Disabilities cover a broad range of visible and invisible conditions including those related to mobility, vision, hearing, cognition, self-care, and independent living. According to the CDC’s annual report, disabilities now affect approximately one in four adults living in the US – for clarity that is equal to 61 million people. Individuals with a disability are most often fully capable of gainful employment. However, labor-force participation rate hovers at a dismal 20.8%, compared to 68.7% of people without a disability.
Disability Inclusion in the Workplace
To give the American workforce full access to the deep pool of talent present in the country today, employers must commit to disability inclusion in the workplace. As defined by the CDC, disability inclusion involves making sure all individuals have the same opportunities to participate in life to the extent they desire and the best of their abilities. For employers, the process involves treating prospective and current employees fairly, reducing the stigma surrounding disability, and ensuring the workplace is designed for accessibility.
Individuals with a disability deserve equity in the workplace. Without it, employers risk marginalizing a part of their workforce. Why? Every human being deserves respect and dignity, as well as opportunity, regardless of disability status, age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, or sexual orientation.
Since all forms of oppression are interlocking, prejudices against employees with disabilities can compound other prejudices.
October Is Disability Awareness Month
To acknowledge inequities in the workplace and increase the labor-force participation rate of those with disabilities, the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy has instituted annual National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) each October. This year, NDEAM celebrates its 75th anniversary – and the Americans With Disabilities Act’s 30th anniversary – with its theme, “Increasing Awareness and Opportunity.”
Certainly, increasing opportunities for individuals with disabilities benefits all, especially within the workplace. There are many organizations that specialize in highlighting the mutual benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities. This can be a great resource for education as well as access to a diverse hiring pool. We can also look to the sporting world for inspiration in the adaptive technology used to increase accessibility and embrace inclusion for athletes living with a disability.
Communicating With and About Individuals With Disabilities
In celebration of NDEAM, we urge you to take the time to educate yourself about the rights of individuals with disabilities in the workplace, including the specific legal rights outlined in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition, when communicating with or about potential and current employees with disabilities, follow these 4 steps to ensure you are using equitable language:
- Use people-first language. People are not their conditions. Make an effort to place the person before the disability.
- Avoid presenting disability as an inherently negative state. Instead of using terms like “crippled person,” which implies the disability causes a person to live a life less than your own, use “person living with [condition].”
- Stay informed about acceptable language. Just as with language regarding race and sexual orientation, what is considered acceptable language changes over time.
- Avoid comparisons to others. Referring to others in the workplace as healthy or normal in comparison implies that the individuals in your workplace with a disability are neither healthy nor normal.
Actions You Can Take to Provide Equity in the Workplace
Efforts to create a fair, equitable workplace free from discrimination benefit your organization as well as each of the employees. During NDEAM – and moving forward – take the following actions to provide equity in your workplace:
- Prioritize accessibility and inclusion. This prioritization starts at the top of the organization – set the example, and your employees will follow.
- Advertise inclusivity. Make your inclusive policies obvious to all employees and ensure compliance.
- Create a plan to hire employees with disabilities. Ensure your job postings are inviting and utilize inclusive language.
- Develop a plan to retain employees with disabilities. Create a work environment in which your employees with disabilities feel able to inquire about accommodations and help implement these accommodations creatively.
- Remember, not all disabilities are visible. Employees may be living with disabilities you cannot see. Consider if you have a process for your employees with disabilities to communicate their experience with the right person who can offer support and solutions.
- Create a workplace that celebrates people with disabilities. Display artwork, photographs, infographics, and more that feature individuals with disabilities. Include these images in the workplace itself as well as on your website, social media, and other company materials.
- Ensure workplace activities like sports leagues, happy hours, and team building activities are inclusive.
As you continue your work in creating an inclusive workplace for all, focus on how you can ensure equity for individuals living with disabilities. Along with the actions listed above, consider forming a partnership with an organization devoted to helping employers foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace. At MindSpring Metro DC, we support our clients in understanding the “diversity of diversity” through our unique programs featuring diversity and inclusion best practices. If you are looking for a partner to build the open, equitable workplace culture your organization is seeking, click here to schedule a conversation with one of our team members.