An effective workplace is a diverse workplace. Multiple studies show that groups with diverse backgrounds drive innovation. People with different perspectives can provide new ideas that inspire teams and present fresh solutions. This means companies that are diverse and inclusive have a higher potential to thrive.
However, inclusion isn’t something that you can passively value in your company. Many organizations need to build a culture around inclusivity regarding race, gender, background, and ability. It is something you need to fight for.
One place to start within your organization is with a disability inclusion plan. This serves as a road map for your departments to create a healthier environment that attracts employees with different backgrounds and perspectives. A disability inclusion plan can create safe spaces for employees who might otherwise downplay or hide their needs.
Follow this guide to develop a disability inclusion plan that can evolve as your company grows.
Disability inclusion is for everyone
The first thing to remember as you develop your inclusion plan is that you aren’t necessarily targeting employees with disabilities – or at least you aren’t creating this plan just for them. Inclusion benefits everyone by creating safe work environments for those with disabilities and those without. Many people with invisible disabilities hide their conditions from their employers while other workers never even seek diagnoses because they are worried about how they will be treated. Do you have a work environment where people are afraid to have a disability?
To get an idea of your objectives, consider how Karen Blacher, a New York teacher, developed her elementary-school classroom. She created a space that would be fit for neurodiverse students, even though she only had neurotypical learners.
“When we treat autistic children the way the world tells us to treat neurotypical children, they suffer,” Blacher says. “But I have never encountered a single human being, of any age or neurotype, who doesn't thrive when treated like an autistic person. (I mean, of course, treated the way an autistic person OUGHT to be treated.)”
Your goal with your disability inclusion plan is to create a safe work environment for people with disabilities, for people with undiagnosed disabilities, and for any worker who accepts your employment.
Inclusion isn’t just for employee onboarding or annual reviews
As you develop your disability inclusion plan, keep in mind that this process isn’t just part of new-hire training and it isn’t something you bring out during annual meetings or quarterly town halls.
According to a survey by Traliant and World Business Research, 30 percent of companies only review their DEI efforts on an annual basis, while 33 percent review it on a biannual basis. Your inclusion plan should be part of your day-to-day workplace, not just a generalized idea.
Furthermore, only 58 percent of DEI leaders say their CEO and executive leadership are involved in decisions related to inclusion. This shows that many organizations treat DEI as a human resources issue rather than a whole-company priority.
Empower each employee to work toward inclusion
In the same way that disability inclusion isn’t just for HR departments, it also isn’t something that managers implement and control. Each employee, from your highest executive to your newest intern, should be involved in your disability plan. This means they should feel empowered to talk about their experiences while taking steps to create a more accessible workplace.
“We're likely to speak up if we're confident that our ideas will have an impact on our organization, and especially if we think they will have a positive outcome for ourselves and our team,” says Adi Gaskell, an innovation writer, and consultant. “By contrast, silence is more common if we're not confident enough to take interpersonal risks at work or if we fear we'll be shunned for speaking up.”
Within your plan, consider how each employee can contribute to your inclusion goals and how you can improve the work environment of each individual team member.
Work with teams to set actionable goals
Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become popular buzzwords in corporate society for a few years now. However, few companies are able to showcase concrete results after launching DEI plans and discussing their programs at employee team meetings. Review whether or not your inclusion plans are actionable, measurable, and beneficial to your company in a concrete way.
By focusing your efforts on actionable items, you will also stretch the amount of interest your team members have in your inclusion practices.
“Diversity fatigue is real,” says Aubrey Blanche, the Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian. “You get frustrated by all this discussion not turning into meaningful action. It’s a fight that takes resources and energy, and it’s hard to stay committed when you’re barely seeing results.”
Eventually, your employees will start to tune out your messages because there are no real actions behind them. Team members will be disillusioned when they don’t get the support they need, despite promising to focus on inclusion.
Build your inclusion plan on a foundation of individualized accommodation
The spectrum of disabilities is incredibly diverse, and people with disabilities have varying experiences and needs. One of the best examples of this is people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Not everyone who is deaf uses American Sign Language. They may prefer lipreading or use an alternate form of communication. Some people who become deaf later in life might prefer to respond with spoken language while receiving information through ASL.
Unfortunately, many human resource teams make assumptions about the accommodation that employees use. They might assume that someone who is deaf needs an ASL interpreter. This interpreter is well-meaning, but not helpful if your employee doesn’t use ASL.
Consider establishing a dedicated team member who can work with individuals to provide the accommodations they need or would prefer. They can meet with team members across various departments to discuss their preferences and serve as an objective party to advocate for employee needs.
You may be surprised to find that reasonable accommodation is more affordable than you think. More than half of employee accommodations cost nothing to execute. Of accommodations that come with a cost, most are only one-time expenses and the majority are less than $500.
Review the disability inclusion plans of others
Turn to the disability inclusion plans from other companies (and especially those within your industry) to understand what you should include and how you can develop an effective policy. For example, the United Nations has a strong disability inclusion strategy for its work and in its global efforts.
Comparing policies from other firms can guide your efforts while learning what you need to expand upon. Keep in mind that the official published policies might only be the first steps for many organizations. They likely have internal documents that provide actionable insights to support their big-picture ideas.
Bring in a professional disability consultant
If you still need assistance with your disability inclusion plan – or if you want a professional opinion from an external source – consider hiring a consultant or working with an agency that helps companies develop and implement inclusion plans. You can find local consultants in your area or work with experts on a national scale.
These professionals will help you develop clear goals for inclusion and provide a framework so you can create an effective inclusion plan. You don’t have to build these policies on your own.
Be willing to listen
Well-meaning efforts don’t always result in effective policies and messages. It’s entirely possible (if not probable) that you will make mistakes in your inclusion efforts. You will develop policies that are overbroad and hurt more than they help. You will make employees feel left out, even when you try to accommodate everyone.
The best way to overcome these miscues is to be willing to listen. When an employee has a concern over a policy, listen to their experiences and consider their alternative solutions. Have an open-door policy where team members can provide feedback and consider providing an option to make this feedback anonymous.
No one wants to be told about their life experiences from someone who has never lived through them. This applies to all of your DEI efforts.
Learn more about disability in the workplace
At Accessibility.com, we strive to provide resources for employers and organizations who want to create a more accessible, inclusive environment. Use our site to guide your inclusion plan efforts so you can create a better workspace for employees with and without disabilities.