Disability Inclusion: 5 Ways to Make the Case to Management

By Jamie Studenroth
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July 2, 2020

You know that disability inclusion is a key component of a successful business. You’re prepared with a plan to make it a more central part of your workplace. And maybe you even have support from your peers and your team.

So what’s the most important thing you need to move forward—and sometimes one of the hardest to get? Strong buy-in from leadership.

The attitudes and actions of the senior leadership team will determine whether your initiative can drive real change. And that support needs to go beyond surface enthusiasm. You’ll need to convince management to prioritize inclusion, and to hold themselves truly accountable by investing time and resources.

That can be tough, especially when those in charge have misconceptions about what people with disabilities can and can’t do. Maybe they question the value that disability inclusion will bring to the organization, or think of it as just “something nice to do.”

But there are ways to get the buy-in you need. Here are some tools and approaches to help you convince management of the value of disability inclusion. 

1. Persuade leadership by sharing success stories

You don’t have to start from scratch. There are case studies and news articles that show how inclusion transforms workplaces for the better. Presenting success stories will help build your case. 

For example, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion has compiled a number of firsthand employer success stories. Featured employers include Fortune 500 companies, local businesses, and government agencies. Choose a company that’s similar to your own to show how inclusion has helped a peer or a competitor.

Some other ideas:

2. Point out that inclusion will support existing employees

One in four adults in the U.S. has a disability. In addition to your employees with visible disabilities, it’s likely that many of your employees have an “invisible disability”—that is, a disability that can’t immediately be seen. Some examples of conditions that could be considered invisible disabilities include diabetes, depression, cancer, and ADHD. 

Lots of people choose not to disclose their disabilities at work, often for fear of stigma. So in all likelihood, your company already employs many more people with disabilities than you know.

Disability inclusion will help your leadership team support all of your employees to do their best work. For one, inclusion encourages disclosure. You can’t lead your workforce if you’re missing key information about who they are and what they need. If employees trust that they can have open conversations about disability, you’ll have the right information to support them effectively. 

3. Show leadership how disability inclusion will strengthen all parts of your business

The benefits of disability inclusion will be felt throughout your business.

More and more, employees with and without disabilities care about their workplace culture and believe it’s important to help them thrive at work. Research shows that employees specifically value diversity and inclusion. 

When employees believe that leadership truly owns the effort to build a more inclusive workplace, they’re likely to have more respect toward those leaders, and to show more loyalty to the organization.

Educate your leadership team about the principles of universal design. When systems are designed to work for people with disabilities, they tend to work better for everyone else, too. Make that case to management, and they’ll start to understand how disability inclusion can help your entire company.

4. Fight stigma and mistaken beliefs

Your C-suite and senior management may have misconceptions about disability inclusion. They may hold the mistaken belief that employees with disabilities won’t be as effective as other employees. But inclusive leaders know that everyone—regardless of disability—has different strengths, and everyone is capable of thriving at work.

Another misconception leaders sometimes have is that it costs a lot to support employees with disabilities. According to the Job Accommodation Network, when accommodations are necessary, 58 percent cost nothing at all, and the rest have a typical cost of $500.

5. Give your leadership team the tools they need

Part of the problem might be that your senior management feels unprepared to take part in a disability inclusion initiative. They might worry that they’ll get something wrong and face liability.

In fact, every employer who works toward inclusion will find that they’re still learning, no matter how much experience they have. Becoming a more inclusive leader is an achievable goal. Point them toward our guide on inclusive leadership, which contains examples and practical steps to take.

If they’re looking for subject-matter knowledge, suggest that they take the free Employing Abilities @Work course. They’ll come away with a basic grounding in the benefits and implementation of disability inclusion.

Persuading leadership to value and prioritize disability inclusion may not always be easy. But it’s a critical step to take. When leaders treat disability inclusion as a business imperative, everyone wins.

Jamie Studenroth is a disability inclusion coordinator at the Workplace Initiative by Understood. She has supported people with disabilities in settings such as schools, camps, nonprofits, and employment. She is a longtime advocate for disability justice in the workplace and beyond.

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