Building an inclusive workplace isn’t just about hiring people with disabilities. It’s about developing long-term strategies, systems, and support to create an environment where people with disabilities can succeed.
Here are five steps your company can take to build an inclusive workplace, according to James Emmett, a disability inclusion expert and lead strategist for the Workplace Initiative.
Companies with successful disability inclusion initiatives hire a consultant to develop and implement a training plan. “If you want to have a good training program, you can’t do it on your own,” says Emmett. The Workplace Initiative helps companies to adopt disability inclusion programs and learn new strategies through our Special Projects and Inclusive Careers Cohort (ICC) program.
Each level of the company plays a part, including:
A common strategy is partnering with a recruiting agency that supports people with disabilities. These external organizations are usually nonprofits, such as Easterseals, Goodwill Industries, and The Arc. This is a good first step, but employers need to be more systematic if they want a successful program.
“More and more companies want to hire people with disabilities, so finding qualified candidates is getting competitive,” says Emmett. Employers have to be creative if they want a pipeline of prospects. Consider strategies such as:
Employers need to think about how they’re going to support employees with disabilities on the job. The traditional answer is to use job coaches from local disability organizations.
While “these services are valuable, employers need to own their training program and not rely solely on an external organization,” notes Emmett. “A sustainable answer is building natural supports by working with supervisors and co-workers on strategies to support people with disabilities long-term.“ Supports may include accommodations, assistive technology, and other forms of job aid.
Many employers say it costs little or nothing to accommodate workers with disabilities. According to a survey by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), 58 percent of accommodations cost nothing, and nearly all the rest involved a one-time cost that averaged only $500.
Make sure you’re sending out messaging to your internal staff about the disability [inclusion] initiative,” says Emmett. Engaging employees at all levels builds enthusiasm and support that contributes to an inclusive workplace.
Presentations from leadership, internal newsletters, social media, company intranet, and email are among the channels to get the word out. And messaging should connect the details of the inclusion plan with the goals of the organization as a whole.
“You want to create a disability brand for your company,” says Emmett. Be sure to share success stories when they happen. As your program evolves, your organization’s communication strategy should include the larger community and the disability community.
Building an inclusive workplace involves staff time and financial resources. “It may be the right thing to do, but if it doesn’t generate returns it’s not sustainable,” says Emmett. Measuring intangibles such as increased morale or culture change can be difficult. But you can measure variables such as:
There are many benefits to an inclusive workplace, from broadening your talent pool to boosting your bottom line to strengthening your company’s brand. The Workplace Initiative can partner with you to help you meet the challenges—and experience the advantages—of becoming more inclusive. Check out our Quick Start Guide.
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