Ask most employers about disability in the workplace, and their thoughts will jump straight to ADA compliance.
Of course employers need to understand their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s critical to meet those requirements, and it
might not be as complex as you think.
But if your plan stops there, you’ll be missing out on a powerful tool. A disability inclusion mindset will make your business more flexible, more inclusive, and ultimately, more effective.
At its core, disability inclusion is about people. It’s about removing the barriers to success for all of your employees. And it’s about thinking creatively to find new and better ways to get the job done.
So how do you get there? Here are a few suggestions.
1. See accommodations as a powerful tool — for more than ADA compliance
If you’ve been focused on the requirements of the ADA, you probably have a policy for reasonable accommodations. But is it designed to meet the minimum acceptable standard, or to make your workplace more welcoming and effective?
A robust accommodations policy is one of the hallmarks of an inclusive workplace. People ask for accommodations because they want to be able to do their best work. Your goal should be to make sure that every employee who would benefit from an accommodation can access it.
Create a culture where employees feel comfortable asking for support. Many people with disabilities are reluctant to ask for accommodations at work for fear of stigma. So actively show your employees that requests for accommodations are welcome and encouraged.
2. Get input from your employees
One of the benefits of an inclusion program is the ability to draw on the perspectives of a diverse group of people. Tap into their expertise.
By listening to your employees, you’ll gather new ideas for ways to make your disability inclusion program stronger and more effective. For example, a staff survey can be a simple way to uncover valuable insights.
Make sure to include all employees in this process. You want the opinions of everyone — employees who’ve disclosed disabilities, those who have disabilities they haven’t disclosed, and employees without disabilities. You should welcome, encourage, and expect the commitment of the whole staff.
3. Share the accountability
Your employees should see disability inclusion as a fundamental part of your workplace culture, not as a special project or a box to be checked. Everyone needs to be part of the effort. To make that happen, the commitment
needs to start at the top.
Leadership should set the standard by making disability inclusion an organizational priority. Dedicate resources, such as budget and staff time, to show employees that your business takes inclusion seriously. These commitments should be woven into the fabric of the organization, so they’re not dependent on one individual executive.
Build a culture where flexibility and support are the norm. Create guidelines and standards for all employees to follow. For example, you could set the expectation that all meetings should include a transcript, or that all meeting organizers offer accommodations ahead of time.
4. Embrace difference as an asset
Many people will have a disability at some point in their life. Statistically, one in four adults in the U.S. has a disability, whether they’ve disclosed it at work or not.
So you likely already have a large percentage of employees with disabilities. That’s one reason why you need a thoughtful and robust plan aimed not just at hiring, but also at promoting and retaining employees with disabilities. And it’s that diversity of life experiences that can make your business stronger.
For example, consider starting an employee resource group (ERG) for people with disabilities. An ERG can provide a space for employees to share experiences and find mentors.
Difference is not a liability to be managed — it’s an asset to be embraced. Your business can’t afford to stop at compliance. A disability inclusion mindset will give you the tools you need to help your workplace reach its full potential.