The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) this week issued historic new regulations that require federal contractors and subcontractors to — for the first time — adopt quantifiable hiring goals for individuals with disabilities.  Of relevance to this blog, flying under the radar in the final regulation but big news to those of us who have been tracking the status of regulations governing the accessibility of websites: the regulation encourages, but does not require, contractors to have accessible websites. 

The 2011 proposed regulation contained a requirement that a federal contractor must “ensure that its use of information and communication technology is accessible to applicants and employees with disabilities.”  This meant that a federal contractor’s employment/recruitment website as well as any other information and communication technology used by applicants and employees would have to be accessible to people with disabilities.  The OFCCP backed off this requirement in the final regulation and instead stated that a federal contractor “is also encouraged to make its information and communication technologies accessible, even absent a specific request for reasonable accommodation.” 

The final regulation still makes clear that if a contractor uses an online or electronic job application system, it must provide necessary reasonable accommodation to ensure that an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is not able to fully utilize that system is nonetheless provided with equal opportunity to apply and be considered for all jobs.   The regulation says:  “Though not required by this part, it is a best practice for the contractor to make its online job application system accessible and compatible with assistive technologies used by individuals with disabilities.”  Thus, if a federal contractor’s job application website is not accessible, that contractor must make sure that there is an alternate means for a person to access the information on the website and apply for jobs in a timely manner.

The change comes as a bit of a surprise given this Administration’s focus on the rights of people with disabilities.  The OFFCP states that the change was made as a result of unspecified concerns expressed by commenters.  We wonder if the Department of Justice, which is working on proposed website accessibility regulations for public accommodations and state and local government websites, will also be as responsive to similar business and government concerns.