33 years ago, the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, enshrining in American law that persons with disabilities reserve the right and dignity of reasonable accommodations. Schools, transportation entities, and workplaces all had to adjust their policies and practices to ensure their services were accessible and equitable to all.
While this was a vital piece of legislation, over three decades later disability advocates are still shedding light on the modern-day harassment, discrimination, and barriers they face in the workplace. This Disability Pride Month, we’d like to map out some ways in which employers can become more accessible and transform into true allies for their employees with disabilities.
Understanding Challenges Faced by Persons with Varying Disabilities:
Disabilities cover a wide range of mental and physical experiences, with each disability requiring varying levels of necessary support depending on the person living with the disability. This is why it is so important for employers to surround themselves with disability-specific resources. Previously, RALIANCE has written about Deaf Discrimination in the Workplace. There are a multitude of other resources that pay special focus to the realities of career-building and advancement while living with certain disabilities such as blindness, autism, epilepsy, burn victims, and more. Taking the time to familiarize oneself with how discrimination can manifest itself differently depending on the disability can allow employers to become better equipped to interview, hire, and retain a wider array of people.
Having an Intersectional List of Disability-Specific Organizations Readily Available for Employee/Employer Use
Individuals with disabilities have identities defined by more than just their disability. If the person with a disability is a member of another minority (due to race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran status), they may feel further isolation from their workplace peers. Stanford University has created a list of national disability organizations and resources that honors many of these intersections of identity. Building up a list like this allows for employers to both direct their employees toward a pathway that makes them feel less alone and also allows them to have places they can reach out to so that they may learn ways to better advocate and accommodate their employees.
Advancing Digital Accessibility
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered our perception of the workplace. More specifically, it has given us a new perspective on how to work just as, or possibly more, efficiently remotely. With more workplaces open to a hybrid or even fully-remote model, the talent pool has opened to many employees who were previously restricted from full-time in-person jobs that were unaccommodating to their disability. However, with this move to shift more of the workspace online, employers have an obligation to make their virtual workspaces accessible as well. Disability Inclusion has created a robust resource and content list that examines different areas in which employers can advance their digital accessibility, including but not limited to: ensuring job portal accessibility, familiarizing oneself with conference software tools like captioning, and making all social media posts accessible.
Eliminating Ableist Language
An important aspect of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work is fostering a welcoming environment by eliminating harmful language. Expressions or idioms may not be intended to cause harm by their user, but they can still be microaggressions that cause harm. For example, saying things like, “I’m so OCD”, “Are you Deaf?!?”, or “That’s a real blind spot for me” unintentionally minimize, trivialize, or mock what people with those disabilities experience. It’s best to approach all language with careful consideration and, if you make a mistake, take the criticism with grace and learn from it for next time.
Expanding Hiring Networks
All too often, the hiring process has systemic barriers preventing applicants with disabilities from even being considered for the position. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that only 25% of organizations specifically seek to recruit and hire amongst the disabled population. Employers can take the initiative to bring all qualified applicants to the table by reaching out to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, state-specific vocational rehabilitation agencies, and the Workforce Recruitment Program managed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Providing and Understanding Adequate Healthcare Benefits for Employees with Disabilities and Caregivers
For those living with disabilities, and for those who serve as a caregiver for someone with a disability, the healthcare benefits offered by an employer are the key determining factor to their acceptance of and longevity with a job. This means that employers must both have a sufficient enough insurance policy to honor their employees’ needs and also have a thorough enough understanding of those policies to help employees make the best decisions for themselves. SHRM has resources on both Managing Disability Benefits and Helping Caregivers and Employees with Disabilities Select the Right Benefits to serve as a starting place for employers.
The work of creating an equitable environment is just that, work. There is no quick fix to achieving equity, but the rewards are well-worth the effort. This Disability Pride Month, please take the time to take pride in each and every one of your present and future colleagues with disabilities by being the best ally you can be.
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.