- People with disabilities are a diverse and valuable segment of the workforce, but they often face significant barriers to employment and career advancement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.6% in 2020, more than twice the rate for people without disabilities (5.9%).
Creating an inclusive and accessible workplace for people with disabilities is not only a legal obligation, but also a smart business strategy. Research shows that disability inclusion can benefit employers in many ways, such as:
- Improving productivity, innovation, and customer satisfaction
- Enhancing reputation, brand loyalty, and social responsibility
- Reducing turnover, absenteeism, and litigation costs
- Attracting and retaining diverse talent and customers
But how can employers create an inclusive and accessible workplace for people with disabilities? Here are some steps to follow:
1. Educate yourself and your employees on disabilities
The first step is to raise awareness and understanding of disabilities among yourself and your employees. Disabilities can be visible or invisible, physical or mental, temporary or permanent, and can affect anyone at any time. People with disabilities have different needs, preferences, and abilities, and they deserve respect, dignity, and equal opportunities.
Some ways to educate yourself and your employees on disabilities are:
- Providing company-wide training on disability inclusion and awareness
- Inviting speakers or experts with disabilities to share their experiences and insights
- Sharing success stories and best practices of disability inclusion from other companies or industries
- Creating a disability resource group or network to support employees with disabilities and allies
- Celebrating disability-related events or campaigns, such as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities or the National Disability Employment Awareness Month
2. Provide reasonable accommodations
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, work environment, or work process that enables a qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. Providing reasonable accommodations is not only a legal requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but also a way to ensure that employees with disabilities can work effectively and comfortably.
Some examples of reasonable accommodations are:
- Adjusting work schedules or locations
- Providing assistive technology or devices
- Modifying work equipment or furniture
- Offering alternative communication methods or formats
- Allowing service animals or personal assistants
To provide reasonable accommodations, employers should:
- Establish a clear and accessible policy and procedure for requesting and granting accommodations
- Engage in an interactive process with the employee to identify their needs and explore possible solutions
- Document the accommodation request and decision, and monitor its effectiveness
- Respect the employee’s privacy and confidentiality
3. Foster an inclusive culture
Creating an inclusive culture means ensuring that employees with disabilities feel valued, respected, and supported in the workplace. An inclusive culture promotes diversity, equity, and belonging among all employees, regardless of their differences.
Some ways to foster an inclusive culture are:
- Communicating your commitment to disability inclusion through your vision, mission, values, and goals
- Incorporating disability inclusion into your recruitment, hiring, onboarding, training, performance management, and career development processes
- Encouraging feedback and input from employees with disabilities on how to improve the workplace culture and climate
- Recognizing and rewarding employees who demonstrate disability inclusion behaviors and outcomes
- Addressing any issues or concerns related to disability discrimination, harassment, or bias promptly and fairly
4. Ensure accessibility
Ensuring accessibility means making sure that your workplace is designed and maintained in a way that allows people with disabilities to access it easily and safely. Accessibility also applies to your products, services, websites, applications, documents, events, and communications.
Some ways to ensure accessibility are:
- Removing physical barriers in your parking spaces, doorways, entrances, offices, lobbies, restrooms, elevators, etc.
- Providing accessible signage, lighting, sound systems, emergency systems, etc.
- Following web accessibility standards and guidelines when developing your online platforms and content
- Offering multiple options for contacting your company or accessing your information
- Consulting with people with disabilities or experts on how to improve your accessibility features
5. Create a supportive environment
Creating a supportive environment means providing employees with disabilities with the resources, tools, skills, and opportunities they need to succeed in their jobs. A supportive environment also fosters collaboration, communication, trust, and empowerment among all employees.
Some ways to create a supportive environment are:
- Providing mentoring or coaching programs for employees with disabilities
- Creating opportunities for employees with disabilities to showcase their talents and contributions
- Encouraging teamwork and cross-functional projects among employees with different abilities
- Soliciting feedback and suggestions from employees with disabilities on how to enhance their work experience and satisfaction
- Providing flexible work arrangements or benefits that suit the needs of employees with disabilities
By following these steps, you can create an inclusive and accessible workplace for people with disabilities that benefits everyone. Remember, disability inclusion is not a one-time event, but a continuous process that requires commitment, collaboration, and creativity. Together, we can make our workplaces more diverse, inclusive, and accessible for all.