How to Actively Promote a Culture of Inclusion and Accessibility at Your Workplace
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The annual campaign aims to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities.
Every NDEAM, various events, workshops, job fairs, and seminars promote disability awareness and inclusion. Several educational initiatives also highlight the skills, talents, and accomplishments of those with disabilities in the workforce.
However, creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace for employees with disabilities requires understanding, empathy, and proactive measures year-round. There are many ways in which employers can help those with disabilities feel more welcome in the workplace.
Lori Scharff, Lead Content Contractor at APH CareerConnect®, holds a Masters in Social Work from Fordham University and is a certified Work Incentive Practitioner from Cornell University. Lori, who has low vision, offers tips for employers and employees to promote inclusion and accessibility all year.
Tip 1 – Prioritize two-way communication.
Lori says, “Communication for people with disabilities as well as all employees is especially and vitally important because once you have a single misunderstanding, many problems can occur.” She says it is important for those who are blind or low vision to speak up and speak clearly about their needs, as often the employer may not be aware there is an issue, and a manager can’t solve a problem if they are unaware it exists.
Lori offers an example of when to speak up: “As someone who is blind or has low vision, having braille signage at entryways would greatly assist. Although accessible signage existed above a door at a previous workplace, it remained inaccessible to read due to its height.”
Tip 2 – Foster a culture of inclusion.
Lori says there isn’t one solid way to create a culture of inclusion; it is more a compilation of smaller acts of care that add up to a strong, inclusive culture. Offering accessibility tools on the company website, utilizing descriptions of images both in presentations and in website imagery, ensuring the physical environment is inviting, and asking those with disabilities and blindness/ low vision what they need to perform their job best are all examples of things that create an inclusive culture.
Lori asks, “Is the HR manual easy to read? Easily accessible? Promoting a supportive culture ensures all documents associated with employee tasks are accessible. Make sure the time tracking system, if there is one, is as accessible as possible. If something is not accessible, be clear on the workaround. Making things as easy as possible is the best way to create a culture of inclusion.”
Tip 3 – Consider offering a mentor/mentee program.
Lori suggests that Mentor/Mentee Programs benefit new employees or those whose job responsibilities change. The purpose and benefit are that they can learn from each other. Lori stresses, “Even if someone is not disabled, having a program is beneficial in creating a positive learning environment.”
Tip 4 –Introduce Employee Resource Groups.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) offer a platform for employers to promote a welcoming environment for diverse employee groups. Lori explains, “ERGs are compelling since they provide a safe space for a specific subset of individuals. They help enhance the sense of welcome, comfort, and acceptance. In a small group setting, individuals with disabilities might be more inclined to share their challenges, benefiting everyone.”
Tip 5 – Ask employees with disabilities for feedback.
“If you have employees who are disabled, ask them for input regarding your website and physical workplace. As a service provider, you want to help your employees and customers. Maybe reach outside of the employees. Exclusivity goes beyond your employees, as reaching out to other segments of the population helps develop more programs and services of support,” stresses Lori.
Tip 6 – Sustain inclusivity beyond NDEAM.
Lori underscores the significance of continuous inclusivity efforts. She states, “My concern with National Disability Employment Awareness Month is that it shouldn’t be confined to a single month; it deserves year-round celebration. It’s about seeing the bigger picture.”
By implementing some of these insights, workplaces can actively promote a culture of inclusion and accessibility that transcends NDEAM and permeates every facet of their operations.