It’s about more than accessible parking spaces and visible disabilities.
Around 15% of the world’s population, or more than 1 billion people, live with some form of visible or invisible disability — about 80% are in working age. Yet according to data from the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-centric laws. In the UK, 75 percent of the companies in the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index on the London Stock Exchange do not meet basic levels of web accessibility. In India, only about 100,000 people out of the 70 million with disabilities are employed, despite the People with Disabilities Act, which reserves 3% of government jobs for the disabled. Things in the U.S. aren’t much better. In 2020, only 17.9 percent of people or persons with a disability were employed, compared to 61.8 percent of people without disabilities (data reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic). What does this mean? The world has work to do when it comes to accessibility in the workplace.
Too often, we think a person with a disability means someone in a wheelchair, when disability can mean so much more, especially since many disabilities are invisible. That doesn’t mean people with these disabilities should go unnoticed, especially in the workplace. There are numerous types of persons with disabilities in the workplace, including those with physical disabilities (those which affect a person’s physical functions); disabilities such as depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety; neurological disabilities such as epilepsy and autism; sensorial disabilities (hearing and vision loss and deafness, for example); and intellectual disabilities (brain injuries, communication difficulties, and persons with Down’s syndrome, for example), just to name a few.
In order to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities, there’s more to creating an accessible workplace than wheelchair ramps and accessible parking. Here are a few areas where your company can start.
Help Employees Feel Comfortable Disclosing Their Disabilities
According to a 2019 global survey on disability inclusion conducted by Accenture, 76% of employees and 80% of company leaders with disabilities are not fully transparent about it. Why? Many fear judgment, discrimination, harassment, exclusion, and ignored ideas. Some are afraid that their career might stall as a result of disclosing the existence of a disability.
In order to combat this, it’s crucial to create an inclusive workplace environment where employees feel free to share their condition so they can be their true selves at work. You can provide disability disclosure training, or even list the accommodation process and accommodation requests on the company website and on job applications. By including disability information where it’s easy for potential applicants to find it online, you’re creating a more comfortable environment for employees and potential employees with disabilities. Other ways to make employees with disabilities feel comfortable are by utilizing accessible office spaces, signage, and digital tools; and recruiting people with disabilities so they can serve as role models and disclose their disability or share their own lived experiences to the organization.
Provide Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities
Reserved and accessible parking spaces for employees are a given, but there’s more that can be done in terms of accommodation. Having inclusive restrooms, welcoming service animals, and improving the layout of a workspace are great areas to start, while providing accessible communication, computer software, and equipment are also important. You can also ensure that your company has a policy on allowing employees to create a flexible work schedule if needed. This can help disabled employees get to medical appointments or work from home if necessary. Providing alternative formats for presentations and testing (providing information in writing as opposed to verbally, for example) are also beneficial for some employees with disabilities. In some instances, if an employee can no longer do tasks in their current position, reassigning them to a vacant position, or restructuring their current job, are also great ways to be accommodating.
Offer Services and Support for Employees with Disabilities
Creating an employee resource group (ERG) centered around employees with disabilities is another way to show support. Giving employees with disabilities access to an empathetic community that can help with resources allows them to feel comfortable in the workplace, even if they’re not ready to disclose their disability. ERGs can also help to reduce unconscious bias towards employees with disabilities and can create a more inclusive workplace through feedback from employees about how accessible the work environment is.
Offering mental health coverage is another service that shows your company takes all forms of disabilities seriously. Stating the details of the company’s mental health coverage on job applications and the company website can show employees and potential employees that the company is inclusive of those with both visible and invisible disabilities. Plus, it can help your company attract qualified talent who now feel comfortable joining an inclusive company.
Help All Employees Understand Disabilities
It’s important for management and employees to not just understand disabilities, but to create a more inclusive workplace for all. Providing accessibility training for all employees can help advance awareness of inclusion of colleagues with disabilities and help to understand what types of accommodations they need for their jobs. Plus, educating employees without disabilities on what types of accommodations are in place for their coworkers helps broaden the knowledge of what’s available and what can be improved. Creating awareness and training will likely increase the number of employees who feel safe to disclose their disability and allows them to have a greater sense of belonging in the organization.
The Inclusive Future content on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. The views expressed by the authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI except for those quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.