According to the CDC, 61 million or 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. live with a disability. This high percentage means that the needs of this population cannot be ignored. One of the places where it’s perhaps most important to be accommodating, and understanding of these needs is the workplace.
Physical workplaces must have embedded structures and designs that make things easier for PWDs. But a company’s efforts to diversify shouldn’t just manifest in the workplace itself and in the experience of working there, but also in the recruitment and training process. Here’s how your company can better accommodate the needs of disabled individuals.
Besides supporting employees with congenital disabilities, your company must also support those recently disabled, perhaps from illnesses or injuries. It’s just as important to support these individuals, especially as they’re dealing with the challenging task of making the transition back to normal life with their new condition.
Remember that apart from the emotional struggle, they may be going through financial struggles due to the disability. Accessibility equipment for PWDs can be expensive, not to mention hiring a personal injury lawyer. These financial struggles can add further strain on these employees.
Let them retain their company benefits such as healthcare, and give them new ones for as long as they’ll need them. These include remote work, temporarily decreased responsibilities, and flexible schedules.
When they return to the office, have your HR staff make things easier for them by debriefing them on what they’ve missed and any changes that have occurred since they’ve been gone.
The problem is that there are many jobs that PWDs feel that they won’t get, so they don’t apply for them. Inclusivity shouldn’t just exist in the workplace – it should already be present in the recruitment process.
A few years ago, tech giant Microsoft launched its Autism Hiring Program, which has since succeeded in diversifying the company’s list of employees.
Jenny Lay-Flurrie, head of Microsoft’s disability employee cluster, said that the company modified its recruitment process to make it more inclusive of PWDs. Traditional hiring processes – those meant for persons without a disability – often don’t work for PWDs.
For instance, the company found that a traditional interview process did not play to candidates’ strengths on the autism spectrum, so it wouldn’t be fair to judge them based on that. Instead, they adopted a new system where candidates with autism would be tested on their team playing ability and technical prowess.
Invest in accessibility equipment. Offer job application forms and other application documents such as biodata forms in Braille and Easyread formats.
Inclusivity should also be present in employee training – both for PWD employees and otherwise. Train and educate your non-PWD employees to be more understanding and empathetic about their PWD co-workers.
To keep the ball rolling, it would also help to network with organizations that support PWDs. This will strengthen your company’s neurodiversity efforts as it will connect you with more resources for supporting people with disabilities. It will also offer more opportunities for collaboration with these organizations.
Employee training is crucial. Not only does it help prepare your employees for their responsibilities, but it also helps foster a better working environment in the office. The fact that you’re taking time to train your employees means you’re taking care to invest in their skills and potentials. This boosts your employees’ confidence and morale and makes them more likely to stay at your company for longer.
Making your workplace more accessible to persons with disabilities isn’t just about investing in certain software and hardware. It’s also about reevaluating the structure of the physical workplace. Do you have ramps for wheelchairs? Disabled parking spaces? It’s easy to miss many of the traits necessary in making a workplace more (or less) accessible to the disabled.
Perhaps your elevator buttons may be too high for someone in a wheelchair to reach. For blind people, it may also be helpful to have auditory signals. For instance, an automated voice can announce the floor number every time the elevator comes to a stop.
To accommodate people who are color blind, you may want to rethink your office’s color scheme. For example, your elevators and doors would need to be of colors contrasting their surroundings so that color blind people can more easily recognize them.
What good are your efforts to make your workplace more accommodating of disabled employees when your application process doesn’t play to their strengths? To ensure that your company is more inclusive of PWDs, you must embed accessibility measures into all your company’s processes and procedures.