It's 2022, and now more than ever, companies are realizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion plans, also known as DE&I. However, there is one letter that is sometimes left out of that acronym. Many workplaces are now making it a priority to add the letter A into their DE&I plans in order to represent accessibility.
Why is it Important to Include Accessibility in DEI?
Most employers focus their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts primarily on attracting, promoting, and advancing women, employees of color, and LGBT employees. Therefore, when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, accessibility can tend to be overlooked. However, in order to create a truly inclusive workplace, accessibility cannot be an afterthought.
Since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, employers have had to make sure that they do not discriminate against job candidates or employees on the basis of an individual's disability. However, studies show that 62% of employees who are disabled note that their disability is invisible/not easily seen or noted by the workplace.
According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.9 percent of actively employed people in 2020 identified as having a disability. This number is down from a reported 19.3 percent in 2019. According to the (US Department of Labor), the total number of people with disabilities aged 16-64 in the United States is 33 million. Out of those 33 million, only 18.5 million are employed.
Even though we are seeing a trend of companies emphasizing policies and programs that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is still an area of shortcoming. Can a DEI program be inclusive if it has the potential to exclude around 18% of the workforce?
Equity and Accessibility
Equity and accessibility go hand in hand, and accessibility goes beyond compliance with the legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations. Equity levels the playing field. True accessibility focuses on creating an equitable workplace that permits individuals with disabilities to participate fully and thrive.
Historically, individuals with disabilities have been segregated and isolated. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, which prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. ADA was a massive win for people with disabilities, but preventing discrimination against such individuals in the workplace continues to be a challenge. An equitable workplace requires advanced understanding of the nature of various disabilities and belief that people with disabilities can accomplish significant personal and professional goals.
How Equity Benefits Everyone
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) conducted a study proving that accommodations in the workplace provides consistent employer benefits over time, often with minimal costs. The study discovered that providing necessary accommodations in the workplace resulted in benefits like increasing company diversity, improving productivity and morale, retaining valuable employees, and reducing workers' compensation and training costs. 59% of employers in the study reported that the accommodations they provided had zero cost, and when the accommodations did involve costs, the amount was typically very small (around $500).
There are many benefits to hiring people with disabilities and ensuring that the workplace is accessible to them. For example, there is often a beneficial impact on organizational performance resulting from the skillset available in a diverse workforce. For a company to foster a culture of diversity, they must first value and appreciate individual differences.
Furthermore, employers benefit from access to varied perspectives. Although diversity is often seen as differences in ethnic background, age, or sex, equity encompasses a broader range of experiences. Disability is one of these varying experiences and attributes. Therefore, disability is a large component of diversity. Companies can benefit by taking the steps to ensure that people with disabilities are adequately represented in the workforce.
How To Create Accessibility in the Workplace
Here are some steps that companies can take in order to create and maintain a truly accessible workplace.
- Hiring: Ensure that your job posting includes any qualifications that are necessary to perform the job. Determine whether the hiring process could be streamlined and made more accessible? Offer alternatives to an in-person interview when possible.
- Planning: Start by identifying short and long-term goals and initiatives for creating a more accessible workplace. Then you can implement a strategic plan for increasing representation and creating a work environment where all people, including those with disabilities, can be successful.
- Reviewing: Consider reviewing job requirements and structure. In 2022, vast technological advancements provide many alternative ways to perform tasks. It is worth considering whether these advancements may make any positions more accessible for employees with disabilities.
- Responding: It is important to prioritize responding to any and all requests for accommodations. Ensure that employees know who to talk to if they have an accommodation request, and that the right systems are in place for making adjustments. It may also be helpful to develop a list of resources that can help address accommodation requests, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Office or the Policy Job Accommodation Network (JAN).
- Recognizing: Not every disability is visible. Many disabilities are hidden, like depression, anxiety, epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and ADHD. Employers must think beyond accommodations for disabilities that require structural changes to the workplace.
- Discussing: It is important to discuss and expand equal employment opportunity training to include a focus on accessibility. Consider implementing unconscious bias training to include a disability focus.
- Engaging: It is important to get feedback from employees with disabilities. Engage employees in open discussions on how to make the workplace more accessible and welcoming. Seek input on strategies for recruiting individuals with disabilities and discuss how to better help employees with disabilities succeed.
- Retaining: In regards to retention, organizations should always treat employees with disabilities as they would any other employee. Enable each and every employee to do their best by providing access to information, tools, resources, equipment, and career development opportunities. Additionally, it is important to tailor the onboarding process for new employees with disabilities to include information on the procedures for requesting accommodations.
- Opening the Door: By offering a truly accessible workplace, you can stay true to your DEI promise of being a fully inclusive organization. True inclusivity opens the doors to talent and skillsets that may have not been available to you before. This talent expansion benefits everyone from new hires to the CEO.
- Leading The Way: Being a leader in DEI and accessibility will benefit your business not only from an ethical standpoint but from an economic one as well. Inclusive businesses are more innovative, have a broader customer base, attract talent, and offer a better quality of life for all.