9 Steps for Employers to Build a Disability-Inclusive Workplace

Fostering inclusivity in today’s diverse workforce is critical to ensuring your employees feel valued, allowing them to contribute their best towards your business goals. With an inclusive environment, there is equality, and the organization will easily tap into a talented pool for increased productivity.

While there are many efforts towards inclusive workplaces, there are still gaps in this, with global statistics by the UN indicating that over 80% of persons with disabilities remain unemployed globally. In the United States, persons with disabilities represent 21% of the workforce, which is far below those without, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US. This explains efforts in the observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. During this month, the rest of the population pays tribute to the accomplishments of persons with disabilities who contribute to the overall economic growth. This year, the theme is Inclusion Drives Innovation.

Here’s more on the importance of disability inclusion in the workplace and disability inclusion strategies to implement as an employer.  

Why Is It Important to Build a Disability-Inclusive Workplace

The CDC highlights that one adult in four has a visible or invisible disability, and you likely have some in your organization. This necessitates disability inclusion to support your employees.

Disability inclusion ensures no discrimination against persons with disabilities by celebrating them for who they are. In the workplace, disability inclusion means being careful not to set persons with disabilities at a disadvantage.

By creating a thriving environment for persons with disabilities, the ripple effects will go beyond those with visible disabilities, as about 96% of disabilities are invisible. Committing to accessibility takes foresight and compassion to ensure disabled people feel welcome, valued, and accepted.

Disability inclusion is also important for your hiring process, and companies that lag on this factor usually lose out on qualified talent. If candidates experience barriers from your recruitment processes or sense that you are not inclusive, they will focus elsewhere. Other benefits of disability inclusion in the workplace include improved productivity, innovation, and PR. In the long run, you will also comply with the discrimination laws against disabled persons, saving you expensive lawsuits.

Steps Towards Providing Disability Inclusion in the Workplace

Disability-focused strategies continue bearing fruits as more employers commit to disability-inclusive hiring. Here are steps to take to promote disability inclusion in your workplace.

1. Make it Easy for the Disabled to Apply for Your Jobs

UN statistics reveal a higher unemployment rate for persons living with disabilities in developed nations than those without. Beyond discrimination in their sexual orientation, race, and status, disabled persons face more barriers, hence the need to create a level field for job application processes.

The first step to disability inclusion at the workplace is identifying the barriers that may block persons with intellectual capacity from applying for jobs at your company. These barriers include

  • Advertisements: Do you have inclusive job postings? Do they portray that you support people with disabilities?
  • Applications: Is the application format accessible to people with disabilities who have unique requirements?
  • Interviews and assessments: Do you find out if the candidates have accessibility requirements, and are your activities suitable for all groups of people? Does the interviewee need more details earlier to be comfortable during the interview?
  • Onboarding process: Do you have a process implementing the adjustments required to hire disabled people? How possible is it to have the adjustments that disabilities bring in the course of work?

Upon evaluating the above, look at each through an inclusivity lens and make necessary adjustments to ensure disability inclusion. These include writing the job descriptions in plain language, using application formats like videos, removing aptitude tests, and providing access to the interview questions in advance.

2. Have a Comprehensive Understanding of Disabilities and Disability Etiquette

Understanding disability etiquette means learning about the first language of people with disabilities and finding out about other organizations that are within the disabled people community. By supporting these organizations, employers will spread awareness to others and act as a resource for educating themselves and colleagues.

3. Promote Company-Wide Education

Company-wide training and education for managers, leaders, and employees on disability awareness and workplace accommodations is critical to creating a more inclusive environment. The training should be in-depth and wide, including handling the requested accommodations and addressing the stigma around employees with disabilities. This way, it will be easier to create a comfortable environment where people with disabilities within the organization can voice their needs and concerns.

4. Create Safe Spaces and Provide Physical Accessibility

Most disabled workers have hidden or obvious intellectual or physical disabilities but never feel safe to disclose, hence the need to pay attention to how you discuss disability as a company, as these will impact their safety in disclosure. By normalizing the disability talk, avoiding certain phrases, and aligning your messages to the social rather than medical model of disability, your employees will find a safe space to talk about it, enabling you to know what to adjust to make their stay comfortable.

Providing physical access to your workplace is another critical way to support employees living with disabilities. For instance, consider voice-to-text software or a bigger monitor for a partially sighted employee, wheelchair-accessible restrooms, and ramps for persons on wheelchairs in your plans for developing an inclusive team and culture.

To sustain the above commitment, have a clear accommodation process and statement for candidates with disabilities to request the accommodations they need. You can also share this internally with your employees in case they need it for their current disability or one that occurs in their future course of work.  

For maximum effectiveness, your accommodation statement should feature two contact methods, phone and email, for accessibility purposes, and the response on the next steps should be at least within 24 hours.

5. Leverage Technology for Inclusive Workplace

Diversity and inclusion at the workplace mean that all people, regardless of who they are and what they do, feel supported, represented, valued, and equally empowered in all areas at work. Through workplace learning in an increasingly remote and hybrid setting, it is worth accommodating all people in technology use, regardless of their limitations.

When you develop new websites and services, build accessibility into its design process, and involve employees with disabilities in the testing and design phases, it is much easier to design an accessible website than to fix the gaps later. Undergoing an accessibility audit is also useful in filling all the gaps around web information used by people with disabilities.

6. Offer Remote Work and Flexible Hours

Post COVID, most employers are transitioning back to the office, with some embracing the hybrid model. However, to accommodate people with disabilities at your workplace, consider flexible hours such as start and finish times, the option to work from home, and taking more breaks. Here are some of the benefits of offering the option to work remotely and flexible hours.

  • Allowing employees time to care for their health limitations through weekly appointments or managing chronic pain.
  • It increases employee productivity.
  • It reduces stress by providing a better work-life balance.
  • It makes it easier to attract, hire, and retain employees.

Therefore, discuss flexible employee time requests to address their concerns better. Afterward, decide whether to grant the request without discriminating against them.

7. Develop Supportive Policies

Developing supportive policies to protect disabled persons in your organization is critical. Start by incorporating disability-inclusive language in your policy statements. This means including the words “people with disabilities” and “disability” in your policies and affirming them in your commitment to equal opportunities for these groups of people. Also, list your company’s accommodation with the equal employment opportunity statement and put it at the bottom of your job descriptions so everyone can see it.

Offering benefits for disabled employees is also crucial. Your policies should address leave policies, healthcare benefits, and fringe benefits.

8. Provide Career Development Opportunities

Providing inclusive career development opportunities starts by hiring people with disabilities. This you can accomplish through the blind hiring program, which eliminates biases around disability recruitment. If a person with a disability makes it to the shortlist, they will be there on merit, and depending on the disability, the recruiter does not necessarily have to reveal that the candidate is disabled to the hiring team until when making the hiring decision, during which they can discuss the disability in question and provide necessary accommodations.

Often, employees with disabilities get stuck at entry-level or learner positions as employers avail little to no opportunities to climb up their career ladders. Therefore, build a disability-inclusive workplace by assigning mentors to assist in career development, identifying skills gaps, and encouraging persons living with disabilities to apply for promotions.

9. Establish Open Communication

After employing the above steps to build a disability-inclusive workplace, it is important to provide a space for your employees to give feedback and connect with others with disabilities. The employees should be able to identify the barriers and concerns to inclusion and, without fear, communicate to employers, confidentially or anonymously.

Another alternative to getting feedback from your disabled employees is through the disability-focused Employee Resource Group (ERG). Through ERGs, these employees can network, address common concerns and issues, and get support from others sharing similar experiences and backgrounds, promoting retention in the long run.

Finally, disability inclusion is a continuous process, requiring you to make changes over time to accommodate employee needs as they come. Through employee feedback, monitoring, and evaluation, you will be at par with the trends to improve your strategies.

Final Thoughts

Employers can do a lot to ensure an inclusive workplace, from training their current workforce to physically accommodating disabled employees. These steps require additional work and willingness to implement specific policies and practices that impact the organization and community members. If well implemented, the results will be a happy and loyal team amounting to improved productivity and better brand image.

About the Author

David Gevorkian started Be Accessible because of his passion for website accessibility and ADA compliance. He spent much of his career working for financial institutions creating websites and mobile applications. He earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. David is an advocate for creating web interfaces usable by all people. He enjoys recording music and playing soccer with friends.

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