Most people hear the word “disability” and think down upon it. They believe people with disabilities will not be able to work as efficiently as non-disabled people. Unemployment rate for people with disabilities is double the rate of others. While workplaces have made progress in accommodating workers with disabilities, there are still many challenges that need to be addressed. The discrimination, inclusion, and lack of accessibility are all challenges that workers with disabilities face. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in hiring, but even with legal protections in place, individuals with disabilities still face discrimination in the workplace. They may experience negative attitudes, assumptions about their abilities, and unequal treatment. Such discrimination can make it challenging for workers with disabilities to succeed in their roles, access opportunities for career advancement, and feel valued as employees.
Contrary to popular belief, there should actually be a high demand for more inclusion because studies show that companies who prioritize disability inclusion are more profitable overall. Employers think of hiring workers with disabilities as an act of doing good, but you should be hiring them because of their strengths, not out of pity. In one US survey, 89% of employers who embraced disability as part of their talent strategy saw increases in employee retention.
In Tiffany Yu’s TED Talk, she talks about these issues and how to overcome them. She is paralyzed in one arm and has dealt with many demands as a disabled worker. She believes there are three main things every workplace can do to truly welcome people with disabilities.
The first is to stop making assumptions. Culture tends to treat disability as a medical diagnosis or a charity case, she says, while we need to be seeing people with disabilities just as peers and equals. Making assumptions leads to avoidance - not asking about their lives or inviting them out anywhere. The fear of saying something wrong leads to people saying nothing at all and treating people with disabilities like they are invisible, when they just want to be seen, heard, and accepted. Instead of jumping to conclusions about things they can’t do, ask them first. Ask the same sort of questions you would anyone else. You can even talk about boundaries to make sure you do not overstep.
The second way workplaces can become more welcoming is to rethink accessibility. Many workplaces are not designed to accommodate individuals with disabilities, making it difficult for them to navigate the physical environment. This can include inaccessible buildings, workstations, restrooms, and parking areas. Such inaccessibility can limit the ability of workers with disabilities to perform their duties efficiently and can lead to frustration and feelings of isolation. Creating spaces with accessibility in mind is very important. Disabilities can vary so much and it is probable that there are people with disabilities in your workplace that you didn’t even know had them.
Tiffany appreciated getting a questionnaire about how the accessibility is in her office and proactively asking if certain new things would be helpful or not; for example, specific assistive technology devices. Assistive technology can help individuals with disabilities to overcome barriers in the workplace, such as communication, mobility, access to information, and feeling included. With the help of assistive technology, workers with disabilities can perform their duties effectively and independently, increasing their productivity and job satisfaction. Something like that questionnaire shows there are people thinking and caring about her needs. Other examples of how to become more accessible is listing accessibility options at a work event or automatically turning on closed captions on a Zoom call.
The employers in a workplace should be constantly asking the question “what do my employees need in order to thrive?”
Employees also need to feel included to thrive. An opportunity for inclusion in the workplace is the presence of diversity and inclusion programs. These programs can help create a workplace culture that values diversity, fosters inclusivity, and celebrates differences. Such programs can help to reduce discrimination and create a more welcoming and supportive work environment for individuals with disabilities. This can also include providing disability awareness training to all employees to help them understand the needs and challenges faced by workers with disabilities.
The last step in becoming a more welcoming workplace is embracing flexibility, such as remote work environments and flexible work hours. People with disabilities had been advocating for those accommodations for a long time and they have only become common now, after a pandemic. This is not the first time an accommodation has helped the mainworld - for example, the idea of closed captions. Lots of innovation comes from disability and we need to be open to embracing that. It is so important workplaces keep these things in mind as we progress through the future.
In conclusion, we must keep Tiffany's wise words in mind and remember that workplaces need to stop making assumptions, rethink accessibility, and embrace flexibility. This will not only be beneficial to workers with disabilities, but also to everyone else in the work environment, so think about what you can do personally to help achieve these goals today!
Image Credit: Creator: skynesher
Image Description: Employees sitting around a table, one in a wheelchair, in a meeting