Creating a More Inclusive Workplace: A Practical Guide

By: Danielle Chazen

corporate learning and disabilities


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1 in 4 US adults, or 61MM Americans, have a disability that impacts major life activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet only 4% of employees, identify “as having a disability” in the workplace, reported the National Organization on Disability.

More individuals with disabilities are finding employment opportunities, but “only 1 in 20 young adults with learning disabilities receive accommodations in the workplace,” according to The National Center for Learning Disabilities.

The employment-population ratio for persons with a disability increased from 18.7% in 2017 to 19.1% in 2018, according to a 2018 US Department of Labor report.

Companies use a variety of resources to recruit talent with disabilities, including community partners and disability job boards. However, the National Organization on Disability’s 2019 Disability Employment Tracker revealed that only 13% of companies “have reached the Department of Labor target of 7% disability representation.”

There is still a long way to go then for true corporate inclusivity.

Hiring People with Disabilities Isn’t Just Right, It’s Proving Profitable

Disability champions, or companies “that stood out for leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion” over the previous four years, proved to perform “above-average financially” in the 2018 report by Accenture.

“Champions achieved – on average – 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins over the four-year period we analyzed,” shared the report.

Not only do champions get access to a larger talent pool, but to a talent pool that increases their competitive advantage. “People [with disabilities], who have spent their lives adapting to challenges in their environment, can bring productivity, ingenuity and problem-solving skills to the workplace,” explained Training Industry.

Moreover, according to Harvard Business Review, “research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.

In fact, SAP’s “managers say that [the company’s four-year inclusivity efforts] are already paying off beyond reputational enhancement. These ways include productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement.

Nick Wilson, the managing director of HPE South Pacific – an organization with one of the largest inclusivity programs – says that no other initiative in his company delivers benefits at so many levels, reported Harvard Business Review.

Companies that want similar results can leverage employee training to drive inclusivity and growth.

Implementing Universal Design for Learning in The Workplace

Employee training programs can be designed with universal design for learning (UDL) techniques in mind. Instead of planning programs without considering employees’ diverse needs, and then making adjustments when needed, corporations can plan ahead intentionally.

For example, instead of waiting to discover you have an employee who is hard of hearing, deaf or has a learning disability, add real time captions to all virtual meetings with remote workers and embed captions in pre-recorded training courses. Corporations can offer transcriptions for these courses and meetings as well.

Instead of waiting to discover you have an employee with neurodiverse needs, such as people with autism or ADHD, or sensory issues, business leaders can make headphones available for employees to use as they work on their daily tasks.

Proven Benefits For All Employees

Inclusive approaches won’t only benefit specific team members, who will feel equally cared for and committed to the success of their work. This approach will benefit all employees.

Many employees do not disclose their disabilities, and some professionals just retain information better when they see it instead of hear it. Others may need extra support when the main spoken language in the company is their second or third language.

Designing corporate training for people with disabilities supports a wide variety of abilities and preferences, but also helps all team members personalize their learning paths and optimize their performance at your company.

Train Your Team About Inclusivity to Raise Awareness

Corporate culture is at the heart of thriving as an inclusive organization. Employee training programs are simply incomplete without a proactive effort to reduce stigma and raise awareness. To succeed, training programs must focus on both the challenges and rewards of inclusivity.

Focusing on the challenges that people with different disabilities face helps their coworkers support them more. Training could also help reshape organizational processes. Corporate learning leaders can gain valuable information about work processes that disempower and empower those with varying abilities, and use findings to set managers up for success when leading diverse teams.

Create Knowledge Sharing Programs

Give team members the opportunity to train each other. According to the Association for Talent Development, a 2016 study found that “in high-performance organizations, employees share knowledge with their colleagues at a rate four times greater than that of workers in lower-performing firms.”

Create forums for managers to share learned knowledge with each other. Sharing solutions can help provide employees with creative ideas on how to help employees with disabilities thrive. This knowledge sharing also helps keep professionals accountable for increasing inclusivity each year.

While some employees might be more sensitive, if those with disabilities feel comfortable sharing, companies could also organize sessions or groups where employees with disabilities directly share their challenges with company stakeholders and counterparts. Team members can benefit from gained perspectives of people with different viewpoints and, simultaneously, create opportunities for bonding.

Give Team Members with Disabilities the Tools They Need to Succeed

Another important step toward inclusivity is actively letting team members with disabilities know that the company is open to giving them more resources. Assign employees a go-to person to approach when encountering challenges to create a process and further transparency without fear of judgement.

It’s also crucial to make all employees aware of all available resources live and online to ensure even those who aren’t disclosing their disability publicly are aware of them.

How to Serve Team Members Who Don’t Disclose

To help their non-disclosing employees succeed, companies should implement the UDL approach that many universities are now implementing. Offering captions and transcriptions for all virtual meetings and courses, supports all employees not just those who are hard of hearing for example.

Companies should also provide more forums for anonymous feedback. Managers could then be told that someone on their team has a certain disability, without revealing her or his own name. Anonymous feedback could include suggestions for changes in work processes or company culture that could better support all employees.

Companies who commit to diversity are doing well in the long run – both culturally and financially. They’re retaining employees, garnering the interest of potential employees who are intrigued by their goals, gaining employees’ trust, and increasing their bottom line.

When employees believe in a company’s corporate and cultural missions, they are more committed to its success and produce strong work as a result.