Neurodiversity is having a “moment” in the workplace. Now, it’s time to do the work.
On July 26, our country celebrated the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This civil rights law, signed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life — including at work.
Disability inclusion in the workplace has moved forward since then, from increased accessibility in public transportation to mitigation of discrimination in the job application process. Just as importantly, though, is how the ADA put disabilities on the map in conversations related to workplace diversity and inclusion, spurring the sea change we’re seeing today around this topic.
But while disability inclusion, particularly around neurodiversity, is finally getting the attention it needs in the workplace, just talking about it isn’t enough. Employers need to act. Now.
Where we are
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 61 million adults in the United States — about one in four of us — are living with a disability. These disabilities, whether visible or invisible, can affect vision, movement, thinking, memory, learning, mental health, and more.
Topics around disability and inclusion have become more prevalent in both traditional and social media and beyond. Google “disability inclusion,” and you’ll be bombarded with Fortune 500 accessibility statements and “how-to” articles for workplace leaders on increasing their inclusivity efforts. TikTok videos with #ADHD hashtags have exceeded 2.4 billion views.
But despite all of this, it’s clear that people with disabilities still face incredible stigmas and barriers that prevent them from thriving in the workplace. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of people without. Students with disabilities are significantly less likely to enroll in college, limiting which jobs they can pursue. Most employees with disabilities lack managers who have participated in disability training. Managers without this training are more likely to carry bias or shape their workplaces in ways that aren’t inclusive for people with disabilities. The list goes on.
There’s a gap between awareness of disabilities and the support that people with disabilities need. And we can only close that gap through action.
How to take action around disability inclusion in the workplace
Creating true change for employees with disabilities won’t happen overnight. But employers can take steps to create immediate positive impact:
1. Consider expert trainings and workplace assessments. About 60 percent of managers and 50 percent of HR professionals have never participated in disability inclusion training. It’s impossible to create workplaces where people with disabilities can thrive if the people leading the organization aren’t aware of their own biases and don’t recognize problems and barriers.
Bringing in disability inclusion specialists, like the experts at Understood.org, can help you build a stronger and more equitable workplace. Our disability inclusion offerings, including on-demand and virtual live training, as well as workplace assessments and action plans, can help organizations of all sizes and employees of all positions take the first step in truly shaping a workplace for difference. For more information, visit https://www.understood.org/workplace or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Go beyond “reasonable” accommodations. There are many myths and misconceptions around accommodations — like that they’re expensive or difficult to implement. In reality, most accommodations don’t cost anything. And when it does cost something, it’s generally a one-time expense of $500 or less, according to Understood and Society for Human Resource Management’s Employing Abilities @Work Report.
Providing dual written and verbal communication and ensuring that all video meetings have closed-captioning are simple changes that can support employees who have disabilities affecting their vision, reading, or hearing. Other accommodations to consider:
Offer ergonomic workstations, including the flexibility to sit or stand as needed.
Provide flexibility in break times. For example, give employees the option to turn a 15-minute break into three five-minute breaks.
Consider noise levels and types. For example, some people with ADHD report that brown noise can improve their attention.
3. Be proactive. As an employer, you don’t need to wait for an employee to disclose a disability or request an accommodation. Instead, make a practice of asking every team member and prospective team member what they need to be successful. Be sure to offer accommodations during the interview process whether or not the prospective employee asked for them. Send out surveys to understand what your team needs in their hybrid work environment. Being proactive not only shows people what you can offer — it also helps remove the stigma around accommodations
Remember that investing in disability inclusion doesn’t just benefit employees with disabilities. It also helps all employees with different backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking feel seen, valued, and empowered.
The buzz around neurodiversity and disabilities right now is important. But don’t let it stop there. Instead, do the work. Help shape a workplace — and a world — for difference.