It is your job as an employer to ensure that all of your employees have a safe and comfortable environment in which to work and that they have access to all the tools they need to be successful. This includes employees with disabilities. Unfortunately, most companies are not disability-friendly. Even though this is not usually an intentional bias, the results are the same—those with disabilities often have a more difficult time working because they are not being appropriately accommodated.
Set your company apart by asking yourself, “How can you make the workplace more disability-friendly?” There are so many employment resources for people with disabilities available that can help you make your workplace much more inclusive and inviting for people with disabilities.
What resources could you provide your staff to be better prepared to work with employees with disabilities?
A truly inclusive workplace is about so much more than physical accommodations (although those are very important as well). It's vital that you educate both yourself and staff on how best to help coworkers with disabilities.
Disability Awareness Training
Disability Awareness Training (DAT) should be a mandatory part of your employee orientation and ongoing corporate learning program. Start with your HR and leadership teams, and then use them to help disseminate the information throughout the company. There should be both formal pieces of training and regular, informal refreshers.
There are several kinds of DAT, and the one you choose to incorporate into your learning program will depend on your organization. But, generally speaking, disability awareness training includes:
- Education and information about different physical, intellectual, developmental, sensory, and mental health issues and disabilities.
- Appropriate disability etiquette for respectful interaction and communication
- Awareness activities to reveal and resolve common misunderstandings about people with disabilities
Regular Accommodation Updates
Keeping your employees informed about changes to the work environment and policies ensures transparency. As you make changes, be sure to let your employees know and explain the reasoning behind it. Just make sure you’re not singling out anyone–especially if you’re making the accommodation for a specific employee.
Instead of saying something like, “Ed can’t get around corners, so we’re widening the hallways,” try, “It’s been brought to our attention that the hallways are not wheelchair accessible. Since we’re committed to the health and success of all of our employees, we’ll be remedying that immediately by widening the hallways.”
Do you see how the first example singles out the employee with disabilities and makes it seem like he’s getting “special treatment” or causing a fuss? In comparison, the second example encourages a company culture of inclusivity and transparency by making it about your dedication to employee success.
This is not just good for employees with disabilities, but for all of your employees. Because you’re not just making accommodations for one employee, you’re making accommodations for all future employees. It showcases your companies ability to be flexible and compassionate, which makes all employees feel more valued and engaged.
What accommodations are available to employees with disabilities?
There are no limits to what you can do to provide better accommodations for employees with disabilities. But legally, you are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” for any employee with a disability who asks. “Reasonable accommodation” is any change to the workplace, hiring process, or company policy that does not put an undue burden on the employer. This can include revisions to your policies and employee handbooks, physical accommodations like installing wheelchair ramps, or purchasing special equipment like speech-to-text software.
Policy revision is one of the most important ways you can make your workplace more inclusive for people with disabilities. But this can be an incredibly overwhelming process, especially if you’re not sure what changes would help most. If you’re struggling, remember that the best move is to ask the person with the disability—they know better than anyone what will help.
Some very easy examples of policy revision for inclusivity include:
- Allowing food and beverages at desks. This helps people with diabetes and people who are on certain medications.
- Flexible work hours. This can help people with mobility issues decrease transportation time.
- Work from home policies. This can help people with mobility issues and sensory issues by allowing them to remain in a safe environment.
- Changing hiring requirements. Removing ableist language like “must be able to lift 50 lbs overhead” and including phrases like “people of all abilities welcome to apply.
- Changing interview process. Allowing people to apply by video, interview by text or email, or having the interview remotely can all make a huge difference for people with disabilities.
How do businesses benefit by hiring physically disabled employees?
We could write (and have!) entire articles answering this question. But the short answer is diversity. Bringing together people from as many backgrounds as possible can only benefit the creativity, innovation, and overall morale of your business.
People with disabilities have been adapting to challenges all their lives. They bring this innovative spirit and indomitable can-do attitude to everything they do. And that rubs off on other employees, boosting company morale and productivity, and, ultimately, your bottom line.
Disability Rights Arkansas
Disability Rights Arkansas is dedicated to providing people with the education and information they need to become advocates for the people with disabilities in their community. We’re happy to provide you with all the employment resources for people with disabilities that your company needs. Contact us online or by calling 501.296.1775.