In our last post, we highlighted a few companies that have been recognized for embodying disability inclusion in their workplaces. Inspired, we decided to create a list of six things every workplace can begin doing today to be more disability-inclusive. It’s important to recognize that this is not an exhaustive list and that each individual with a disability/disabilities will have their own preference(s). It’s also equally important to name that I am an able-bodied individual writing this, and have used my knowledge and sourcing of information to create this list for you. While I am a DEI practitioner and have insights on this topic and community, I advise that you always listen to people who experience the world as someone with a disability/disabilities, and don’t dismiss their experience(s) if they are different from or don’t align with your own. I encourage you to communicate with your employees and create a space where they feel comfortable communicating with you, so that you can make the proper accommodations to address their needs.
Here are six things you can do:
Recognize your ‘ableness’: It can be easy to not be aware of how your workplace culture, policies, and physical environment are not accommodating to all when you have mental, physical, and/or emotional privilege. What this means is that we live in a society that caters to able-bodied individuals, and so many of us don’t realize when something isn’t accommodating. The normalization of this creates an unawareness and we may say or do things in our workplace that are unaccessible or unaccommodating. Everyday Feminism wrote a great article listing ways this might manifest, if you’d like to learn more.
Avoid using ableist language: Let’s admit it, at some point in our lives, we have probably all used a term (e.g. retarded, blind spot, crazy, nuts, etc.) or phrase that is ableist and problematic. Most of these words and phrases have been normalized within our culture and can be especially harmful to people who have been given ostracising labels. Even if there isn’t someone in our workplace who we already know has a disability (because not all disabilities are visible), incorporating inclusive language allows us to be more intentional in supporting our belief that everyone matters. As eloquently said by Rachel Cohen- Rottenberg, a disability justice advocate, “If a culture’s language is full of pejorative metaphors about a group of people, that culture is not going to see those people as fully entitled to the same inclusion as people in a more favored group.” Here’s a site that shares ableist words and phrases with alternatives you can use, and a shorter list of ableist phrases with alternatives that you can print out and post in your workplace.
Provide information in accessible formats: Some people may have difficulty processing information the way you might. Thanks to modern technology, many of us are able to view information on a screen, but some people require that information be presented with their needs in mind. There are a ton of incredible resources on creating web-accessible websites; one of our favorites is the government’s website on Accessibility for Teams – embedding accessibility and inclusive design practices into your team’s workflow. Other points to consider are making sure an agenda is available prior to a meeting so that those who require more time to process information can do so and be able to contribute more fully during the meeting, always using a microphone in any large room setting so that those with hearing difficulties can hear everything, and providing captions for events and media.
Provide flexible work options: Remote work has become an enormously helpful option for those interested in creating a more inclusive workplace, and again, thanks to 21st century tech, it’s more possible than ever to get our work done while not being in the same physical space as our coworkers. While it’s not required that every workplace provide this accommodation, having this option for employees can help attract and retain employees with disabilities who are qualified for the job. Remote work can be valuable for a variety of reasons, and accommodating those with disabilities can be one of them.
Create opportunities for feedback: Your workplace might not be open to talking about disability inclusion, or it may just be starting to have this discussion. Wherever you are in your journey, one way to assess how well your company is doing with disability inclusion, if you’re in a position to do so, is to send a survey to your employees. If you already have an employee engagement or pulse survey that you use, consider tweaking it to include questions related to disability inclusion. Disability issues are a workplace issue and shouldn’t be treated as a separate or special problem that doesn’t concern “other people.” Dedicating a section to accessibility and disability issues in a survey sends a message to your team about where you stand when it comes to creating an inclusive space for people who have historically been excluded. Ask questions that focus on accommodations, and always make the survey anonymous. It’s the best way to get honest feedback.
Provide resources to employees: Sometimes what we do in our workplaces to be more inclusive isn’t always enough. Because we live in a society that has decided who matters and who does not, we still work within structures that perpetuate harmful narratives and create inaccessible spaces for many people, particularly people with disabilities. With this said, we have to be intentional about creating and providing resources both inside and outside of our workplaces so people feel supported. By doing this, we recognize that the hardships people with disabilities may face are not just in the workplace, but also in our larger society. These experiences directly impact an employee’s potential to be successful in the workplace. A few ways you can provide resources are:
- Through your website or other materials. Stating what you currently provide for people with disabilities is key. If that list does not exist, maybe it’s time to start thinking about what is needed in your workplace to create this list.
- You can also provide resources and information to potential new hires. Does your office provide accessibility information for candidates when they come in for an in-person interview?
- Normalize talking about disabilities during the onboarding process. Share with new employees that there are resources available if needed and who they should talk to if the resources are inaccessible/do not exist.
- If you are in a position to do so, consider providing resources for a disability-focused employee resource group. If you want to start one, check with your manager and human resources.
- Post tips and strategies internally. An example of this could be a website that shares ways in which people can make their technological devices easier to use. Or perhaps managers can share how best to go about requesting accommodations and/or equipment internally.
- Provide technology and physical resources for employees who may need different items from the majority of your staff. This could include things such as ergonomic chairs, standing desks, tablet mice, alternative lighting, a quiet space or room for employees to use during the day, signage in Braille, and more.
Creating an inclusive space doesn’t happen overnight. It can take time for your initiatives and changes to be accepted and practiced by everyone. Regardless of your role at the company, know that you can make changes to create a more inclusive space for those with disabilities, whether visible or invisible!
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