What comes to mind when you consider creating a diverse workplace? You probably think about bringing together a team of people with different backgrounds and experiences to do amazing collaborative work.
Your picture of a diverse team might include categories such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. But most discussions about diversity and inclusion in the workplace tend to leave out one specific group: people with disabilities. And unfortunately, this means workplace accessibility considerations often get left out too.
Disability is Not a Disadvantage
Not only is supporting workers who have disabilities the right thing to do (and the law), it’s also good business practice. According to one report issued by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and funded through a contract with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability and Employment Policy (ODEP), employers who made workplace accessibility a priority experienced the following benefits:
- Increased employee productivity (72% of surveyed employers)
- Increased profitability (29% of surveyed employers)
- Increased customer base (18% of surveyed employers)
But it’s important to recognize that these benefits don’t come about solely because organizations create accessible physical spaces for employees and others (e.g., contractors, clients, potential employees) who may visit their offices. The other factor here is inclusion.
Not only should workers with disabilities feel safe in the workplace, they should feel supported, acknowledged, and most importantly, as if their ability to do their jobs well is not limited by their disabilities in any way. This goal represents true workplace accessibility and inclusion.
As with any other business initiative, making your workplace more accessible and inclusive will take some effort. The changes you want to make probably range from simple to significant, so come up with a strategy to get these done as it makes sense for your organization. The following is a strategy for accessibility based on a “medal system.” Let’s dig in.
The Medal System for Workplace Accessibility:
Bronze – Enable
Your end goal is to create a work environment that is accessible to everyone. But if you try to tackle everything all at once, you probably won’t get there. Instead, focus on what’s legally mandated and once you’ve checked the boxes there, consider immediate needs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that you provide reasonable accommodations to employees and qualified individuals seeking employment from your organization. It’s a complex law and you may reasonably wonder where to start. The easiest way to get started is to look at immediate needs and especially any small changes that can make a huge difference.
For example, suppose you have recently hired someone who is visually impaired. Begin workplace accessibility here at the bronze level enabling individuals in the following ways:
- Provide screen readers (technology that translates written text on a computer or other device into speech so that visually impaired people can read their screens)
- Hang braille signage around the office
- Install differently textured flooring around the office to help employees who are visually impaired more easily navigate the space
- Institute company policies regarding accessibility, including requiring graphs, charts, and other images include alt text (which can be picked up by screen reader technology)
In addition, if an employee needs a service dog or other tool to ease the challenge of a visual impairment or other disability, think about ways to accommodate this need.
Silver – Engage
Once you’ve taken care of your immediate needs and the smaller changes enabling those with disabilities to do their work, you can think about how to engage all employees in your inclusion efforts. Inclusive culture means building awareness through recruitment efforts, disability education programs, and events.
For example, consider starting a company-wide campaign to sponsor a local event with a nonprofit that supports people with physical or mental disabilities. You can encourage all employees to get involved by offering paid time off for participating in such events too.
Also, make workplace accessibility training part of the onboarding process for new employees and include best practices such as:
- Pushing in chairs in conference rooms after meetings, so people in wheelchairs can easily move around the space.
- Reserving front seats during presentations for people with hearing impairments or other physical challenges.
- Sending out any slides ahead of time so all participants have time to review and process the information before strategy meetings.
To expand on these policies and programs across the organization, you could hire diversity and inclusion consultants, but you can also tap into your pool of existing employees, especially those with disabilities. Remember to seek their opinions and ideas respectfully, though. Be careful not to add to their burden by making them responsible to come up with an accessibility initiative, for instance.
Gold – Empower
Going beyond improving physical spaces and engaging all employees in inclusive programs, your organization may be ready to go for the gold here. This means actively empowering individuals with disabilities to achieve their highest career potential. And it’s a great chance for your organization to stand out as a leader in your industry.
Moving toward full equality means that it’s important for people with disabilities to fill roles at all levels within companies. To ensure that people with disabilities continue growing and climbing the ladder within your organization, you can offer mentoring and coaching opportunities. Additionally, train managers and leaders to develop the unique skills of all members of their teams, rather than focusing on a select few.
It takes a strong leader to look past the disability and see the skills that translate into benefits for the individual and the organization. At Potomac Recruiting, we provide a variety of leadership strategies including how to successfully implement diversity and inclusion policies. We can also work with leaders across your organization to develop successful workplace accessibility plans.
Our experts are ready to help you recruit the talent you need to succeed at all levels. If you are ready to expand your picture of a diverse team or improve upon the steps you’ve taken toward cultivating an inclusive culture, contact us to discuss your specific needs.