Many companies are focusing their efforts on establishing more inclusive workplaces. While many organizations are looking to make positive change, one identity that is often overlooked is those with disabilities. While people with disabilities may interact with the work differently than someone without one, they offer a valuable perspective and are invaluable members of the workplace community. If you are looking to a create more inclusive workplace and provide accommodations for your employees, here are a few things that you need to know.
First of all, it is important to understand what legal obligations employers and businesses have. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are just a few of the mandates that provide guidance on the legal rights of those with disabilities and prohibit discrimination based upon a disability. If you are asking yourself what is ADA compliance, it may be an important time to educate yourself on what legal obligations you have. Not only does this mean providing the bare minimum of access, but you can take the ADA one step further by proactively creating and an inclusive environment.
Unless you have a disability or have experience with disability law, many people don’t comprehend what constitutes a disability. Under the ADA, a disability applies to anyone who experiences conditions, differing levels of abilities or challenges that limit a major life function. This would include anything from walking to sight to hearing to attentional abilities. Disabilities come in all shapes, sizes and capacities and affect the individual differently, so employers should be ready to handle this on a case-by-case basis.
The answer to this is rather simple, anyone. Disabilities can present themselves at birth, from a trauma or even just from aging; however, unlike many other identities, this can be acquired as one progresses through life. An example of this is someone acquiring a medical condition or sustaining damage during an accident that affects their ability to walk or see. While this individual may not be someone who identified as having a disability before, they may now. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the United States of America has a disability. Not all disabilities are visible, but all employees should be afforded access to and accommodations at work.
Businesses are required to invest in accommodations and accessibility measures because they have a legal responsibility to do so. While this is true, employers should be ready and willing to support the disabled community because it is the right thing to do. Most people want to feel satisfied and fulfilled doing work, so affording them the opportunity is morally and ethically right. Another important detail is to note that if you deny access to those with disabilities, you are isolating your business from a significant portion of the population. With approximately 25% of all adults in the USA being disabled, this is a vast number of people who may be employees, vendors, customers or other key constituents.
The reality is that this is a very case-by-case answer. Because the nature and impact of a disability can present itself differently in each person, it is important to treat each request for accommodations on a case-by-case basis. The individual requesting accommodations is likely an expert in their condition and how it impacts their life which is why companies should work collaboratively with the employee to find accommodations that afford them access in the best way possible for both parties.
Many of the reasons that people with disabilities cannot interact with spaces or in certain constraints due to barriers have been put in place, whether that be physical barriers, company policies or cultural issues. Don’t be afraid to adapt and be flexible in how you work, and you may be surprised by what you can achieve and the positive change it can lead to.
As a business, it is important to understand your basic legal requirements to avoid costly and messy litigation; however, you can also educate yourself. Taking the time to invest in training for your staff, prioritizing. Potentially most importantly, creating a safe environment for employees with disabilities is one of the most important steps. Creating a culture of inclusion is not easy, but being proactive is an important part of creating an inclusive culture where everyone is afforded equal access.
Many people’s minds often go to physical and mobility-related disabilities when they think of accommodations; however, psychological and cognitive disabilities also can impact how employees will interact with the workplace. When you evaluate your company, make sure that you are assessing physical and digital spaces, company policies and even the culture. Accommodations can provide those with different abilities the chance to engage and work; however, changing your company’s culture to ensure that it is truly equitable and inclusive is a different story.
Another area of policy to assess is hiring. Evaluating your organization for inclusion within hiring practices is an important step to equity and accessibility. This does not mean someone is granted a job because of their identity; however, identity can be a part of the larger discussion and decision, as this presents another perspective that is a valuable voice. Conversely, another influential factor may be unconscious bias which can be more subtle and not malicious. Someone assuming that a candidate is less qualified based upon a disclosed disability is a good example of this. Consider unconscious bias training that can help your staff conduct more inclusive hiring and identify problem areas.
Your staff can be critical aspects of creating a more inclusive culture. Makes sure to listen to those in the community who have disabilities to better understand barriers that you may unknowingly be putting up and help address the problem; however, don’t rely solely on your company community to inform and address all of the problems. If you can, bring in outside consultants to evaluate and identify problem areas. You should get everyone involved and help the whole community be a part of the solution so that they have a sense of ownership in creating an inclusive community.
While there are many things that employers should be doing, there are also plenty of pitfalls to avoid. Many companies make the mistake that accommodations will be costly and too much hassle. This does not have to be the case. While some accommodations can require a financial investment, this should not be prioritized over giving another human being access. There are also common assumptions that many people incorrectly make. Don’t assume that your staff will figure it out on their own, that people with disabilities will find a way to manage or that things will get better without any intervention. As the employer, it is your responsibility to become a part of the solution.
While you may not have given this much thought previously, it is critically important to include people with disabilities in the conversation, the workplace and the efforts to a better and more positive future. Creating a community of inclusion requires a proactive stance from everyone, especially at the top. Don’t delay any further, when you can be a part of the positive change.
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