does not constitute an official opinion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Peggy R. Mastroianni
Associate Legal Counsel
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