According to LinkedIn data, positions dedicated to diversity recently grew 104% in just five years. The number of Chief Diversity Officers also jumped by 68%. The good news is corporations are clearly investing much more in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. However, the widely used term DEI often means that advocates aren’t accounting for accessibility.
DEIA, as a term, is growing in popularity. In fact, the Biden Administration’s plan uses the DEIA acronym, specifically including accessibility. Adding the additional letter is a logical step for professionals working in diversity and corporate leaders striving to build strong, inclusive workforces. After all, without accessibility, inclusivity efforts will inevitably exclude millions of people- making them not really inclusive at all.
Although corporations have strategies in place to support employees with reported disabilities, DEIA efforts must extend beyond checking boxes and complying with laws. It’s important to understand why DEI initiatives without the “A” fall short. Plus, business leaders who don’t support their diverse workforces and offer greater accessibility measures are likely to see a negative impact due to today’s expectations.
Why Leaving out the “A” in DEIA is problematic for businesses
There are 600,000 Americans who are Deaf and many more who are hard of hearing. This number only references one specific type of disability among the many that impact millions of people in the US. While some of these disabilities are obvious, others aren’t. In those cases, it’s up to the individual to share their disability with those they meet, including their employers.
Sadly, fear of stigmas can get in the way of people revealing their disabilities. Those fears aren’t unwarranted either. In fact, 36% of people believe that people with disabilities are less productive than others. Unconscious bias towards employees with disabilities is even more prevalent than other common biases related to race or gender. Also, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s numbers support these findings as the most common employment-related discrimination in recent years relates to disabilities.
These biases contribute to the disproportionately low employment rate among people with disabilities. Many of those individuals are experienced, educated and talented professionals who could fill much-needed positions and boost corporate productivity. However, when people are afraid to report their disabilities, they can't work with their employers to find mutually beneficial solutions.
One of the most important things for employers to realize is that creating an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their needs will lead to more productivity. Another important factor to keep in mind is that most accommodations are less expensive than a business might initially suspect.
Accessibility accommodations don’t come with a high price tag
Accessibility advocates often point out that, in most cases, accommodations are free. Creative thinking can solve many of the challenges that employees with disabilities face in the workforce. Even when an employee does need a solution that comes at a cost, the expense tends to be modest. On average, each accommodation will cost around $500.
Most of the time, a price tag of $500 or less will be well-worthwhile when it allows employees to be more productive and successful in their roles. Fortunately, businesses can start fostering great work environments by looking at a few strategies for supporting their employees.
Strategies for supporting employees with disabilities
Plenty of leadership strategies can boost DEIA and make workplaces more inviting for people with disabilities. Those same efforts can solve other business problems like filling positions and keeping employees. In fact, overall employee retention significantly rises when employers make efforts to accommodate their employees with disabilities.
Here are a few ways companies can boost DEIA by focusing specifically on accessibility.
Break down hiring barriers
Thanks to laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, most employers already know they need to accommodate employees with disabilities. However, some may not realize that requirements kick in at the job search stage. Additionally, even without the legal issues related to accommodating job candidates, making applications accessible is the right move.
Accomplishing this requires some simple fixes and attention to website accessibility. For example, applications should always work with screen readers. Features like buttons or links should also include descriptions so that people who are blind can complete forms. It's also smart to add accommodation information directly to a website. Taking these steps helps make it clear that a business values accessibility.
Also, while training employees to understand accessibility policies is essential, there’s no real replacement for representation. If the company has individuals with disabilities in leadership positions or among their employees who are willing to share their experiences, those messages will go a long way.
Act, don’t react
Sometimes employees need unique solutions to ensure they can reach their potential. However, there are also common accessibility tools that companies can offer proactively. Putting these solutions in place removes the burden of requesting accommodations.
For instance, accessibility partners like Verbit are working with businesses so that they can caption their content, transcribe their meetings and more to make daily environments more accessible. Individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those with learning disabilities or ADHD, then have the ability to participate in calls, events and daily communication with equity.
Additionally, while some employees with disabilities may need these accommodations to do their jobs, accommodations like captions, for example, can help out the entire workforce. They can help those who do not ‘need them’ stay focused, have notes and better retain the information. Implementing accessibility accommodations for all of your meetings, webinars and events without making people ask for them is a great place to start and will benefit so many of your employees and consumers.
Make it easy for employees to make requests
Requesting accommodations shouldn’t be a laborious process bound by red tape. Leaders can empower employees by having a department that handles requests quickly and efficiently. By pre-approving common or low-cost accommodations, companies can prevent frustration among their employees.
At a recent webinar hosted by Verbit, Walmart’s Senior Director of Global Culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion shared some of his company’s steps to improve the accommodation process. Shaffer explained that Walmart created and funded an accommodations service center that made it easy for managers to implement many of the accommodations their associates needed.
In the case of less common accommodation requests, employers should know the importance of listening. Fostering an open dialogue and having a solution-driven mindset will help ensure that employees are getting the support they need to thrive.
Going beyond ADA guidelines
To stay ahead of the curve rather than encounter thornier situations, company leaders must go beyond basic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. Remember that the law moves slowly. Simply adhering to ADA guidelines isn’t enough to make a company a leader in corporate DEIA or motivate prospective employees to come or customers to spend.
To put your best brand foot forward, train your team and leaders on international WCAG standards. They’re a great resource because they evolve quickly. As societal expectations change and technology continues to advance accessibility, the WCAG standards evolve to meet the moment.
Looking at the recommendations in the most recent WCAG guidelines is an excellent way to learn what’s possible and will eventually become standard. To be a true champion for diversity, inclusion and equity, you must include accessibility in your thought processes. Take a moment to consider how everyone is engaging with your brand, content and events. There are likely some small tweaks that can make them more accessible to all. It’s not costly, but the results will undoubtedly pay off.