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Championing Disability Inclusion in the Return-to-Office & Hybrid Era

Kanarys Staff

11/30/2023

Creating a culture of inclusion isn’t just about compliance with legal and regulatory requirements; it's about creating a workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported. This is especially true of employees with disabilities, who make up a significant portion of the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1% of the noninstitutionalized civilian population in the U.S. had a disability in 2021. But here’s an even more notable statistic. Research has shown that adults with disabilities, who make up the second-largest minority group in the U.S., have benefited from remote work opportunities stemming from the COVID pandemic.

What Is Meant by Disability Inclusion? 

Disability inclusion is the practice of ensuring that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and experiences as people without disabilities in all aspects of life, including work. This includes providing reasonable accommodations, making physical and technological spaces accessible, and creating a culture of respect and understanding. Having said this, it is crucial for employers to recognize that many corporate policies should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, policies should be tailored to accommodate the diverse needs and circumstances of their workforce. Kanarys found that of those surveyed with obvious/visible disabilities working in an in-person only environment, 69.5% of employees felt they were included and belonged in their organization, whereas 82.2% of employees with obvious/visible disabilities in hybrid work environments endorsed inclusion and belonging. 

Putting a Spotlight on Return-to-Office Mandates

Over the past year, more and more companies have issued return-to-office policies mandating workers be physically present in the office either full time or at the least, several days a week. Unfortunately, this has raised concerns about what those policies could mean for employees with disabilities who were previously working remotely and serves as a prime example of the need for employers to take a more flexible approach to company policies. Let’s be clear: According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require an employer to offer a telework program to all employees.

But the ADA's reasonable accommodation obligation includes "modifying workplace policies" and "might require an employer to waive certain eligibility requirements or otherwise modify its telework program for someone with a disability who needs to work at home."

Remote Work Not the Only Solution

Here are some key steps employers can take to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach.

  1. Assess your current state of disability inclusion, which can be done through surveys, focus groups, or other methods with the goal to identify areas where you can improve. Then continuously review and adjust policies based on feedback from employees with disabilities and ongoing assessments of their needs.
  2. Develop a disability inclusion plan that outlines your goals for disability inclusion and the steps you will take to achieve them.
  3. Each employee with a disability has unique needs and circumstances so consider individual circumstances, and specific limitations and challenges faced by each individual when making decisions about return-to-office requirements.
  4. Provide training on disability inclusion for managers and employees, which should include disability awareness, unconscious bias, and inclusive communication practices to foster a supportive and respectful work environment.
  5. Offer flexible work arrangements such as remote work options or hybrid schedules, to accommodate employees with disabilities who may face difficulties commuting or working in a traditional office setting.
  6. Make your physical and technological spaces accessible, which includes things like installing ramps, providing accessible restrooms, and using accessible technology.
  7. Create a culture of respect and understanding for people with disabilities, which can be done by encouraging employees to talk about disability openly and honestly, and by celebrating the diversity of your workforce.

By embracing disability inclusion and implementing the strategies outlined in this blog post, employers can cultivate a thriving workplace where all employees feel valued, engaged, and supported. This, in turn, fosters a more productive and innovative workforce, ultimately benefiting the company as a whole. A commitment to disability inclusion not only enhances employee satisfaction and productivity but also strengthens the company's reputation, attracting new customers, partners, and investors.


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