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Disability Inclusion 101: Championing Inclusive and Accessible Workplaces

Updated: Jan 13



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Over 1 billion people globally experience disability (1). And this statistic is growing rapidly with the increase in chronic health conditions, poor living environments, the aging population, and improved disability measures. As a result, there’s a lot of talk about disability inclusion in the workplace. But what does that really mean?


Unfortunately, people with disabilities are still under-represented and under-supported at work. Not many practice inclusive hiring initiatives. And most don’t provide policies and resources that can support their full participation. As a result, organizations are missing out on a large pool of talent and untapped potential.


What does disability inclusion really mean?



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Disability inclusion isn’t just about hiring people with disabilities. And it’s not about asking them to do more. Rather, it’s about valuing their strengths, embracing their differences, and making sure they are compensated or rewarded fairly.


The problem doesn’t lie with them. It lies with systems that aren’t built with access in mind. Inclusion in action means designing spaces, events, tech, and even our language that make it easier for people to live fulfilling lives and do meaningful work. And here’s why it’s a worthwhile pursuit for every workplace:


Increases talent pool

People with disabilities are often deprioritized in the hiring process despite demonstrating the appropriate skills and strong loyalty. And studies have shown that this group of people possesses skills and experiences that can offer employers a competitive edge (2). Therefore, practicing inclusive hiring policies will not only bring underutilized talent to the table but also boost retention company-wide.


Boosts company resilience

An inclusive workplace sets the tone for employee morale and motivation. This isn’t just about how you treat your team, but how your employees treat each other. And when you make inclusion practices a company priority, it reinforces inclusive behaviors throughout the office. And Accenture even found disability inclusion efforts boost innovation, improve shareholder value, and foster productivity (3).


Enhances innovation

Large corporations like Microsoft and PwC have highlighted how hiring people with disabilities have improved their overall bottom line (4). That’s because they bring valuable skills and ideas unique to their experiences. And the more we empower them to do their best work, the more creative they are in boosting organizational outcomes.


Improves PR

People who feel their company values diversity are 80% more likely to say they work for a high-performing organization, according to a Deloitte study (5). When a company vouches for disability rights, it shows that its leaders care about the pressing social issues impacting the community. On the contrary, you definitely don’t want your company to be #canceled for discriminatory practices.


Five Initiatives to Create an Inclusive and Accessible Workplace



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Building inclusive hiring practices and accessible workplaces aren’t just an act of service. It’s a favor to everyone else lucky enough to work with diverse perspectives and unique experiences. So, here’s how to embrace and champion this sort of diversity, beat the status quo, and stay ahead of the game:


Make the vision crystal clear

CEOs and senior managers need to champion the vision of including people with disabilities - that they are valued, respected, and celebrated. This intentional practice should happen at every stage - from job postings, hiring processes, website messaging, and office ergonomics.


It must be clear both in word and action that disability inclusion is part of the company’s values. If employees, the environment, or policies make anyone feel inequitably treated, leaders need to make it known that they are trusted to address it right away.


Focus on education

Some disabilities are obvious since they have noticeable physical attributes or require the use of assistive tools like a wheelchair. But most, in fact, 75% of disabilities are not visible (6). This includes those related to chronic pain and mental health. You never know, your manager may be hiding progressive vision loss, or that an intern struggles with ADHD. Hence, it’s vital that we educate our teams and ourselves as much as possible about the vast nature of disabilities.


Sessions on disability etiquette and recruitment help people understand the fundamentals of an inclusive culture. And remember that every project you manage, event you host or grant you approve should incorporate inclusive practices. We may even engage trained professionals and special educators to consult on more intricate matters.


Involve them in policy decisions

People with disabilities should be involved in decisions that impact them. They are obviously the best people to provide insight that pertains to disability inclusion, as well as issues beyond disability. For policies to be effective, their lived experiences in problem-solving need a seat at the table.


Organizations should also actively put people with diverse abilities on boards and committees. This doesn’t just empower them with opportunities they deserve, it also strengthens the organization’s ability to meet the needs of customers with diverse backgrounds.


Design accessible workplaces

From ramps, accessible washrooms, wide walkways, to automatic doors - office facilities need to be made accessible to all. Also, ensure that public events are held in accessible locations.


Don’t forget to also audit the tools used for remote work. Conferencing tools like Zoom, can be configured so that interpreters are always visible. But remember to provide instructions to staff on how to adjust conferencing settings when needed. Adding text descriptions (or “alt text”) to images and graphs so they are identifiable by an assistive technology is important as well.


Use people-first language

Instead of disability-first language, people-first language respects people and their strengths, rather than labeling them by their disabilities. For example, refer to a coworker with autism by their name, not “the autistic guy”.


If you have doubts, don’t be afraid to ask them how they prefer to be identified - just like how you may ask for their gender pronoun preferences. To learn more about appropriate language and etiquette, The National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) provides the industry’s only disability language style guide: http://ncdj.org/style-guide.


Summary


A successful workplace spearheads thoughtfulness, diversity, and embraces everyone’s differences. When we prioritize practices that welcome, and not just tolerate people, we create an environment where everyone feels empowered to contribute.


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Footnotes:

  1. Disability and health | WHO

  2. Employing People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

  3. Disability Inclusion | Accenture

  4. Willing and able: Disabled workers prove their value in tight labor market

  5. Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance

  6. Invisible Disabilities: List and General Information



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