Our friends at EARN (Employers Assistance Resource Network on Disability Inclusion) support employers in their efforts to recruit, hire, retain, and advance qualified individuals with disabilities.
Check out these questions and answers that employers should know regarding important aspects of a disability-inclusive workspace.
1. What is a disability-inclusive workplace?
A disability-inclusive workplace is an accessible workplace, covering not only physical accessibility, like wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and accessible restrooms, but also digital accessibility, where information and communication technology is available to all and compatible with assistive technology devices.
Accessibility also has an attitudinal dimension. The key is to ensure doors are open, literally and figuratively, to all qualified individuals. Accessible workplaces help everyone increase productivity, ensure a wider pool of talent can apply for, maintain, and advance in employment, and expand their potential customer base.
2. What is an attitudinal dimension when it comes to accessibility?
The biggest barrier to workplace accessibility is not architectural in nature, but attitudinal. Employees may have misconceptions about people with disabilities and the work they can do. Examples of attitudinal barriers include:
- Inferiority: Viewing a disabled individual as a “second-class citizen.”
- Pity: Feeling sorry for a disabled individual and behaving in a patronizing manner as a result.
- Hero Worship: Considering a disabled individual living independently to be “special.”
- Ignorance: Dismissing the individual as incapable because of his or her disability.
- Multi-Sensory Effect: Assuming that the individual’s disability affects his or her other senses.
- Stereotypes: Making positive or negative generalizations about disabilities.
- Backlash: Believing that a disabled co-worker is being given an unfair advantage because of his or her disability.
- Denial: Believing that disabilities that are not visible are not legitimate and, therefore, do not require accommodations.
- Fear: Being afraid of offending a disabled co-worker by doing or saying the wrong thing and, as a result, avoiding interaction with the individual.
Employers can help break down these barriers by engaging employees in discussions about disability and providing training to change employees’ perspectives and increase understanding.
3. How is physical accessibility achieved at work?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is an employer’s obligation to “provide access for an individual applicant to participate in the job application process, and for an individual employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his or her job, including access to a building, to the work site, to needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees.” In addition to the building and work site, areas to which accessibility must be provided may include (but are not limited to):
- Parking lots (handicapped parking spaces)
- Fire alarms/emergency exits
- Conference rooms and shared workspaces
- Desks and personal workspaces
- Hallways and stairwells
Businesses that make modifications to improve workplace accessibility may be eligible for tax credits or deductions to help offset costs incurred. For more information see Tax Benefits for Businesses Who Have Employees with Disabilities.
4. What does it mean to have technology accessibility?
When workplace technology is accessible, it presents opportunities for people with disabilities to get hired, or to excel in a position because they can perform their job duties with access to basic workplace tools. It is a barrier to employment to be without technology accessibility.
Taking steps to ensure all employees can access the technology they need to perform their jobs is a best practice and can impact a business’s bottom line.
Technology accessibility benefits include:
- Improved recruitment and employee retention
- Enhanced productivity
- Operational cost reductions
- Improved corporate image
- Reduced legal costs
5. How can EARN help your business?
Visit EARN’s website for more information and educational resources, like toolkits and publications. EARN also offers the Dinah Cohen Training Center for Disability Employment & Inclusion for free webinars and trainings on a variety of topics, including the Inclusion@Work Framework for Building a Disability-Inclusive Organization.