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Tips for Employers: How Can We Create a More Inclusive Environment for Employees with Disabilities?

Employee in wheelchair conversing and laughing with fellow employees in business meeting

It’s important to not just hire employees with disabilities; it’s also important to retain them and create an inclusive environment that allows them to thrive in their work. Maintaining a diverse pool of employees leads to a wider range of skill sets and creative solutions for your business. 

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability, so you’ll want to consider ways to incorporate this vital population’s experiences and skills into your organization. Creating an inclusive environment is actually very simple. We’ve introduced a few steps you can take to make your company a more inclusive and productive space for people with disabilities. 

It Starts At the Top
A company’s leadership can make or break your diversity initiatives. Executives at your organization are instrumental in setting the tone for the company’s culture. This is why training at the senior level on how to cultivate inclusive attitudes among employees is important. 

Companies around the globe, such as Microsoft and Starbucks, now emphasize trainings on topics like unconscious bias. These types of trainings can help supervisors at every level of the company become aware of their own bias as well as the importance of modeling inclusive behavior. Those at the senior level should also be evaluated during performance reviews to ensure they are upholding and promoting an inclusive work environment. 

Inclusion Councils and Town Halls
Inclusion councils and town hall events are a great way to open channels of communication throughout your organization. These councils and town halls open the floor for employees to voice their needs and opinions in a safe space. The Center for Effective Organizations identifies the need for safe spaces as environments where employees can raise and work through issues they may otherwise not feel comfortable sharing in the workplace. 

Town hall meetings are conducted on a regular basis as part of creating broader lines of communication with staff. This setting allows any employee to voice their concerns to senior staff. Settings like this allow an organization to find out what is truly important to their staff, especially when it comes to figuring out what will help them foster a more inclusive environment. 

Inclusion councils help create goals for your business, address problems that are brought up at town hall meetings and assist in gathering and reviewing feedback from your employees to relay to senior executives. 

Identify Opportunities for Continued Improvement 
There is always room for improvement in trying to create an inclusive workplace. One tool for measuring your effectiveness is the Disability Equality Index (DEI), which was created as a joint effort by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN. The DEI is meant to be a “national, transparent, annual benchmarking tool” for businesses to receive an objective score regarding their disability inclusion practices and policies, as well as helping them to understand areas of improvement. The DEI is based on six categories that include culture and leadership, employment practices (i.e. recruitment, retention and accommodations), enterprise-wide access (also known as workplace accessibility) and community engagement. 

The DEI also presents an annual award for Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion, which sets your company apart in a positive light for inclusive initiatives. Also available on DEI’s website are sets of best practices on topics such as leadership training and improving inclusivity in events and meetings. 

Make Sure Your Organization is Inclusive from Start to Finish
It’s important to make the recruitment and selection process accessible to all applicants. There are many ways to do this. For example, you can advertise the open position in multiple formats. You can also make sure all interviewees have the accommodations they need to fully demonstrate the abilities they bring to the job. Be sure to focus on how a potential employee can fulfill job requirements with their experience and skill sets rather than asking if they can fill the requirements. 

Once you have hired a new employee, work with your new hire to determine the accommodations needed to support your employee in doing their job well. Examples of accommodations include adaptive technologies, alternative media formats, furnishings that are appropriate to the individual’s disability or flexible work arrangements. In fact, most accommodations are relatively inexpensive. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), found that two-thirds of accommodations cost less than $500 and nearly a quarter cost $0. 

Retaining new employees means capitalizing on their unique perspectives and experiences. This includes providing opportunities for employees with disabilities to educate other staff about disability, as well as being allowed to exercise creative and flexible ways to accomplish tasks. 

If you need more help on ensuring your practices are accessible, look for a disability employment advocacy group in your area for resources and tools on how to best implement a process that reaches and brings in excellent candidates. 

Stay tuned next month for a piece on reasonable accommodations in the workplace.