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Workplace Initiative Weekly News Roundup: January 20, 2020

By Workplace Initiative
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Here are some highlights from this week’s news about disability inclusion (DI) in the workforce—and how you can use this information to make your company the best it can be.

What’s reported: Lenovo has gotten attention this month for its latest tech innovation—a foldable tablet. But newspapers from Dallas to Milwaukee have also been picking up on the tech giant’s growing diversity and inclusion efforts. 

In its recent Diversity & Inclusion Report, the world’s top seller of PCs highlighted its progress advancing D&I in its workforce. This includes:

  • Hiring Haben Girma, Harvard Law School’s first graduate who is deaf and blind, as the company’s first external advisor on accessibility and inclusion. “Constraints in the design process often lead to new, exciting developments,” she said in an interview. “It’s really helpful to have designers with disabilities.” 
  • Launching an employee resource group (ERG) for individuals with disabilities as well as caretakers and allies of the disability community. 
  • Being added to the 2019 Inclusion Index released by Diversity Best Practices, a division of Working Mother Media. This scores participants based on such factors as recruiting, retaining, and advancing people from underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities.
  • 87 percent of its employees agreeing that the company has created an environment where individuals of any background can succeed. 

What you can do: It’s important for employees to have a voice when it comes to your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Here are some ideas:

  • Survey employees at regular intervals. Ask them how your company is doing on the diversity and inclusion front—and what you can do better. 
  • Gather data and set goals about making your workplace more inclusive. 
  • Apply for the 2020 Diversity Best Practices Inclusion Index and help your company target its inclusion strengths and weaknesses.

What’s reported: Professionals with disabilities in the field of intellectual property (IP) law haven’t always felt represented. And the fear of being stigmatized has kept some patent lawyers from speaking up about their disabilities. IP Ability, a new U.K.-based volunteer group, wants to change that, World Trademark Review reports. 

IP Ability has several goals: 

  • Providing support for people with disabilities working in the IP field
  • Raising awareness and understanding of disability within the profession
  • Making IP law more welcoming for people with disabilities

In an IP Ability launch survey, results showed a need for community. “Some people just want an informal network to talk to like-minded people experiencing similar challenges,” IP Ability co-chair Francesca Rivers tells World Trademark Review. “No matter how big or small your organization, if you can signpost an inclusive community, you’re signaling to your staff that you care about those issues and want your staff to be engaged in them.”

What you can do: “People work so much better when they’re supported and enabled to work to their optimum,” says Rivers. For a workplace to be inclusive of employees with disabilities, all employees need to be aware of your disability initiative:

  • Clearly communicate disability inclusion efforts to employees. 
  • Ask employees whether they know qualified candidates with disabilities who could be a fit for the company. 
  • Make flexible working arrangements a standard practice. That leads to a workplace that’s more accessible for everyone. 

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What’s reported: Entrepreneur published a list of funding resources for small business owners with disabilities. It ranges from corporate grants to state loans to federal microloans. Some of the loan programs lend as little as $300 and some as much as $250,000. Some programs focus on providing assistive technology (such as screen readers) and accessible workplaces. Other programs allow the funds to be used on everything from remodeling workspaces to hiring staff.  

What you can do: Whether your company is small or large, you can apply for On-the-Job Training (OJT) Dollars. The federal program can cover up to 50 percent (and in some cases more) of the wages of workers you hire from underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities. And find out more about potential tax benefits for your company from disability inclusion.

What’s reported: The U.S. Department of Labor has ruled that an Alabama service provider and its subsidiaries need to pay $541,597 in back wages to 80 employees with disabilities, Disability Scoop reports. The Montgomery chapter of The Arc (an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities), the Hanan Center, and McInnis Recycling Center all violated rules about paying people with disabilities below minimum wage

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the employers needed to provide career counseling and other services to the employees in order to pay less than minimum wage. But they didn’t. The companies also didn’t adjust pay annually or keep proper records of the hours worked. And investigators found that the employers automatically deducted 30 minutes of pay each day for meal breaks, even if the workers didn’t take a break to eat.

What you can do: Fair compensation and career advancement opportunities are two ways to make sure your own company sets up employees with disabilities for success. Read more about how cities and states across the U.S. are working to end the practice of paying subminimum wages to people with disabilities.