Guest Contributor

The Benefits of Disability Diversity in the Workplace

By | Charlie Fletcher

People with disabilities are being left behind, even as workplace diversity skyrockets. Those who have disabilities are not being included in workplace diversity. This is an issue because it heavily implies that people are assuming a person’s abilities or disabilities, based on phrasing or type of disability they may have.

Someone who has a disability is going to have skills regardless of that disability and refusing to hire a person because they have a disability is ignoring the fact these people are people. This is an extremely harmful viewpoint to have, and this viewpoint is fostered by how we introduce people to those with disabilities, and how the educational system treats those who have disabilities. 

Having people with disabilities in your workplace is a major benefit to employees and the company, and any clients the company may serve. There are roughly 20 million people in the world with some kind of disability; this is a large group of potential workers if only businesses and corporations would attempt to hire them. 

Why Are People With Disabilities Often Left Out?

People with disabilities are often being left out because they’re not being prioritized. Indicating on an employment form that you have or had a disability may position you as a “last-ditch” option for hire. Recruitment strategists often do not take into account that someone with a disability might be the best person for the job. They think about what accommodations that person may need to do their job and shy away. There is also the fact that unconscious bias against someone with a disability is still a large, and often unrecognized thing. 

Unconscious or implicit bias can appear when an interviewee with a visible disability arrives for an interview. The unconscious bias manifests itself when the interviewers become reserved or distracted by the disability and focus on that rather than on the interviewee herself. This can often then lead to the interviewee being dismissed from the pool of applicants even if she was highly qualified. 

Also, there is the issue that some people might not know how to act around someone who has a disability. It’s not something everyone is raised around or comes into contact with enough to learn how they should act. This is especially true for those with immediately noticeable disabilities, such as someone who is deaf and using an interpreter. Some people may only speak to the interpreter instead of to the person who’s signing. The best way to combat this is to teach people — to inform. 

Employers could include their current workers with disabilities in strategies to make the workplace more accessible and diverse, helping to create a disability-friendly workplace. Angela F. Williams, president and CEO of Easterseals Inc. wrote: “One of the most important things that organizations successfully leveraging the talents of people with disabilities do is regularly review and evaluate their cultures to ensure that inclusion is a key element of the company’s corporate values.”

The Benefits of Inclusion

The Melwood Economic Impact Study learned that workers who have disabilities bring a substantial advantage to their communities–either economically or otherwise. By hiring someone with a disability, companies are able to bring in economic gains to their community that they live in because they’re making money to spend. 

Recently, business leaders are embracing the importance of disability inclusion, at least, publicly. However, the numbers simply are not adding up. In 2019, the ratio of employment of people with disabilities among the total working population was just 19.3%. This statistic was only 19.1% in 2018. 

Federally, the most that has been done to improve this statistic is to update Section 503 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, to require that any government contractor work toward hiring at least 7% of its workforce as defined with a disability. This rule only affects institutions that receive federal money, therefore doing nothing for the majority of the workforce with disabilities, and it is not a quota.

Establish a Diverse Workplace and Culture

To best create a workplace that benefits all of your workers, put a diverse culture and a safe working environment in place for everyone, disabled or not. Here are a few tips to do this:

  • Create trust within your workplace community. If an employee is having issues at work, they should not be afraid to bring those issues to the higher-ups.
  • Involve your employees! Let them help you with hiring, creating your culture, and more. This is especially important when you have employees who have disabilities. They’re going to best know how to make the workplace safer and inclusive. Listen to them!
  • Create goals for your employees and yourself. Hold them accountable, but allow them to hold you accountable too.
  • Provide feedback and accept feedback. You want them to accept your feedback to better themselves, so the best way to do that is to do it yourself. 

Disabilities in the Remote Workforce

Working remotely means that almost anyone you hire can accommodate themselves with very little help or cost to the company. It’s gotten easier to hire people with disabilities who can work remotely. It’s a straightforward decision that if your team works remotely, you should be all for allowing people with disabilities in your company. 

Zoom just came out with captioning and note-taking. There are many more advances to be made, and remote work is quickly increasing and for some people, working remotely is becoming their new norm.

Anyone with a disability working from home has immediate access to most of their assistive technology. Whether that’s a Braille computer, or voice-to-text software, ramps, or guide animals, they most likely have it in their daily lives. 

Does the Kind of Job Matter?

To combat this, India in particular has passed a law called the “Right of Persons with Disabilities Act” in April 2017. This law spells out the rules for companies who are employing people with disabilities. Furthermore, this law reserves government-level jobs to be filled by people who have disabilities. This is a huge step in creating a more diverse, accepting world.

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