From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Director of Services and Publications
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is observed each October and celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees. NDEAM is a great reminder to review your company's policies to ensure they convey a commitment to an inclusive workplace culture. One of the ways to do that is to look beyond basic compliance with the law and focus instead on building a disability-inclusive workplace. But what does it mean to be disability-inclusive?
Simply stated, being disability-inclusive means making people with disabilities feel welcome and valued in the workplace. There are many things employers can do to accomplish this, but for employers who are just starting out, here are some basics, or ABCs, of inclusion.
A: Adjust Your Attitude
Inclusion boils down to wanting someone to be in your workplace, finding ways to make that person feel welcome, and accepting and embracing differences. None of the steps an employer takes toward inclusion are likely to work unless the employer really wants people with disabilities in the workplace and believes that they will be a productive part of the workforce.
So, the first step toward becoming more inclusive is to check your attitude and, if necessary, adjust outdated thinking. For example, if you don’t think there are benefits to hiring people with disabilities, see The Business Case for Disability Inclusion. If you think it’s difficult and costly to accommodate people with disabilities, see Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact. And for more information, see ODEP's Diversity and Inclusion.
B: Build in Accessibility and Flexibility
Another important thing you can do to make your workplace more disability-inclusive is to build in accessibility and flexibility. If applicants with disabilities cannot access your online application system, get into your building, or communicate effectively during a job interview, they probably won’t feel very welcome. If employees with disabilities encounter inaccessible work areas, equipment that isn’t compatible with the technology they use, or rigid policies they can’t adhere to, they probably won’t feel like they are a valued part of your workforce.
You may be thinking: can’t these applicants and employees with disabilities just ask for accommodations? Well, yes, that is an option, but is it the most inclusive option? Imagine one day you wake up in a world where most of the population can teleport themselves and communicate telepathically, but you can’t. Suddenly you now must ask for help to get around and to communicate. And even if the people are nice about helping you, you don’t feel as included in this world as you would if they just put things in place so you wouldn’t have to ask and you wouldn’t feel singled out. That’s what happens when you practice universal design, build in accessibility as much as possible, provide alternative ways to communicate, and have flexible workplace policies. These things greatly reduce the need for your applicants and employees with disabilities to have to request accommodations and help make everyone feel equal and a part of the workplace. So, when looking at making your workplace more inclusive, think about building in as many of these things as you can. And when accommodations are needed, make the process simple and effective; don’t turn it into a chore for everyone involved.
For more information, see:
- Creating an Accessible and Welcoming Workplace
- Accommodation and Compliance Series: Universal Design in the Workplace
- Accommodation and Compliance Series: Ergonomics in the Workplace
- Accessible Live Training Events
- Customized Employment
C: Change Your Culture
Finally, it’s important to change your workplace culture so that everyone welcomes and values employees with disabilities. All your hard work in adjusting your own attitude and building in accessibility and flexibility can be undermined if supervisors, managers, and coworkers are not on board.
There are lots of ways to educate your workforce, but you might want to start with your employees with disabilities; they may have some great ideas or resources you can tap into and may even offer to do awareness training themselves. You can also consider periodically doing general disability awareness and etiquette training as part of your ongoing workforce training. The goal of your training is to normalize accommodations and disability in your workplace, meaning that they become just another part of the workplace, not something special or different.
For more information, see Diversity and Inclusion.
There is a lot of other great information available about creating disability-inclusive workplaces. Here are a few examples:
- JAN Workplace Accommodation Toolkit
- Office of Disability Employment Policy's Building an Inclusive Workforce
If you need more information, contact JAN anytime!