The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and subsequent Amendment Act (ADAAA) has enabled more people with disabilities to join the workforce than ever before. Today, young people with disabilities expect to join the workforce and to be financially independent. Unfortunately, the vast majority of working age adults with disabilities still face structural and attitudinal barriers that block their access to steady employment and economic security. In order to fulfill the promise of the ADA – equal employment opportunity and full inclusion – we need to create new pathways for people with disabilities.
In our world today what makes up a disabled worker? A disabled worker is a person whose capabilities are limited in the performance of the tasks in a particular employment situation. The limitations can be physical, intellectual or developmental. Keep in mind there are expanded legal definitions for disabled defined in the ADAAA.
It all starts with commitment to attracting and hiring from this new and vital pool of workers. Building a disability inclusive environment is a competitive advantage as it adds new ideas, viewpoints and approaches to solving your business challenges. For every dollar invested in making an accommodation a company can earn an average rate of return of $28. Additionally, retention rates among people with disabilities are higher than average, thus reducing training costs. So are you ready to not only hire disabled workers, but develop and retain them in your workforce creating a disability inclusive environment?
Make a Commitment
Having top management commitment is critical in successfully recruiting, hiring, retaining, developing, and advancing employees with disabilities. Not only is it critical to gain top management commitment, but demonstrating that commitment inside and outside the organization is equally as essential.
Through education, top managers can demonstrate their commitment internally. Communicating the business case and plan for hiring people with disabilities, supporting and participating in training, establishing an employee resource group, appointing an individual to lead the employment initiative, and providing a budget all are actions that backup the commitment.
Provide accessible facilities and services
Reasonable accommodations make employees more productive. A particularly effective accommodation is a flexible work arrangement that allows employees, in collaboration with their managers and team members, several work options, including flexible start and end times, part-time, work weeks compressed into fewer days (e.g., 40 hours in four days), and telework from home. Most physical accommodations are less expensive than you might think, and in some cases, invite tax advantages for the employer.
Accessible facilities remove barriers for disabled workers. For a checklist on assessing your facility go to: ada.gov/racheck.pdf
Accommodate applicants and workers with disabilities
Two key concerns of small businesses with regard to attracting people with disabilities are complying with relevant laws and finding qualified employees with disabilities. There are three basic principles to keep in mind for compliance:
- Make all steps in the application process accessible
- Focus on the match between the skills, experience, and education of the applicant and the essential functions of the job
- Treat all applicants equally
Respect, Retain and Promote
One of the utmost factors of the quality of work life for all employees, including workers with disabilities, is the day-to-day interactions in the workplace. The attitudes and behaviors of co-workers, and especially supervisors, can influence an employee’s ability to succeed and advance. Training that helps employees understand the challenges their colleagues with disabilities face, and how to interact with them, blended with company involvement in relevant community activities and opportunities to come together, do much to improve attitudes and contributes to building a respectful inclusive environment.
Effective training and interaction also helps mitigate misconceptions on what people with disabilities are not able to do, and hence increases their ability to add value to the workplace by breaking down unnecessary “perception barriers”. Similarly, they strive to succeed and learn and don’t need to be shielded from struggle or failure.
Employee resource groups (ERGs)—internal networks for employees with disabilities and their allies—offer mutual support systems for employees and many benefits to businesses. In forming them, companies should ensure they have a clear purpose, enjoy sponsorship from top managers and serve as a vehicle for communicating the needs of people with disabilities up the organization.
Are you ready to hire disabled workers? Not only is it good business, but for a minor impact on your costs and management time, people with disabilities are usually more loyal and productive, have lower rates of absenteeism, produce higher quality work, enhance team creativity and innovation, and expand the talent pool. Does it make sense for small businesses to create a disability inclusive environment? Absolutely!
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