Diversity & Inclusion

How to Make Workplaces More Inclusive for People with Disabilities

This month is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of the over 31 million people with disabilities working in America. It is also an ideal time for companies to review their workplace policies and practices and consider ways to be more inclusive of people who are disabled. By creating an inclusive environment, companies can bring different perspectives and experiences to the table, foster innovation, attract a wider and more diverse talent pool, boost revenue, and more.

Workforce Participation Among People with Disabilities is Near a Record High

Since the pandemic opened the door for remote work, this workplace trend has continued to benefit people with disabilities. Even with employees back in the office, this promising boom could continue as employers look into untapped labor pools during the tight labor market. In fact, for workers who are disabled, the labor force participation rate, which is the number of people working or looking for work, was up nearly 5 percentage points in August 2022 (37.6%) when compared with April 2020. This is near the highest level since 2008.

While this is a step in the right direction for disability inclusion, company leaders need to ensure they’re creating a supportive environment for their employees who are disabled to thrive.

Intentional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead to Disability Inclusion

Disability inclusion is about more than just hiring people with disabilities or being Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant. Representation alone is not enough to drive progress in the workplace for people with disabilities.

Companies need to ensure their workplace offers equal opportunity, fair compensation, and career advancement for all employees, no matter who they are.

Even with a larger focus now placed on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), people with disabilities are often overlooked when companies build their strategies. For example, we recently partnered with the Dallas Regional Chamber on a DEI assessment of its member organizations, and we found that only 30% of the survey participants addressed disability in their DEI strategy.

This is why companies need to be intentional about their DEI strategies and take an honest look at their policies, practices, and procedures to ensure their employees with disabilities—visible and invisible—can achieve their highest potential and thrive.

6 Ways Company Leaders Can Make Workplaces More Inclusive for People with Disabilities

To help companies make their workplaces more inclusive for people with disabilities, I teamed up with John Register, Kanarys’s advisory board member, a Paralympics silver medalist, and board member of the American Association of People With Disabilities. Together, we put together these recommendations that will promote disability inclusion within your workplace:

  1. Understand the many types of disabilities, both visible and invisible. Disability comes in all shapes and sizes, and a person’s needs are just as individual as he or she is. There’s more to disability than what meets the eye. Sometimes it can be visible, like ​​someone in a wheelchair or a person wearing a hearing aid, or invisible, like autism spectrum disorder or diabetes. It’s critical to also consider employees with mental disorders such as anxiety or depression, as they may need additional support, as well. To ensure you’re providing support for all employees, take into account the many types of disabilities. People are multifaceted, and it’s especially important when surveying employees to take an intersectional approach to understand their specific needs.
  2. Make it safer for employees to disclose their disabilities. In a diversity survey report we compiled for the Dallas Bar Association, it was found that there was very little self-disclosure of disability status by attorneys despite 71% of the law firms having a policy specifically prohibiting discrimination based on disability. It’s important for employees to disclose their disabilities so employers can create a more inclusive environment. This needs to start during the recruitment process. Companies need to ensure the language in their job listings encourages individuals with disabilities to apply, that they are providing accommodations during interviews, and that they are actually meeting those needs.
  3. Allow employees to work remotely. With many workers back in the office, take into consideration that employees with disabilities may have benefited from working remotely. Some aspects of disabilities, like fatigue or chronic pain, can be more easily managed from home. Also, ensure there’s digital accessibility; for example, provide closed captioning during meetings or alt-text and image descriptions. Another consideration is restructuring jobs and allowing flexible schedules or a 10-hour or 4-day workweek, which could benefit employees who experience fatigue or weakness or those who may be receiving medical treatment.
  4. Employees should refrain from using offensive language. Words and phrases like “stupid,” “crazy,” “out of your mind,” or “blind as a bat” should be eliminated in the workplace. This language can be negative or insulting to people with disabilities. Leaders should set the tone for their team by never using offensive language and encouraging employees to be mindful of their word choices to create a welcoming work environment for employees with disabilities.
  5. Invest in company employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs play a crucial role in supporting underrepresented employees in the workplace. A simple way to support employees with disabilities is to help ensure ERGs have a significant budget and influence within your organization. Most importantly, employees who take on extra work to support ERGs should be compensated, and this work should not be viewed as volunteer work. This is valuable work and should be treated as such.
  6. Engage DEI consultants and industry experts. DEI experts can identify hidden or systemic barriers that prevent an inclusive and equitable environment for employees who are disabled by conducting workplace equity audits and helping companies really take the time to diagnose these issues before jumping straight to training. When armed with data, companies can begin tackling the issues, specifically those for employees with disabilities, and work toward building long-term sustainable and measurable goals. Once specific issues have been identified, the DEI experts can help the organization implement a comprehensive long-term strategy and deliver tailored workshops and training like unconscious bias training to help minimize ableism in the workplace.

Mandy Price, co-founder and CEO of Kanarys. Kanarys is a technology company focused on providing the tools organizations need to create long-term systemic change around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges. Working alongside mid-size enterprises and Fortune 500 companies, Kanarys transforms DEI work with data by providing the framework, benchmarking, and data companies need to incorporate best-in-class DEI into every area of the organization. Like a canary in the coal mine, Kanarys helps organizations ensure healthy and inclusive work environments by revealing DEI blindspots before they become a problem.

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