ADA & Disabilities

How to Create a Disability-Friendly Workplace

In today’s world, simply complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) isn’t enough for many employers. They want to be more proactive in creating a disability-friendly workplace. Today, BLR’s experts offer some tips.

First of all, the following indicators show that an organization is willing to “walk the talk” of a disability-friendly workplace:

  • The CEO is committed to a disability-friendly workplace.
  • A written document to all staff affirms the commitment.
  • Policies, procedures, and practices specifically mention disability.
  • Persons with disabilities are on the board of directors.
  • Employees and customers with disabilities appear in the annual report.
  • Workers with disabilities are employed at all levels of the organization.
  • The organization’s products or services are marketed to customers with disabilities.

Educate Your Employees

Another key factor is educating all your employees about disabilities. Employees who are armed with facts will be less inclined to discriminate or fear. Some possibilities:

  • Establish a training program or at least an information resource.
  • Include disability-related materials in new employee orientation programs.
  • Provide additional information on an ongoing basis.
  • Form a disability support group.

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Become Attractive to Candidates with Disabilities

It’s also important to be known as a disability-friendly workplace to applicants. Consider the following:

  • Make sure hiring and selection procedures comply with the ADA. Remember that the ADA prohibits disability-related questions or medical exams before a real offer is made.
  • Make sure employment offices and interviewing locations are accessible.
  • Be prepared to make reasonable accommodations to help individuals with disabilities during the hiring process. For example, provide assistance to a blind person who requests help in filling out an application. Or an applicant with an intellectual disability might need an accommodation such as:
    • Providing someone to read or interpret application materials;
    • Demonstrating, rather than describing, what the job requires; or
    • Modifying tests, training materials, and/or policy manuals.
  • Train and advance workers with disabilities.
  • Make training materials available in alternate formats such as large print or Braille.

During an interview with a candidate with disabilities, do not speculate or try to imagine how you would perform a specific job if you had the applicant’s disability. (However, you may ask a candidate with an obvious disability, or who has revealed a disability to you, how he or she would perform an essential function. You may also ask if the person would require accommodation and, if so, what type of accommodation.)

Concentrate on technical and professional knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, and interests, not on the disability.  Make sure all questions are job-related.

A Note on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

Current use of illegal drugs is not a protected disability under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. An employer is, therefore, free to refuse to hire an applicant or to discharge an employee because that individual is currently using illegal drugs.

Alcoholism is considered a disability, but federal law provides that an employer may hold an alcoholic employee to the same qualifications and job-performance standards as other employees, even if unsatisfactory performance is caused by the alcoholism.

Develop an Emergency Plan

Finally, it’s important to have an emergency evacuation plan that accounts for employees with disabilities. Clearly, you need input from the employees. However, managers often have legitimate concerns that gathering information about specific individual needs would violate civil rights protections afforded by the ADA. Thus, managers should be carefully instructed on the legal aspects of gathering such information, including the type of information that can be gathered, and the manner in which this should be accomplished.


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Federal laws do not prevent employers from obtaining and appropriately using information necessary for a comprehensive emergency evacuation plan. It is helpful to have a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing the necessary information with appropriate individuals.

Remember, communication challenges among employees with disabilities vary widely. Therefore, varied, multiple, and redundant means of emergency notification and communication are often necessary.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll offer tips for communicating with employees with disabilities, and we’ll take a look at a unique resource for finding out whether you are in compliance with HR-related laws.

Other Recent Articles on ADA
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