Advocating for disabled employees is no longer trendy — it’s essential. If your company fails to advocate for disabled employees or discriminates against them, you could find your workplace culture tanking and lawsuits on your horizon. Recently, CACI was ordered to pay $150,000 for failure to provide reasonable accommodations. Additionally, word travels faster than ever now, and being known as an advocate for accessibility will ensure you draw the best talent to your company.
Inclusive hiring should be a vital component of your overall strategy as a company. However, it can be tough to know just how accessible your hiring and onboarding processes are. Here’s a quick check-list to ensure you are actively encouraging disabled talent to apply:
- Reconsider your word choice in job descriptions. Does your language purposefully aim to include as many people as possible? Might someone feel excluded due to factors outside of their ability to complete critical tasks required for the role?
- Ensure you have a clear accessibility statement to demonstrate your commitment to accessibility and to illustrate your existing accessibility practices.
- Standardize your interview questions to ensure you are providing a fair platform without unconscious biases.
- Throughout the onboarding process, you must provide accessible materials. Use a free video editor to add subtitles on any necessary media.
Ensuring your hiring process is inclusive will take time and effort. You may have to ask yourself some difficult questions and make some significant changes to your current practices. However, the rewards far outweigh the difficulties, particularly as disabled talent makes up “one of the largest underutilized labor pools.”
Hopefully, your organization already employs folks from diverse backgrounds and with disabilities. However, just hiring with diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in mind is nowhere near the finishing line. Instead, as most HR managers understand, your company must create a culture of inclusion and adaptability.
While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to accessibility in the workplace, one of the best steps you can take is to open a forum for accessibility discussions with employees. For example, consider running an Employee Resource Group where employees can discuss accessibility and can advocate for one another. Even better: promote the discussion’s findings across the company to create a more accessible workplace and create a culture where disabled employees’ opinions are valued.
Creating Accessible User Experiences
Up to 40% of jobs in the USA can be completed remotely. This means that, in the coming years, more of your employees will be working from home. As such, HR departments must ensure online materials are accessible and fall in line with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards. To ensure your user experience (UX) is accessible, your developers must be briefed to follow WCAG guidelines and “POUR” principles:
- Perceivable: can all users perceive the content? Do you need to provide captions for hearing-impaired users? Do you need to create adjustable fonts for users with visual impairments?
- Operable: is your user interface functional for all users? Have you checked that your content can be read by a screen-reader? Are all users given the time they need to use your site effectively?
- Understandable: do you use jargon or field-specific idioms on your site? If so, ensure you embed clear definitions within your content. From a developer’s perspective, ensure your language tags are functional throughout the site.
- Robust: ensure your content is functional and avoids common errors for assistive technologies (screen readers, voice recognition, etc.). Regularly test new and existing content to ensure assistive technologies run smoothly on your site.
Ultimately, creating an accessible UX is an act of innovation that will better all levels of your business and improve your bottom line. Accessible UX helps your company avoid legal liabilities, promotes an inclusive culture in the workplace, and can even draw higher profits from new and repeat customers.
Career Advancement for Disabled Employees
If employees with disabilities aren’t able to advance their careers within your company, then you have not created an accessible and inclusive work environment. Folks with disabilities should have the same access to professional development, performance feedback, and internal hiring as any other employee. In fact, it is against federal law to discriminate against employees based on disability. To ensure your entire company is founded on a culture of accessibility, you can take a few simple steps with accessibility advocacy in mind.
Ensure your performance reviews are fair, clear, and based on pre-established performance indicators. During performance reviews, Tracie DeFrietas (ADA Specialist + Principal Consultant at the Job Accommodation Network) suggests using phrases like, “If you believe there is anything we can do to support you in meeting the required performance standards, please let [XYZ person] know.” This way, you can ensure your employees feel supported and have clear processes to communicate any issues they may be facing.
By creating clear pathways to career development, you ensure all your employees understand your expectations and can develop alongside your company. A 2015 study by the ADA advocates for the use of proven career development programs (conferences, training, rotational assignments, and more) suggests that a portion of all spending on career development should be set aside to help employees with disabilities gain access to career development opportunities.
Reasonable adjustments involve making accommodations for employees or candidates during hiring and employment. Contrary to popular belief, making reasonable adjustments is not special treatment, and can often be as simple as ensuring that an employee with arthritis has access to an ergonomic keyboard. It can be hard to know exactly which accommodations your company should make, but JAN’s accommodation search tool might help you discover some new resources to implement in the workplace.
Advocating for your disabled employees is not just a moral imperative, it is also in your best interest as a company with a bottom line. Advocating for accessibility ensures everyone has the opportunity to do the work they love to the best of their ability at your company.
By Indiana Lee, BOSS contributor