Creating a Disability-Friendly Workplace
Today’s forward-thinking employers know that creating a disability-friendly workplace isn’t just a good theory—it’s a sound business practice. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a diverse workforce, which includes people with disabilities, can positively impact organizational performance.1 How? The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) explains that “businesses inclusive of people with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, benefit from a wider pool of talent, skills, and creative business solutions.”2
At the same time, building out a more diverse and inclusive workplace doesn’t happen overnight. It needs to be an intentional process, led by human resource professionals who are knowledgeable about issues like discrimination of disability in the workplace, skilled in fostering disability-friendly environments, and passionate about employee training efforts to raise attitudinal awareness. Done well, this process can attract and retain new candidates who bring a wealth of perspectives and problem-solving skills to the table.
More than that, it can provide a measurable competitive edge. Research conducted by Accenture, in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), has shown that companies who are leaders in disability employment and inclusion achieved, on average, 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins than their peers.3
If you’d like your organization to become a disability-friendly employer, here are three key areas you should consider:
Creating a disability-friendly workplace starts at the top, and organizational leadership must embrace and model inclusive business practices in order for this to happen. Further, according to EARN, “Managers and supervisors, and particularly human resources staff and other personnel involved in hiring decisions, must also understand the role they play in facilitating an inclusive environment.”4
Employees should clearly understand how they fit into and can contribute to this culture as well. This not only ensures buy-in but also empowers staff at every level to drive your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives forward.
There are a variety of effective HR strategies you can employ to create a disability-friendly workplace culture. Some of these include, but certainly are not limited to:
- Integrating equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities into your strategic plan.
- Demonstrating your commitment to disability inclusion by developing and regularly communicating policy statements around it to all employees.
- Using employee surveys, focus groups, and other feedback mechanisms to gauge the effectiveness of your disability-friendly initiatives.
- Providing ongoing employee training, disability-focused resource groups, and engagement activities.
When you think of accessibility in the workplace, do you associate it with the physical environment? Many people do. But universal access extends far beyond architecture.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to “provide access for an individual applicant to participate in the job application process, and for an individual employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her job, including access to a building, to the work site, to needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees.”5 Adhering to these standards not only prevents discrimination of disability in the workplace, it also creates an environment that can benefit all employees, regardless of disability status.
In addition to providing accessible infrastructure such as parking spaces, entry ramps, and Braille signage, a truly disability-friendly employer will:
- Design outreach and recruitment strategies that leverage relationships with vocational rehabilitation agencies, veterans’ organizations, and other community-based resources to help find and hire qualified candidates with disabilities.
- Provide appropriate support, such as sign language interpreters or screen readers, during the application and interview process.
- Equip employees with assistive technologies, flexible schedules, and other reasonable accommodations they need to successfully perform their jobs.
- Commit to ongoing, disability-friendly policies and procedures and clearly communicate them using accessible means.
These are just a few examples of how you can improve your organization’s physical, procedural, and technological accessibility. There are many more, and the opportunities will continue to evolve. That’s why SHRM advises that “HR professionals … should be knowledgeable about the requirements for—and the methods of achieving—accessibility in the workplace for people with disabilities and should be familiar with methods of recruiting, interviewing, and retaining such employees.”1
Employees who don’t live with a disability may foster mistaken assumptions about others in the workplace who do—which can create attitudinal barriers to understanding, collegiality, and collaboration. According to EARN, some common misconceptions may include:6
- The belief that coworkers with disabilities aren’t up to the task.
- A feeling of unwarranted pity that can lead to patronizing thoughts and behaviors.
- The idea that people with disabilities are “special” for having overcome their odds.
- A suspicion that colleagues who are disabled enjoy unfair privileges and treatment.
- The thought that “hidden” disabilities—such as neurodivergence—aren’t real and therefore don’t warrant accommodation.
- A fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, which—in the extreme—can lead to exclusion.
Effective HR departments, therefore, should willingly take responsibility for employee training around disability in the workplace. Whether offered in-house or outsourced, this kind of education can break down barriers and help create a more inclusive culture where all employees feel valued, are supported, and can work as part of the same team.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into how to create disability-friendly workplaces, and other invaluable skills, you might consider earning a human resources degree online. Walden University’s MS in Human Resource Management is designed to help prepare you to lead and empower others in diverse workplace environments. Similarly, Walden’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a specialization in Human Resource Management can help you build the knowledge and leadership skills you need to recruit, develop, and manage diverse employees. Learn more about our online human resource degree programs and see where your career might lead.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Human Resource Management degree program as well as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a specialization in Human Resource Management. At Walden University, you can earn your degree while balancing the daily demands of your career and life.
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