Companies continue to center diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as central to growing their business and creating a sense of belonging in the workplace. A hidden challenge is the lack of focus on disabled employees. A 2017 study conducted by the University of New Hampshire, “National Employment and Disability Survey Supervisor Perspectives,” found that only 28 percent of companies had disability hiring goals and 12 percent of companies included disability in their diversity efforts. Simply put, companies are missing the opportunity to recruit, retain and elevate disabled employees.
While one in four adults in the United States has a disability (as defined by Centers for Disease Control, these are disabilities related to mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, independent living and self-care), the labor force participation level for those with disabilities is only 21 percent as compared to 68 percent for those without disabilities. These numbers show that there is a large population of disabled adults who are likely employable but not actively and aggressively being pursued for roles. It is a loss for them and for the companies they could be helping.
Much like increasing diversity of any kind within a business environment, leadership sets the tone and culture of an organization. When management prioritizes the shift away from “business as usual” in hiring and embraces new perspectives, backgrounds and abilities, others notice. Best practice may involve both self-education and bringing in a third-party expert to help companies understand where to proactively recruit, how to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias, and what accommodations to make to ensure their physical offices and employer policies are welcoming.
The hiring process may unwittingly be hindering the company from connecting with qualified employees. If the system is inaccessible for a candidate with cognitive difficulties or vision impairment, it is less likely they will make their challenges known; they’ll simply not apply at all. Ensure your application, review, interview and onboarding practices and policies do not discriminate by keeping abreast of best practice for both your industry and human resources overall.
When a company removes the stigma of disclosing the need for accommodations due to visible or non-visible disabilities, it opens the door for connections and support across seniority and role. This can lead to informal mentorship and sponsorship that helps disabled employees move into more senior roles and additional responsibilities.
Help teams bond with activities that are a mix of physical and non-physical, and provide opportunities to connect outside of work that are not centered around drinking or the bar.
Finally, be authentically visible in branding your company. In internal and external communication, be inclusive in your language, description and depiction of the workplace experience. Make it clear that your policies are diverse and inclusive, embracing people from all backgrounds, including disabled employees.
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