2.1 Identifying and overcoming accessibility and usability barriers

Long, complicated and potentially inaccessible online job applications risk preventing applicants from moving forward with the recruitment process. According to a study conducted in the United States, almost half of all persons with disabilities who had applied for a job online described the experience as “difficult to impossible”, while only 1 in 10 were able to complete the application, and 1 in 4 required technical assistance. Almost 6 in 10 individuals were unable to complete the job application even with employer-provided technical assistance.5


The lack of accessibility in online job applications is typically one of the main barriers faced by persons with disabilities during the employment process. Accessibility issues frequently present in job application platforms include the following:

Inaccessible form fields: Most online job application platforms contain a variety of “form fields”, such as checkboxes, data fields, radio or option buttons, and other places for applicants to enter data or make selections. If these form fields are not explicitly labelled as such, they are often inaccessible to individuals who use certain types of assistive technology, such as screen readers.

Recommendations for making form fields accessible:

Explicitly label all form fields in job applications, so that users know when they have encountered a field. Explain what type of field it is, and provide additional cues to let the user know what type of information the application requires.

Keyboard-inaccessible website navigation: Online job application platforms often cannot be navigated using only a keyboard or may not be compatible with assistive technology devices, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers and voice recognition software.

Recommendations for making website navigation keyboard-accessible:

Set a logical reading order for content in the online job application platform programmatically, so that when users are navigating the form using assistive technology tools, the tab key or voice commands, the focus will move in the order needed to complete the application.
Ensure that the input focus does not jump to advertisements or skip entire sections.

Untagged images and graphics: When a person using a screen reader encounters an image in an online job application, it may not be clear what the image is (or if it is there at all) unless it is correctly tagged with meaningful alternative text. As a result, users with visual impairments may be at risk of missing out on key components of the online job application.

Recommendations for making images and graphics accessible:

Tag all relevant graphic elements (photographs, logos, graphic buttons and any other type of non-text image) with meaningful alternative text descriptions that can be recognized by a screen reader.

Lack of support for mobile devices: Online job application platforms are not always optimized for mobile access.6 Optimizing job applications for mobile devices is crucial, given that an estimated half of all Internet traffic comes through mobile devices and the number of mobile-only users exceeds the number of desktop-only users. Moreover, many persons with disabilities are most comfortable using mobile devices, which often include robust accessibility features that traditional web-based systems lack.

Recommendations for making website navigation keyboard-accessible:

Ensure that users can resize text up to 200 per cent without using third-party assistive technology
Ensure that colour-contrast ratios between the foreground and the background are sufficient for both large and small text.
Make touch targets large enough to accommodate persons with motor disabilities.
Provide enough space between elements of the interface.
Make touch gestures as simple as possible. Demonstrate how to use touch gestures with on-screen indicators.
Avoid restricting content to a particular device orientation, such as portrait or landscape, unless absolutely essential.
Make features that are activated through user motion accessible through a user interface as well, where possible.
Allow motion-activated features to be disabled to avoid accidental activation.

Inaccessible videos:Some employers include videos on their online job application platforms. However, videos that are not captioned or audio-described are not accessible to people with hearing and vision impairments.

Recommendations for making videos accessible:

Always provide captions to ensure that job applicants who are deaf or who have hearing impairments can access the content.
Provide audio descriptions of videos for persons with visual impairments by adding voice-over narration that describes general imagery and reads any on-screen text.

Lack of user support: Often, online job application platforms lack contact information for customer/user support, leaving users with and without disabilities helpless in the event that they experience technical difficulties with the application.

Recommendations for providing user support:

Provide contact information within the online job application, including an accessible way for users to receive technical assistance.
If the information technology (IT) department cannot provide such assistance, consider outsourcing support to an accessibility consultant who can be on call to respond to incoming user requests and provide assistance to employers in the event of accessibility problems.


Usability issues may also make online job application platforms challenging to use, especially for candidates with visual impairments or cognitive disabilities. Issues include:

too many steps, layers of screens, and sections, which can be hard for users to navigate;
a lack of consistency across screens or steps, which can make navigation difficult;
a system “timeout”, which deletes user data and forces users to start again or drop out entirely.

Recommendations for improving the usability of online job application platforms:

Break applications up into manageable, easy-to-follow sections.
Keep the page simple by limiting the number of graphics and text.
Provide clear instructions and alternative ways to apply for persons experiencing technical difficulties.
Present text in a font size of 10 or higher, and ensure that text can be enlarged.
Include a spell check feature.
Format questions to require less typing in the response (such as by using multiple-choice checkboxes).
Allow enough time to complete sections, in the knowledge that some individuals may need more time than usual. Ask users if they need more time with a prompt or provide a way to disable the timeout feature if the application has a time limit.
Allow the user to easily move back and forth throughout the application without loss of data, and ensure that there is an option to save sections and return to complete the application later.
Notify the user when a form is complete and submitted.

5  Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), “Infographic: The accessibility of online job applications”.

6  The national survey of persons with disabilities conducted by PEAT found that, while 56 per cent of individuals had searched for jobs via a mobile device, only 28 per cent had applied for a job via a mobile device, most likely because of display variations and the difficulty of completing form fields and uploading résumés via mobile devices. Source: PEAT, “Infographic: The accessibility of online job applications”.