By: Natalie O'Laughlin on October 18th, 2023

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How to Become a Disability-Friendly Employer


Every day, we partner with leaders who strive to become more inclusive employers. They know that diverse teams can benefit their company in many ways, from offering different perspectives, being more innovative, and driving business performance – not to mention that it makes work more interesting and fun!

But inclusiveness isn't always easy. To create an environment where everyone feels welcome to be their whole selves, you'll need thoughtfulness, intentionality, and a solid strategy for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

One of the most overlooked areas of diversity we see tends to be around being a disability-friendly workplace. President Biden, in his recent Proclamation on National Disability Employment Awareness Month, said that, "People with disabilities are three times less likely to have a job, and when they do, they are often paid less money for doing the same work." 

Anupa Iyer Geevarghese, Chief of Staff for the DOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy, states, "It's about access, and it's about equity." Advancing access and equity is the goal for all underserved populations. Obstacles usually stem from a lack of education, awareness, and understanding, so with the goal in mind, here are some best practices for becoming a disability-friendly employer.

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8 Tips to Become a Disability-Friendly Workplace

1. Know the ins and outs of ADA

Take time to fully understand the ADA and its specific requirements for employers, ensuring you're aware of hidden disabilities that are also covered. 

September 26, 2023, marked the 50th Anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This was the first significant regulation around disability rights in the United States, and it opened doors for qualified individuals with disabilities to work with the federal government and government contractors.

The Rehab Act served as the model for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which protects individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination in the private sector. In 2009, the ADA expanded its definition of "disability" with the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), including many mental and physical medical conditions on varying scales, from temporary to severe, permanent disabilities. 

2. Educate your team

Teach your workforce about ADA, disability awareness, and inclusion principles with dedicated training for managers, recruiters, and employees.

Ensure your employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the ADA. Provide training on accommodating individuals with disabilities, including sensitivity and proper etiquette – and consider the processes and resources available for managers, recruiters, and employees.

More specifically, train your managers and interviewers on how to prepare for an interview with individuals with disabilities. They may have a third party present during an interview, such as a job coach or interpreter, and ensure your hiring team knows how to navigate those scenarios with direct-to-employee conversations. 

3. Break down bias barriers throughout the employee lifecycle

Make sure your training incorporates unconscious bias training (or implicit bias training). Individuals with specific disabilities, such as significant mobility impairments, blindness, deafness, psychiatric disorders, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury, can face more significant barriers to employment due to bias, myths, fears, and stereotypes.

In addition to recruiting and hiring, you want to ensure your employees feel supported through all phases of the employee lifecycle by their colleagues and leadership. It's also helpful to train managers on how to approach a conversation with individuals with disabilities about accommodations and what steps to take during the interactive process.

4. Extend your commitment to accessibility

Provide reasonable accommodations by reviewing your physical and digital workplace accessibility for individuals with disabilities. 

Consider architectural obstacles, parking, ramps, wider-door entrances, restroom facilities, access to elevators, and desk/office configurations. Consider your digital communications and technologies, such as software, applications, and websites. Follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and include a point of contact for accommodation requests on your website.

You may also want to have alternative formats like large print or braille, assistive technology, or other forms of communication implemented. Be prepared that you will need to incur interpreter or other accommodation expenses as long as it doesn't create an undue hardship or significant financial impact on the business.

5. Consider DEI in your Total Rewards offering  

Offer suitable benefits and ensure your compensation practices are fair and equitable.

If you need help with that process, our team at Helios HR specializes in Pay Equity Reviews. We also encourage you to engage with your Benefits Broker to ensure your health and wellness programs are inclusive and don't discriminate against individuals with disabilities. 

Have an open mindset with flexibility – from job sharing and job duty modifications to offering remote work or flexible hours. Flexibility will go a long way in attracting, engaging, and retaining all employees, especially individuals with disabilities.

6. Establish fully inclusive recruiting practices

Assess your hiring process to ensure it is discrimination-free and understand what accommodations you can offer. 

To better understand essential job functions and requirements, consider conducting employee surveys or job shadowing to get a better picture of the demands. Then, update both your job descriptions and job postings accordingly.

Provide any necessary accommodations for candidates to apply and interview for your open requisitions. When preparing for an interview, consider details for the day of, including virtual options or in-person directions such as transportation options, parking, width of doorways, elevators, and more. Ideally, you want to act in anticipation of an accommodation need so that you are prepared with translators, interpreters, braille documents, etc.

7. Practice fair performance management

It is vital to evaluate employees with disabilities based on their job performance, not their disability status. 

Consider adjustments in performance metrics when necessary, taking into account individual circumstances. Also, set third-party guidelines on who can be involved in performance conversations and how they are structured so no one is caught off guard. As you review professional development, consider if the individuals are progressing within the organization like other team members.

8. Cultivate an inclusive culture and sense of belonging

Nurture inclusivity by fostering an environment where all employees are valued, respected, and included. 

Promote open communication and enable employees to share their experiences and perspectives while also addressing instances of discrimination or bias. Some of our clients have found great success by implementing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for employees with disabilities.

All employees are welcome to join these ERGs, which helps build understanding and connection throughout the organization. We also recommend regularly asking employees for feedback on accessibility and inclusion during your employee engagement surveys. Lastly, involve employees in decision-making processes to gain broader perspectives on the impact of policies and practices when appropriate. 

When implemented, these disability-friendly workplace practices will help nurture a genuinely inclusive organization for innovation and performance to thrive. Remember, it's an ongoing process to achieve accessibility and equitability; regular evaluation and continuous improvement are essential to success. 

More resources for becoming a disability-friendly employer

Want to learn more? Here are some resources that you may find useful: 

Helios HR's team of experts can help you build a DE&I strategy that supports your culture and drive employee engagement. Want to learn more? Book a call today and let's talk about how to make your company more disability-friendly. 

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