At ATR, we recognize that there are a number of groups underrepresented in the professional world. Talking about disabilities in the workplace is important for raising awareness and improving not just the quality of life for your employees, but your business too. Let’s take a look at what’s happening in this area and how your organization can be a better proponent of inclusion.

Consider More Than Compliance

In business, simply meeting the status quo isn’t a recipe for success. Yet, this is what typically happens when it comes to addressing employees with disabilities. While there are laws and regulations employers must abide by, more must be done than just adding handicapped parking spots or larger bathroom stalls. Only 18.7% of persons with a disability are employed. This means there are many people left out who could be excellent employees and just as productive as their able-bodied counterparts when given the right opportunity and tools. While addressing and preventing any unconscious bias or barrier toward hiring this group is a start, it’s necessary to think about additional ways to actively foster equality and boost accessibility.

Implement the Appropriate Technology

A chief way to address workplace disability needs is to implement the necessary technology. Smart phones and tablets have already made a large positive impact in assisting those with disabilities in the workplace, but take things a step further. Build accessibility into your systems development lifecycle to ensure processes and products are easy to use both internally and externally. Investigate and implement AI-backed innovations that can even the playing field and give your workforce the tools they need. Further, consider specific programs created for the nuances within each type of disability:

  • Whether someone is visually impaired or blind, there are many technologies that turn digital text into braille, magnify screens, read text aloud, and more. These programs include JAWS, Window-Eyes, ZoomText, and OrCam.
  • For those with hearing impairment, there are big differences between being hard of hearing, losing hearing later in life, and being born deaf. Things like Bluetooth hearing aids, video relay services, different types of captioning, and SignTel Interpreter (which translates speech into sign language) are helpful here. 
  • Motor skill impairments can vary widely and should be addressed specifically. Speech recognition software assists those unable to type, one-handed keyboards helps those who only have use of one hand, and physical tools like the X-AR supports someone’s arm for longer periods of time.

Rely on an Accessibility Specialist

While smaller organizations may not be able to justify hiring an Accessibility Specialist or Head of Disability Inclusion, it’s still necessary to place someone in charge of staying up to date on disability news, laws, and innovations. HR departments alone cannot be relied upon for going above and beyond mere compliance. It takes a champion of equality to monitor role responsibilities, ensure an inclusive and productive environment for everyone, sit in on interviews with disabled candidates, and speak to current employees who become disabled. The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) is an excellent government-backed resource to rely on that provides updates, step-by-step actions, and more; it just requires someone in your organization to own this area.

Educate Your Workforce

Today we see signing happening at more concerts, conferences, and events and more braille in public spaces than ever before. While today’s culture is a much more inclusive one than in the past, you still must actively educate your employees on disabilities in the workplace. Talk about any changes happening to your building, the benefits of new software programs you’re implementing, or why all of your corporate emails are now available in mp3 format. PEAT provides great training tips, including how to underscore the benefits of accessibility technology for all employees. Further, consider offering volunteering time off to your workforce. Doing so encourages them to gain exposure to individuals with disabilities and helps them grow comfortable in the understanding that we are all the same regardless of ability level.

Spend the Necessary Money

As a business, you naturally have costs. For example, in order for a new hire to do their job, you likely need to buy them a new computer, the cost of which is quickly negated by their ability to be productive. It’s the same concept with disabled employees. You may need to spend money on braille nametags for office doors for the visually impaired or a specialized keyboard for someone with function in only one hand, but these costs will pay off when that employee is able to produce at 100% of their capacity. With studies showing that most accommodations cost less than $500, it’s better to plan on spending the necessary money in your budget rather than leave an employee without the tools they need for success.

Setting the Example for Disabilities in the Workplace

As society continues to better understand disabled individuals and treat them equally, businesses have no choice other than to get on the same page. After all, if you can’t be inclusive within your own company, how can you provide inclusivity to your customers or clients? Walgreens is known as one of the world’s most inclusive companies, with a notable percentage of their employees having some form of disability. I challenge all businesses to strive to be like Walgreens and improve inclusivity. Together, let’s make our environments, and ultimately the world, a better place.

If you want to work with an inclusive staffing partner who cares about the people they place, reach out to us today.


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