July 23, 2020
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
The ADA is intended to provide broad protection for the rights of people with disabilities. And it’s helped to bring about a lot of shifts in the U.S. workplace.
But when we look at the ADA in 2020, we can still see plenty of room for improvement. Thirty years after its passage, there are many reasons to go beyond the ADA’s basic requirements.
What should your workplace be thinking about as we look to the future? Here are a few ideas.
The ADA became law in 1990. That means everyone who got their first job in the past 30 years has been promised its workplace protections from the start. And a growing percentage of the U.S. workforce has lived their whole lives with the ADA in place.
Younger employees will expect their employers to do more than stick to the basic ADA requirements. Employers who fail to meet those expectations will fall behind.
Read more in this article from the New York Times:
“Members of the ADA generation are quicker than earlier ones to claim disability as a crucial part of identity—and with pride. The ADA, after all, erased some of the stigma. Now, it’s not just those with evident physical or sensory disabilities who say they are part of a disability civil rights movement, but younger people and those with invisible disabilities, too.”
Several new rules have been added to the ADA. They include guidance on technologies that weren’t prevalent in 1990, like websites and digital movies. But the marketplace has been moving faster than the legislation.
Assistive and accessible technology is now a critical workplace tool. Without it, businesses and employees can’t reach their full potential. That means companies need to go beyond the letter of the ADA when thinking about new technologies.
Companies should make accessibility a standard requirement—not only for assistive tech, but for all technology products. In this episode of the “Future of Work” podcast, technology educator Chancey Fleet gives one example of how to do that:
“What allyship and effective human resource management looks like in the accessibility space is not only providing the specialized tools that a worker may need, such as screen reader magnification programs or switch control, but also having an organizational wide procurement policy where, when something is being considered to be acquired, the vendor has to furnish proof that it’s accessible.”
Increasingly, employees are expecting to be able to bring their whole selves to work. That means employers need to acknowledge and embrace employees’ identities.
Employees with disabilities can’t leave their other identities behind when they’re at work. When difference is respected and embraced, the employees and workplace will flourish. To truly support employees with disabilities, employers need to support all employees.
This piece from HRDive offers the perspective of Trish Foster, the lead author of Intersectionality in the Workplace: Broadening the Lens of Inclusion:
“’Our thinking is shaped by our backgrounds, culture, experiences, and personalities—this is the core concept behind diversity of thought,’ Foster said in the statement. ‘Organizations that blend people who think differently from each other—analytical workers, conceptual thinkers, creative spirits, or detail-oriented employees—can create energy to drive new ideas and productivity.’”
Inclusive leaders don’t wait for an employee to ask for accommodations. They think about disability inclusion as an integral part of their workplace, and as a business responsibility like any other. The result is a more effective workplace for everyone.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed some major accessibility gaps in the workplace. At the same time, it’s shown us how easy and effective the solutions can be. And it’s proven that some of the same accommodations that people with disabilities have been requesting for years can help everyone work more effectively.
“So, what happens when the perception that accommodations such as working from home, live streaming events, paying for sick leave, or online instructions would be completely counterproductive has now been disproved?
“Hopefully the answer is that businesses and society can become rooted in accessibility and inclusion, well beyond this pandemic.”
As we mark the 30th anniversary of the ADA, make sure you’re considering this landmark legislation through a 2020 lens. Go beyond the letter of the ADA to think proactively about disability inclusion. That way, you’ll be ready to meet the needs of customers and employees now and into the future.
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