Tips for Onboarding and Training Employees With Disabilities

Published October 26, 2021

Employee onboarding can take can last from weeks to months depending on the position. The early days of an employee’s career are often filled with endless meetings with the Human Resources department, training sessions, and an overwhelming amount of new information.

One of your objectives as the hiring manager is to optimize the hiring process to help employees retain as much of the materials that you share with them as possible. An effective training process can help your team members jump right into work and feel confident in what they are doing.

Good onboarding starts with accessibility. By creating accessible materials that are presented effectively, you can create a more inclusive experience for your new hires. Follow this guide to update your hiring process for your workers.  

Create a virtual office tour

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers wanted to give their new hires a tour of the office but couldn’t bring them in just yet. This led some managers to create virtual office tours that show new employees where to park, how to enter the building, and where important areas are. Even if your team is fully back in the office, you can create an accessible experience with a virtual tour.

A virtual tour can prepare new hires for what they are about to experience, which means the new environment will be less overstimulating. Additionally, you can highlight different accessibility features within your office, so your new hires don’t have to ask about them.

This is a feature that can benefit all employees who are nervous about their first few days at work.

Ensure easy building access for guests and employees

Oftentimes, accessibility takes a back seat to security. While an entrance might be accessible according to ADA guidelines, it’s not uncommon for businesses to lock their doors or require team members to scan their badges to enter. This process is even harder for new hires who don’t have their badges yet and who your reception staff might not recognize.

Evaluate the accessibility of your office for both employees and for guests or new hires. Will someone who is visually impaired know how to buzz into the office? How can your receptionist communicate through the intercom with someone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing?

The entrance of the office is your first impression. If your front door isn’t accessible, who knows what other areas of the building are restrictive to your team members?

Invest in multi-device onboarding software

How can new hires access your training materials? Some companies still keep their training and onboarding documents on the company intranet and require employees to review the information in person. There are many reasons why this process isn’t accessible.

  • Your new hires have to visit your physical location for onboarding, which requires time, transportation, and childcare.
  • Your onboarding devices might not be accessible – they might not offer the tools that employees with disabilities use to navigate digital information.
  • You assume that everyone learns in the same environment by creating a one-size-fits-all training room.

Instead, look for onboarding tools that can be accessed on any device, from a desktop computer to a smartphone. Let employees complete their onboarding processes at home before they officially start working for you. You can still provide on-site training for employees who don’t have at-home internet access, but accessibility means providing options that reduce barriers.

From a security perspective, there are many systems that allow for encryption and multi-factor authentication to access sensitive documents. You can consult your IT department to ensure all company and employee information is safe, even when viewed remotely.

Enable offline access and downloadable content

Even if you have an accessible system, your new hires might need to download your training materials to view them within certain support tools. They may take longer to review, causing the page to time out. Make sure your materials are easy to download and can be used offline.

Downloadable resources also provide economic accessibility to your employees. Your staff members can access the information at a place with WiFi (like the local library) and continue reading it at home or in a place without the internet. They aren’t required to stay in one place to review your training materials.

Share training materials in multiple formats

There are multiple ways to train your new team members. Video tutorials, written guides, and sample activities can help your employees feel more confident when they start work. As you develop training materials, consider creating the same materials in different formats. For example, a chapter on workplace safety could have a written transcript, a video, and an audio recording.

Not only will these resources benefit employees with disabilities, but they will also help candidates who have different learning styles. A person who learns visually might prefer watching videos while another employee prefers to listen to the recording.

Test your training materials against assistive technology

Even with multiple types of training materials, you may encounter employees who use assistive technology (like screen readers or subtitles) to navigate your content. To maximize accessibility, test all of your training materials against these common tools.

Pre-testing will also create a smoother onboarding process for employees with disabilities. They won’t feel like a burden because your HR department needs to scramble to accommodate them. Instead, your accessible systems will already be in place. Accessible systems are standard features, not special exceptions.

Provide clear instructions to navigate the system

Software developers and web designers often talk about intuitive design or the idea that users can immediately understand how a system works because they have experienced similar tools before. We have all been taught how to navigate the web, from the first click of a mouse to the latest app we've downloaded. However, many argue there is no such thing as intuitive design.

Don’t assume that your training systems are intuitive. Provide clear instructions for navigating the pages and troubleshooting problems. You might also want someone on-call or on-site to help with training, that way human assistance is only a few minutes away.

Pair new hires with a mentor

Any new hire will likely have questions about where to go or who to ask for certain issues. These concerns can range from clarifying PTO policies to learning who does what within each department. One way to enable a smoother transition is to pair new employees with mentors, or seasoned employees who are eager to help others.

Try to pair mentees with mentors who are outside of their departments – or at least with someone who doesn’t work with them directly. This can prevent conflicts of interest and hierarchal concerns. If the new hire has an accessibility concern or HR issue, they won’t feel unsafe asking their mentor because they don’t work directly with them.

Request feedback from the hiring process

If you are truly committed to creating a welcoming and accessible hiring process, then you need to be ready to listen. Take time to collect feedback from employees on the onboarding and training steps they complete. Invite them to evaluate your accessibility with a critical eye. Even if you strive to create an accessible environment, there may be areas to improve that you haven’t noticed yet.

To learn more about increasing accessibility in the hiring process, explore other articles in this series. Start by improving your recruiting process and then take steps to make your interviews more accessible.

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