Poster for National Disability Employment Awareness Month that says “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation. It has an image of a person in a wheelchair, followed by a plus symbol, an image of two people in workplace attire, an equals symbol, and a lightbulb.
As we celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM) this October, it’s worth noting that the unemployment rate for working-age adults with disabilities is twice the rate of people without disabilities. This is despite research showing that people with disabilities are more likely to be loyal, hardworking, and committed employees who stay at their jobs longer than other workers.
Inclusive hiring practices are a business imperative. Inclusivity helps attract and retain top talent, expand into new markets and boost productivity by reducing workplace stress. It’s not just nice-to-haves anymore; it’s an essential part of any healthy business strategy. Employees who feel included at work tend to be happier with their jobs because they know that they’re valued as individuals. If you want to take steps towards creating a culture where employees with disabilities are embraced by your organization and valued for their contributions, here are 8 things you can do:
1. Prioritize accessibility on your website and in the workplace
It’s important to ensure that all employees and customers can access the website, regardless of their disability. One way to do this is by making sure there are no barriers in place for people with disabilities. This includes things like having accessible phones available for both employees and visitors, as well as providing Braille copies of important documents such as job applications or paychecks.
Another thing you can do is make sure your company has an accessible hiring process—this means avoiding certain interview questions that might be too difficult for someone who has limited mobility due to a disability (e.g., asking candidates how they would react if their boss asked them to jump out of an airplane – yes this is a question I’ve been asked before in an interview).
2. Create a culture that embraces disability empowerment
Employee empowerment is a critical part of any business. Employees who are empowered can be more productive and creative, as well as cost effective.
However, many businesses still have a negative perception about disability empowerment because they make assumptions about what empowerment means in the workplace. The disabled community is large and diverse, and sometimes even unseen. Don’t assume that all experiences are the same and that needs are one-dimensional. Don’t assume that accommodations are costly. Don’t assume that if no one is talking about disability empowerment, that the interest doesn’t exist. Don’t wait until a complaint comes before changes are implemented.
One way you can start to encourage empowerment is by giving employees opportunities to connect and learn from each other at lunch-and-learns and other regular events where they can safely share their experiences with each other, and with leadership.
3. Train employees to be Disability Allies
A disability ally is someone who stands up for their colleagues with disabilities, works to make workplaces more accessible and inclusive for employees with disabilities, and leads by example.
Disability Allies work to make the workplace more accessible for all employees. Allies can be created within any organization. This could include providing training on how to be inclusive in your organization’s culture, or creating an internal network of advocates who can help folks navigate the process of making changes at work.
4. Embrace Inclusive Design
Design for Inclusivity. Design for a diverse audience. Design for accessibility. These are concepts that should be part of your toolbox, as they can help you create an inclusive workplace where everyone feels welcome and included.
When it comes to designing products or services, there’s a common misconception that if you’re making things with standard UX design in mind, then they’ll be usable by all people—and this isn’t necessarily true. For example, if your website relies heavily on images for navigation, then folks with visual impairments might have a hard time navigating your design. But if you’ve created an accessible design with text links throughout the site instead of using images alone, then anyone who is using assistive technology such as screen readers will be able to use them without having their experience damaged by having different accessibility needs.
5. Think inclusively when hiring
As a business owner, it’s important to consider people with disabilities in all aspects of your organization. From product development to marketing campaigns and social media outreach, think about how you can include people with disabilities in these areas.
Think also about the skills, experience and knowledge that a candidate has—not their disability. Consider whether they have the right type of hands-on or theoretical training for the job at hand. For example: if you’re hiring someone as an administrative assistant who needs excellent organizational abilities, but also strong computer skills, then consider whether there are other positions within your company where those same skills would be useful; this person could transfer over easily once trained up on more sophisticated technology like a spreadsheet program or database management tool (which would give them more opportunity for growth).
6. Create a welcoming workspace
- Provide accessible restrooms. This can be a small thing, like adding an elevator in the restroom or lowering the floor of the bathroom stall to improve accessibility. But it can also mean providing a separate area for employees with disabilities who may not feel comfortable using a traditional restroom.
- Create a quiet space for phones calls. If you have an office that’s open during lunchtime and you’re worried about interrupting people’s conversations while they’re working, consider creating designated quiet times when phones are off-limits.
- Make sure parking is accessible enough for everyone’s needs (including those with disabilities). Parking lots aren’t always ADA compliant; if yours isn’t yet, let your employees know about their responsibilities as part of their job descriptions so they’ll know what steps need taking next time there’s an event at work where parking will be required
7. Provide accommodations for individuals as needed
If you have employees who need accommodations to perform their job duties, it’s important to make sure they are provided in a timely manner. For example, if an employee has difficulty performing specific tasks related to their job and there is no legal requirement for them to perform these tasks, then it may be appropriate for you and/or your human resources department to provide alternative ways of completing these tasks so that they can still carry out their responsibilities at work (e.g., delegating work).
When you celebrate, your employees know that they are valued. You can celebrate the successes of your employees and their achievements in their field. You can also encourage them to reach out to other people with disabilities and see if there’s something they can do together.
Remember that celebrating diversity is not just about acknowledging the differences between people but also celebrating similarities within those differences.
These suggestions can get employers started to create a more inclusive workplace, but they’re only the beginning. The most important thing is to be intentional about your workplace culture and how it supports all employees — not just those with disabilities. By working on accessibility at every step of the hiring process, from creating an accessible website to developing a communication plan, you can encourage greater participation in all aspects of your organization. And by celebrating disability employment awareness month every month of the year, you can take more steps to supporting the experiences of people with disabilities and chronic conditions.