As workplace environments change and adapt to becoming accessible, your organization must stay up to date with accessible practices as they become available. For us in the recruitment world, having the ability to effectively attract and recruit people with disabilities is crucial to ensuring equal opportunities. Knowing how to manage, retain, and support people with disabilities will ensure that organizations are inclusive.
As of 2021, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities is 19.1% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). The opportunity to remain in the workforce after becoming a person with a disability is extremely important to their independence and mental health, and the United States requires under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide “reasonable accommodation” so that people with disabilities can retain their employment after becoming disabled. This is a standard that is not only required by law but should be provided out of consideration and care for employees. It’s crucial to explore as many options as possible for reasonable accommodations.
It's strongly encouraged across the board to develop an accessible workplace, and this begins internally. Human Resources professionals play an important role in ensuring that all skills and talents of employees are utilized; According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), HR should hold leadership accountable for employing people with disabilities.
Recruiting talent for your organization should begin with being barrier-free – meaning that candidates with disabilities have the same opportunities as those without disabilities and can be just as easily considered for a job (O’Halloran). For example, making job descriptions and requirements easy to understand, and applications easy to complete. When recruiting workers with disabilities, ensure that your organization is using disability inclusion statements when advertising jobs as well as on your organization’s website. It’s also key to educate all employees about working with people with disabilities. These actions can be cues for people with disabilities that your organization is in tune with accessibility practices and can make them feel more comfortable with not only being under your employ but if they might need to require accommodations in the future at your organization.
Beyond properly educating employees on how to interact with people with disabilities, your organization must also keep in mind the physical accessibility of your location. For example, the organization should ensure that there are proper parking accommodations – like handicapped parking spots and ramps to access the sidewalks and building entrances. Doors should also be wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, and elevators should be both accessible and have panels that are low enough for a wheelchair user to reach along with raised symbols and numbers (SHRM).
Following closely behind physical accessibility is technological accessibility. This can affect opportunities for people with disabilities to get hired, affect their day-to-day abilities, and affect employee retention. In today’s world, technology is part of nearly every task, meeting, and appointment that we do; because of this, it’s important that your organization’s technology can adapt to reasonable accommodations. The Employer Assistance and Research Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) describe two different types of accessible technology – directly accessible or additionally accessible. Directly accessible technology can be used without any additional help. For example, text-to-speech systems in smartphones. Additionally, accessible technology requires additional help, like an installation or activation of a program. For example, a screen reader on a desktop computer may need to be activated for someone that has visual impairments (EARN).
Another important factor of accessibility in the workplace is attitudinal awareness. Society’s understanding of people with disabilities is hindered by stigma and discrimination, so it is important to educate your organization’s staff on these attitudinal barriers to prevent inaccessibility in the workplace. EARN designates nine different examples of attitudinal barriers which include inferiority, pity, hero worship, ignorance, multi-sensory effect, stereotypes, backlash, denial, and fear.
Inferiority occurs when employees with disabilities feel that they are less than abled employees. This can be a result of discrimination. Pity is when others feel sorry for the employee with disabilities and end up patronizing them. Hero worship is disabled employees who live independently being considered “special”, or extraordinary because of their disability and independence. Ignorance occurs when abled employees dismiss employees with disabilities as incapable because of their disability. The multi-sensory effect is when people assume that other senses are affected by the employee’s disability. For example, an employee might have vision difficulties and another employee might treat them like they are hard of hearing. Stereotypes, though it is a broad range, can be both good and bad. Employees can make both positive and negative generalizations about people with disabilities. On the negative side, stereotyping can look like others assuming people with disabilities have a poor quality of life or that they are unhealthy. Another example of attitudinal barriers is backlash. This occurs when abled employees believe that their employee is given an unfair advantage due to their reasonable accommodations and disability. Denial is an attitudinal barrier where employees may not believe that hidden disabilities are real, therefore they don’t think the employee with disabilities requires accommodations. Lastly, fear behavior occurs when employees are afraid to offend an employee with disabilities, so they completely avoid the employee.
Avoiding these behaviors in the workplace and beyond are possible with the right discussions and training to increase understanding about disabilities. Utilization of resources to properly prepare your organization and employees will ensure that everyone becomes set up for success.