On June 25, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14035 titled Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workplace. The Executive Order is monumental for the Disability Community and the Federal Government. The White House Fact Sheet lays out two very important components. First, the order “directs the government to become a model employer for Individuals with Disabilities.”1 Second, it includes language to ensure that the Federal Government is fully accessible and that employees know their rights to request reasonable accommodations.2
Accessibility is traditionally associated with physical access, such as ramps, accessible parking, and auto-door openers. However, many do not realize that under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, information and communications technology (ICT) must also be accessible for people with disabilities. Broadly, this means that the federal government must procure, create, use, and maintain ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether they work for the federal government. An employee should not have to ask for accommodation to ensure everything electronically is accessible and usable, because the law requires that all ICT be Section 508 compliant at all times.
Under this new Executive Order, President Biden is looking to provide a broader scope of accessibility. The NIH Reasonable Accommodation Program in the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) has been endorsed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a federal benchmark. Additionally, the NIH has a centralized interpreting program that enables employees who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing to request interpreters or Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services. More recently, during COVID-19, NIH ensured that all Dr. Collins’ town halls were fully accessible by providing closed captions and certified American Sign Language interpreters.
These great examples do not mean our work is done. The NIH is actively making efforts to ensure that we continue to provide an accessible environment for Individuals with Disabilities, such as developing a subgroup on people with disabilities within the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director. EDI has also implemented a Race, Accessibility, Culture, and Equity (R.A.C.E) working group that looks to positively influence individual, institutional, and structural change on these issues at the NIH. Additionally, EDI continues to have an active Disability Engagement Committee where we discuss accessibility and develop plans on how the NIH can increase its efforts in accessibility.
The Biden administration has made it clear that accessibility and Individuals with Disabilities are priorities. I want to leave you all with one key takeaway: while we all celebrate that government leaders are taking steps to provide a more accessible world, on an individual level, we must follow their lead and do our part. This means ensuring documents, videos, or meetings you produce are accessible. You may be wondering how you can successfully take part in this work. Here are some resources on how to ensure you are doing your part in ensuring NIH is fully accessible to everyone:
- NIH Section 508 SharePoint site (must be on VPN and an NIH employee to access the site)
- Job Accommodation Network
- GSA Government-wide IT Accessibility Program
- Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)
Together, we can ensure that the NIH is fully accessible for all; just as firefighter Andrea M. Hall recited the Pledge of Allegiance in American Sign Language during the 59th presidential inauguration, we can all take action and do our part to make the workplace, and the world, more accessible.
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