According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 the percentage of non-disabled people aged 16-64 that were unemployed was 17.9% compared to 61.8% for disabled people. This is an overlooked segment of the population that is eager, skilled, and very able to work. In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we’d like to share some ways you can make your workplace more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.
First things first, understand what “disability” actually means.
Whether they are visible or invisible, disabilities can take many different forms. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability is someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, someone who has a history or record of such an impairment, or someone who is regarded as having such an impairment.” In the words of Josh Sloan, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at Sportable, “a disability is the only minority group where anyone can become a member at any time.”
Know how to implement the “interactive process.”
Encouraged by the ADA, an “interactive process” is a conversation between the employer and employee determining whether or not an accommodation is needed and available for an employee. It is an ongoing conversation with an employee who has indicated that they need an adjustment or change at work related to a physical or mental issue. Implementing these conversations will encourage flexibility and understanding. Here are some suggestions from SHRM on how to best lead an interactive process.
Be prepared to handle “reasonable accommodations.”
Employees with disabilities may request “reasonable accommodations” from their employers. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “a reasonable accommodation is “any change in the workplace or the way things are customarily done that provides an equal employment opportunity to an individual with a disability.” Examples of reasonable accommodations are:
- Modifying your work schedule to work from home
- Providing accessible parking
- Eliminating unnecessary tasks of the job
- Giving additional breaks
If an accommodation is made, it is important to assess its effectiveness and modify accordingly. An accommodation set up today might not work well for the employee or the company two years from now. It’s okay to reassess later whether an accommodation remains reasonable given any changed circumstances.
Understand how to identify and handle workplace accommodations that create an “undue hardship.”
An “undue hardship” is a significant difficulty or expense and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relation to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. The cost of an accommodation could be an undue burden on the employer, but so could an accommodation’s duration, expansiveness, or disruption. If the accommodation alters the nature of business operations it is also considered an undue hardship. Here are some common examples of undue hardships:
- Job restructuring – i.e. letting someone work remotely when others are required to work in office
- Accessibility changes to the building – i.e. installing a ramp or elevator
- Schedule changes or part-time requests – i.e. decreasing work hours when the job requires a minimum of 40 hours
Employers are encouraged to think creatively before denying an accommodation due to an undue hardship.Continue thinking of multiple scenarios and different options to help accommodate your employees.
Train Managers and Hiring Team on Disability Etiquette.
While most employers, managers, and colleagues are probably decent humans who want to show respect and inclusivity, not everyone is well versed in how to politely act towards those with physical disabilities. “Oftentimes, we are not treated like people, we are treated like a thing that is disabled”, said Josh Sloan from Sportable. Since no two disabilities are the same, many people are uncertain how to act around a person with disabilities. Similarly, every disabled person has their own personal preferences on how they want to be treated.
That said, training managers and those involved in hiring on the general rules of disability etiquette is a great way to foster and influence inclusivity in your work culture. You can even open up training and education on Disability Etiquette to employees. We’ve done it internally at Dominion Payroll and our employees find it very helpful and eye-opening.
One big takeaway our team learned from this training was the importance of using “people-first language” (PFL). This is a way of communicating that reflects knowledge and respect for people with disabilities by choosing words that recognize the person first and foremost as the primary reference and not his or her disability. An example of people-first language is saying “a person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person”. Check out this chart on what to say and not to say to a person with a disability.
One in five Americans is a person with a disability. If your company isn’t actively recruiting these individuals, you’re missing out on a lot of talent. Findings show that benefits of hiring people with disabilities include improvements in profitability, competitive advantage, and workplace culture. Starting with the strategies discussed in this article, now is a better time than ever to strategize ways to make your workplace more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities.
Article contributions from Mineral
Americans with Disability Act (ADA), https://www.ada.gov/
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), https://www.eeoc.gov/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Persons with Disability Labor Force Characteristics – 2020, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/disabl.pdf
SHRM, How to Handle an Employee’s Request for an ADA Accommodation, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/requestreasonableaccommodation.aspx
AskEARN, Reasonable Accommodations, https://askearn.org/page/reasonable-accommodations
Sportable, Lunch and Learn, https://www.sportable.org/education/lunch-learns-professional-development/
The Independence Center, Disability Etiquette, https://www.theindependencecenter.org/disability-etiquette-in-news-headlines/