Conversations around workplace diversity and inclusion tend to focus on gender equality and ethnicity. Far fewer organizations are vocal about the employment of people with disabilities.
Despite its underlying impact on business growth, disability inclusion is often neglected in the workplace.
When it comes to equality and equity, especially in career advancement, employers are still failing their disabled workforce. People with disabilities are underrepresented in management, professional and technical jobs (source).
The biggest challenge for organizations is to make the workplace disabled-friendly, where employees with disabilities can thrive in their roles. This shouldn’t just be about “getting to equal,” but more about enabling them to work to the best of their abilities and aspirations.
Drawing on our research around accessibility issues, we identify four of the most common disability inclusion mistakes and key initiatives to cultivate a better workplace for all.
Mistake 1: Making the inclusion agenda exclusive to top management
To push the inclusion agenda, everyone in the organization should be part of the initiative. Integrating disabled employees in the workflow can be complicated, but it doesn’t take a complete transformation either. Enforcing disability inclusion policy without educating people on accessibility issues can put pressure on people, especially when it comes to team collaboration.
Action: Raise disability awareness across the organization
Awareness goes hand in hand with empowerment. Basic training, such as etiquette classes and understanding of disability barriers, is essential to raise awareness. In addition to creating a supportive environment and promoting collaboration, disability awareness also equips everyone with important knowledge about how they can assist their disabled colleagues in times of need.
Example: AODA Training
Mistake 2: The accessibility policy only addresses employees with visible disabilities
Physical impairments like sensory or motor disorders are apparent to employers. But there are many hidden disabilities that, due to job insecurity, the employee may choose not to disclose. As a result, the organization may not make the necessary adjustments to accommodate the employee’s special needs, which may affect the way she works.
For instance, chronic pain can lead to fatigue. Those with diseases like hypermobility syndrome (a connective tissue disease causing lax joints and muscle fibres) find it difficult to commute to work or require medical attention more frequently. Because of that, they may appear to be less committed to work.
Action: Pay attention to hidden or temporary disabilities
Never assume that people can or cannot do certain tasks without knowing where they’re coming from. At the same time, make sure that your accessibility policy extends to hidden disabilities, such as allowing remote work or offering sabbatical leave when needed. Initiate open discussions to encourage employees to open up about their disabilities without fear of judgement.
Mistake 3: The world of work is going digital, but it leaves some people behind
The acceleration of digital workplace transformation brings about plenty of benefits: more connected teams, increased transparency and information sharing, and much more. However, this also limits the participation of disabled employees in the new digital realm, especially among those with visual and motor impairments. Assistive technology utilization, such as sensory or computer access aids, is the key to removing digital barriers.
Action: Remove accessibility barriers, from physical to digital space
All public and private facility owners enforce ADA compliance (availability of wheelchair ramps, disabled parking, etc.) to provide physical accessibility. As for cyberspace, specifically digital workplace accessibility, it’s recommended that you implement the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) regulations.
Yes, enabling digital accessibility for all apps and tools can require extra development resources. Fortunately, there are tools out there that can help you achieve WCAG compliance by building accessible intranets, and more. Learn more about building an accessible digital workplace in this on-demand webinar:
Mistake 4: Disabled employees lack direction to navigate the new digital workspace
Digital adoption doesn’t happen overnight. Once you have the right tools in place, the next important step is to establish processes and train all employees to use them. Everyone should be able to access workplace apps, whether for communication or executing work, in ways that minimize disruption and maximize efficiency.
Action: Provide dedicated training and support
Besides general disability awareness training, it’s important to organize skills-based training for disabled employees when you introduce new technology. For example, how to get started with the intranet.
Disability inclusion is a permanent commitment. Above are four steps you can take to build a solid foundation for an inclusive workplace.
Do you have other initiatives in your organization to help bridge the disability employment gap? Share with us in the comments below!