Disability inclusion in the workplace is an ongoing and important concern. Truth be told, all work environments can and should practice more disability inclusion—so, why don’t more workplaces practice inclusivity? And how can the workplace include people with disabilities? Below, we cover 4 ways for employers to promote and practice disability inclusion in the workplace.
1. Hire people with disabilities
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to practice disability inclusion in the workplace would be to hire more people who have disabilities. This might sound self-explanatory, but when it comes to disability inclusion, this is something that’s often overlooked.
According to the United States Department of Labor, only 19 percent of people with disabilities were employed in the past year. Out of this percentage, nearly one-third of disabled workers were employed part-time rather than full-time. This study also shows that people with disabilities were more likely to be unemployed than people who do not have a disability.
There are a few different reasons as to why people with disabilities do not get hired as often as people without disabilities, including:
- Inaccessible job applications
- Physical or mental job requirements
- Inability to get accommodations
- Misconceptions surrounding disability
- Lack of access to equal opportunities
While it’s true that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to protect disabled people both in and out of the workforce, there’s still a long way to go to really promote disability inclusion in the professional environment. Unfortunately, thousands of discrimination cases are filed against employers each year by (or on behalf of) people with disabilities. Some of the most common reasons behind these lawsuits would be:
- Not being hired because of a disability
- Being fired because of a disability
- Not receiving proper accommodations for disabilities
- Facing inaccessibility that prevents equal opportunities for people with disabilities
This means that out of the small percentage of people with disabilities who are able to secure a job, a large number of these employees end up having to take legal action because their rights have been violated. Sadly, many more employees with disabilities aren’t sure how to pursue legal action—or they feel as though it wouldn’t be worth the tedious process.
With all of these factors in play, it makes it even more challenging for somebody with a disability to know which job is right for them in the first place. Thus, the work for disability inclusion begins when companies hire people with disabilities.
Of course, for the employer, this means looking at the whole picture of disability inclusion. So, what should employers do to make jobs more accessible? How can employers promote disability inclusion so that disabled people know that they are coming into a safe, supportive work environment?
For many employers, this begins with the hiring process. Staying on top of the most up-to-date digital accessibility guidelines, taking care to avoid ableist language (written or verbal), and encouraging potential employees to speak freely about the accommodations they might need are all ways to actively practice disability inclusion.
On top of this, it’s important to recognize and reflect on any old practices that go against a company’s goal to be disability inclusive. This means frequently reflecting, reassessing, and recalibrating the workplace to continue to be as inclusive as possible.
2. Get the disabled perspective
Once more places hire people with disabilities, there will be more opportunities to get the disabled perspective. This can be extremely helpful for companies who are looking to be inclusive. When disabled people are able to advocate for inclusivity in the workplace, things can only continue to improve.
Getting the disabled perspective can help employers to see when certain practices are more exclusive than inclusive. The fact of the matter is that employees with disabilities can offer a perspective that non-disabled workers might not have.
Living with a disability often forces someone to see the world through a different lens. For example, if the majority of employees take the stairs to get into the office, somebody might not notice if the elevator is out of order. However, an employee who relies on the elevator would probably recognize this right away and therefore be able to address the problem.
Having disabled voices in the workplace is one of the simplest ways to promote inclusivity—and one of the most beneficial to all parties involved. When an employer isn’t sure if something is accessible, up to ADA standards, or meets the company’s mission of practicing inclusivity, getting the disabled perspective can make all the difference.
3. Improve accessibility
If a company is hoping to apply inclusive practices, improving accessibility is an essential step in that process. As mentioned earlier, accessibility is often an obstacle that prevents disability inclusion within the workplace. But with more disabled workers giving their perspectives, it will be possible to have more accessible workplaces.
Improving accessibility regarding company events, parties, trainings, recruitment, and so forth not only shows that a workplace is inclusive, but in the practical sense, it allows more people with disabilities to get involved. Some examples on how to improve accessibility at work would be to always:
- Have sign language interpretation at the ready
- Plan events in places that are mobility-device friendly
- Provide accessible, digital presentation materials ahead of time
There are so many other ways to include people with disabilities when a space is accessible. Sometimes only a simple accommodation is needed to make a place, event, meeting, etc. inclusive. This is also incredibly helpful for people with invisible disabilities, such as chronic pain or mental health concerns, who might be in a situation where they do not quite feel comfortable disclosing their specific needs.
The overall goal with inclusivity is to create a sense of belonging. Accessibility, accommodations, and disability awareness are the key elements to making a work environment welcoming and supportive to all.
4. Speak openly (and respectfully) about disabilities
Lastly, one of the most effective ways to promote disability inclusion would be to talk openly about disabilities. This also means speaking respectfully about disabilities and avoiding ableist language wherever possible. Too often, society views the term “disabled” in a negative light or as something “different.” But in reality, more people live with disabilities than someone might assume. In the United States alone, 1 out of 4 adults lives with some type of disability, according to the CDC.
As these statistics show, disability inclusion is something that impacts everybody throughout the workplace and beyond. The only way to really make a difference when it comes to creating more inclusive spaces for disabled people is to talk about these issues.
It’s important not to shy away from discussion on inclusivity just because it might feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable at first. This is why hearing from, hiring, and including disabled people in all areas is absolutely essential. When the conversations begin between employers and people with disabilities, the progress toward disability inclusion is officially underway.
For employers, be sure to create an environment that is accessible so that your employees with disabilities feel comfortable and confident disclosing and sharing their perspectives. For people living with disabilities, don’t hesitate to speak out on any injustices—this is the only way that change can occur.
What are your thoughts on this article?
Let us know in the comments below!
What topics related to disabilities and the workplace should we cover next?
Email us your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Are you or someone you know living with chronic pain? Are you looking for the right chronic pain group to get involved with?