How to Make Workplaces More Inclusive for People with Disabilities

About one in four American adults and over one billion people around the world live with at least one disability. In the United States, laws prohibit discrimination against these workers and mandate accessible workplaces, but many workers living with a disability still face barriers. In fact, they continue to experience higher levels of unemployment when compared with their peers.

What Are Challenges or Barriers People With Disabilities Face in the Workplace?

There are many benefits for companies that champion diversity; however, it’s not always easy, and workers can face a range of barriers at any company. These might include:

  • Workplaces that are outdated & may not have accessibility features. Older buildings may have narrow doorways, bad acoustics, poor lighting, & other features that can be expensive to address.
  • Hidden disabilities that can create extra challenges. About 10% of Americans live with hidden disabilities, which can include diagnoses such as mild cognitive impairment, certain types of neurodiversity, mental health conditions, & illnesses causing chronic pain. These conditions are not always visible & this can create a dilemma for workers. They may not be comfortable sharing their disability with employers if they are worried about discrimination. At the same time, these workers may need support to feel comfortable in the workplace.
  • Workers living with disability face higher levels of prejudice. Approximately one in three individuals have an unconscious, negative prejudice against people living with disabilities, which is higher than the rate of unconscious bias based on race or gender.

These challenges can mean higher turnover and challenges for organizations looking to retain employees, yet companies who do create a workplace where all employees want to stay usually enjoy better cultures and higher levels of productivity. One study, for example, found that companies who focused on hiring workers living with disabilities experienced 28% higher revenue, double net income, and 30% greater profit margins within just four years.

Why is Inclusion Important?

When it comes to creating a welcoming workplace, some organizations think they are making changes for team members living with disabilities. Let’s slightly shift that mindset. Inclusion means creating spaces that are accessible and welcoming to everyone, benefitting all team members.

This may seem like a small change in nuance, but it’s an important one. Too often, organizations consider inclusion to mean making “reasonable accommodations,” as required by laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. While this can create an accessible workplace, it doesn’t always create an inclusive one. In fact, it can make some team members feel singled out rather than welcome.

The reality is that many of the changes which can make a workplace someplace where workers living with a disability want to work also makes your workplace more beneficial for all your team members. Consider these scenarios:

  • You make transcripts available for video conference meeting recordings. Workers who cannot hear the meeting easily can read the transcript, but all your workers can more efficiently find the information they need by skimming the text rather than trying to work their way through the recording.
  • You add a ramp & automatic opening doors to allow a worker with a walker to access your offices. Now, any team members struggling with a heavy box of papers or multiple folders can more easily enter & leave the office.
  • You add voice recognition software to company computers to help team members who are living with vision impairment. Now, your entire office can input text twice as fast because they are not limited by typing speed.

Many accessible features today can make your workplace more efficient, pleasant, and comfortable. Best of all, when many workers use new features and technology, they become not an “accommodation” for a specific number of employees but part of the way you do business.

What Are Some Possible Solutions to Make Workplaces More Inclusive?

When thinking about ways to make your workplace more inclusive, consider the physical location and space, the systems and processes you have in place, and your tech. It’s useful to do an audit or at least to walk around and review these elements of your business, to see where employees might be inconvenienced or made to feel unwelcome. Beyond that, you can create a welcoming space in a few ways:

  • Offer workplace training. Train leadership & team members in the best ways to be inclusive at work. Don’t assume your employees & leadership automatically feel comfortable or will be able to avoid microaggressions without learning.
  • Offer flexible or work-from-home arrangements where possible. Hybrid or remote work is often easier for people living with a disability because regular commutes are not a problem & in general, their home is already set up to be comfortable & accessible.
  • Bring in new technology. Accessibility features exist with many SaaS & software solutions. Often, it’s just a matter of learning how to activate them. You can also work with vendors who themselves live with a disability to find new solutions & technology to help you make work efficient.
  • Consider your physical space. Is there parking close to your building & with access to ramps? Are doors easy to open? Are office areas, work areas, & bathrooms wheelchair accessible? Is your workplace laid out in a way that makes accessing work areas simple? Could you change anything to make your space more welcoming & accessible? If you’re concerned about budget, keep in mind that about 58% of accommodations do not require any money & where cost is required most accommodation requires under $500.
  • Create quiet places. If you can, create a quiet space for phone calls, for anyone who needs to rest, & for neurodiverse workers. If you cannot create a separate space, provide noise-canceling headphones & adjustable lighting where employees work.
  • Create diversity in the workplace. Only 12% of companies include disability as part of their Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) efforts, meaning they are not recruiting, hiring, & retaining employees that truly reflect the larger community. When job seekers see you making your workplace inclusive, they are more likely to see your organization as a great place to work.
  • Ask for feedback. Ask employees what they want to see & what your workplace is missing. Your team members may be noticing needs you can address.

When thinking of inclusion, be wary of creating “separate” spaces, even if you do so with the best intentions. For example, creating one table in your workplace lunchroom that is accessible to people using a wheelchair will mean workers who do need to use a wheelchair cannot choose where to sit and may not be able to eat with colleagues who choose a different table. Where possible, look for ways to make sure all workers can choose to use accessible tech, spaces, and resources.

How Can Diversio Help?

Most organizations and leaders want to create welcoming workplaces where everyone feels they can show up to work, ready to do their best. Unfortunately, the best intentions do not always translate into actions that team members see as inclusive. This can create a disconnect in the workplace, where you may have worked to improve diversity, but have you created a truly inclusive environment?

Diversio for Companies can help you gather metrics about the demographics of your company, including data about unseen disabilities. As the first AI-powered DEI platform, Diversio is data-driven and people-first, allowing you to benchmark your current DEI efforts and measure them over time. Diversio also gives practical recommendations, based on your data, to help you make your organization inclusive, not just diverse.

In addition, Diversio Academy can help you teach your team and leadership how to have an inclusive, welcoming culture.

From certification to training to a way to gather, analyze, and benchmark DEI data, Diversio is your complete DEI partner, helping you create meaningful change. Book a demo to see how Diversio could work for you.

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Ekua Quansah
Head of EDI, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Diversio helps companies become 43% more profitable and reduce employee turnover by 23%

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