The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, 19.1% of persons with disabilities were employed, up from 17.9% in 2020. However, employer disability inclusion programs should encompass more than just hiring people with disabilities. Unfortunately, not many organizations see this focus as a way to enhance their company brand and employee culture.
According to Understood, a non-profit dedicated to helping those who learn and think differently, there are many hidden values of disability inclusion that often go unnoticed. Some of the under-the-radar benefits that can bring value include:
- Increased employee retention and productivity. According to a partnered survey done by the Kessler Foundation and the National Organization on Disability, one-third of managers perceive employees with disabilities to be more dedicated and less likely to leave the job. In the long run, investments towards creating and promoting disability-inclusive work environments can significantly improve performance among employees with disabilities. A DuPont employee survey found that when employees with disabilities who feel supported on the job are graded on the same scale as other employees, 90% of them receive performance ratings of “average” or above average.
- Access to an untapped talent pool. In 2018, Accenture Research reported 1 million working-age people living with disabilities in the U.S. Although more companies are hiring people who identify as having a disability in recent years, the percentage of people living with disabilities in the workplace is still very small. If organizations are more willing to embrace disability inclusion, they will gain access to a new talent pool of over 10 million people.
- Diverse and inclusive workplaces have better business outcomes. Employers can expect the same or better business results in costs and productivity. In addition to sizable federal and state tax credits, companies can take advantage of grants and incentives, partnering opportunities with vocational rehabilitation and community-based organizations to develop training programs that have trained workers available immediately with little on-boarding time.
Effective communication is essential for an inclusive and productive workplace, and employers need to ensure that the information they share internally is accessible, empowering, and engaging. Below are a few suggestions for your communications to create a more inclusive workplace:
- Audit your current internal platforms for employee communications. Employers should focus on offering a variety of communication channels and delivery methods that are inviting to people of all abilities. Early proactive measures to support individuals with visual or hearing impairments, learning disabilities, or both ensures their needs are addressed and their ability to participate in work activities without delay. Listening to individuals with disabilities, engaging them, and providing opportunities for feedback are also vital steps since there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach.
- Check to see what accessibility tools and assistive technologies can be implemented to benefit everyone. Providing information in a variety of formats and including these options in internal communications allows you to meet the needs not only of employees with disabilities, but also of the entire employee population. For example, speech-to-text aids like captions and transcriptions can be integrated into live presentations and recorded videos, and contact information can be listed for technical support quickly or request an accommodation. Interestingly, the National Library of Medicine notes that captioning also improves learning comprehension outcomes for all viewers, regardless of disability needs.
During the pandemic, many organizations began establishing remote work continuity plans. Now, companies have prioritized developing universal accessibility action plans and best practices to deal with situations like captioning during a last-minute virtual global meeting or eliminating complex navigation paths for finding information.
- Share updates on your disability inclusion initiatives. Employers have the power to lead the conversation about effective communication practices by continuously making positive changes to their own policies and practices. By communicating regularly and transparently about company disability inclusion initiatives, employees of all abilities will be encouraged to use the internal tools available to them. Employees should have the freedom to choose what style of communication they use, and an opportunity to voice their preferences, so companies can foster a more positive work environment.
Employees with disabilities do not want to be treated differently than their colleagues. Supporting the individual needs of employees in a workplace ultimately allows them to feel more fulfilled at work, more confident, and more at ease. As a result, organizations will experience increased productivity and positive public recognition.