Posted on September 22nd, 2016 by Bridget Hayman
I spent some time recently thinking about my experience in the workforce as a person with a disability… first as an intern, then a communications professional, and now as a manager who employs others with disabilities.
I’m reminded by the latest employment headlines that all too often the biggest employment barrier for people like me (I have Cerebral Palsy and use a wheelchair) is stigma, and that today the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is two times higher than that of people without disabilities.
With a growing disability population and evolving business models, the need for inclusive workplaces has never been greater. Inclusion is a win for everyone — giving people with disabilities the opportunity to work and rewarding employers with dedicated and talented staff.
Throughout my 15-year career, I’ve worked to break down barriers by bringing my best to each job I take on, and I know first hand how employees with disabilities add value by offering a new, vital perspective that leads to better products and processes. To put it bluntly, hiring people with disabilities is not just the right thing to do, it’s a smart investment.
That said, true inclusion can sometimes seem daunting to employers, and it might be hard to know where to begin.
With that in mind, I’ve gathered four relatively simple ideas to consider during the hiring process and throughout employment, based on my experience, to help employers get and keep the diverse talent they need.
Be transparent. Don’t assume, ask. You shouldn’t hesitate to involve people with disabilities in your planning process. I’ve been floored to discover how much work and time has gone into accessibility planning for conferences, outings, and even my own work space before I’ve been consulted… if I’ve been consulted at all. I feel bad when I have to recommend last-minute changes that would have been easy fixes had I known about them from the start. The best working relationships I’ve had have been based on open communication with me clearly stating my needs and my superiors sharing their plans.
Think beyond the desk. It’s best to avoid thinking in terms of special access, or solely ADA compliance, and start thinking in terms of universal access. Think about what a job entails. Will an employee need universal access throughout the building? To common areas like the lunchroom? Will they be traveling for work? How will they get to and from the office? Discussing how they go about doing their job, and the access supports they need, leads to better results and a better work environment for everyone.
Remember, barrier-free is better for everyone. At one of my jobs, an accessible button was installed to open the door to my department. It certainly made it easier for me to move freely through the office, but apparently it was removed when I left. That led to several employee complaints because that department door is also the entrance to the mail room. It was next to impossible to open the door when pushing the mail cart without a button. I hear that door button has been re-installed. Remember, universal access benefits everyone, not just employees with disabilities.
Evaluate your emergency evacuation process. Most people don’t know what the emergency evacuation plan is in their office building for people who need physical assistance to get downstairs. Find out, and consult with all staff about their comfort level. When the process was reviewed at one of my jobs, my fellow employees decided it was inadequate even though it met the fire code because it involved leaving me alone in a stairwell. They revamped the entire process, and then we practiced it… often. These practice sessions took place beyond my department on every floor, so that all employees were well-versed in helping… not just me… but anyone needing assistance due to disability, physical limitations or temporary injury.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Do you have any to share? Leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you. And be sure to check out Easterseals job training services.