During the challenging last couple of years, corporations showed the world that when they need to adapt, they can. That adaptability included some accommodations, including work-from-home arrangements that people within the disability community have been requesting for years, but to little or no avail.
To this point, Russell Shaffer, Walmart’s Senior Director of Global Culture, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, quoted an old adage, “never waste a good disaster.” Shaffer, who lost his vision in his late 20s, pointed out that as companies return to the office, they can bring some of the best parts of the pandemic in line with the best parts of life before COVID prompted unprecedented changes to workplace norms. For instance, now is an excellent time to start looking at corporate inclusivity policies and making them better.
Along with Disability:IN’s Director of Global Disability Equality Index, Dorothy Garcia, Shaffer recently joined Verbit for a webinar focused on creating inclusive companies. Both experts shared actionable tips for supporting employees with disabilities while building stronger businesses. Here are a few key takeaways from the event.
Growing Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities
Garcia stated that in 2021, companies were putting in more effort than ever to hire people with disabilities. However, even when employers were struggling to fill roles, she stated that “people with disabilities are still much more likely to be unemployed.”
Stigmas persist and continue to damage the employment possibilities for people with disabilities. Shaffer pointed out compelling reasons to combat those stigmas and seek out these individuals. For instance, people with disabilities often possess some of the skills corporations need most because “lived experience of living with a disability in many instances creates value-added differentiators like adaptability, resiliency and innovation.”
With employers having more experience with flexible work arrangements and businesses experiencing a greater need for talent, the present corporate landscape could create plentiful opportunities for people with disabilities. Companies that put in the effort to make these relationships successful have a chance to benefit.
How to Improve Corporate Inclusivity
Building an inclusive environment is about so much more than hiring people with disabilities. Shaffer and Garcia offered several actionable tips for businesses that want to make meaningful changes in their organizations.
Create an Employee Resource Group
Garcia said that “if you don’t have an employee resource group that’s focused on people with disabilities, then you need to start one.” That employee resource group (ERG) should be “led by people with disabilities” but needs the support of people in executive positions as well.
At Disability:In, Garcia found that many improvements to accessibility within companies tend to stem from active ERGs. As she stated, “who’s in a better position to point out the gaps and the opportunities in your inclusive efforts than your own employees?” By having an organized ESG, “you have a collective voice,” which spurs change much faster than “having one or two people stand up for something.”
Develop Pathways for Growth
Unfortunately, some companies treat hiring people with disabilities as a form of charity rather than fostering an environment where these employees can thrive. Shaffer stated that “J-O-B is just an acronym for just over broke, and we’ve got to create careers and pathways for people with disabilities in order to be able to move just beyond the threshold of the organization.”
Garcia echoed the same sentiment and indicated, “the goal here is not just hiring,” but to “make sure that there are people in leadership positions as well so that anybody new that you hire can actually see themselves in upper management and see a way forward for advancement.”
Whether through mentorship, training opportunities or by sourcing employees with disabilities for leadership positions, the goals are access to upward mobility and representation at every level of the organization.
Stop Thinking of Accommodations as Costly
When corporate leaders think about accommodations for employees with disabilities, they may have misconceptions regarding the associated costs. Shaffer stated that most accommodations don’t involve any costs at all. Instead, accommodations often require adjustments to processes that help employees work better. Even when there is a cost associated with the accommodation, it’s typically under $500.
At Walmart, Shaffer says leaders streamlined the process by creating a “centralized accommodations funded service center team where we empower our managers to provide accommodations for their associates that are a little to no cost.” Reducing any friction that might make it more challenging to support employees with disabilities and demonstrating a commitment to accommodations can break down the barriers that many employees with disabilities face in the workplace.
Aim for Built-in Accessibility
Although it’s easy to conflate accessibility and accommodations, Shaffer pointed out that these terms refer to two different concepts. Accommodations support individual employees, but corporations can negate the need for many of these requests by incorporating universal design principles, which strive to include everyone from the start.
Shaffer used the “curb-cut effect” to illustrate the meaning of accessibility. He explained that curb cuts were initially designed “for individuals who utilize wheelchairs to be able to navigate city streets and be able to get around.”
However, the design has benefits that far exceed the original intention and now “anybody or anything that’s on wheels, whether it’s a cyclist or a parent pushing a baby stroller or a business traveler pulling their suitcase or furniture movers with a dolly, whatever the case are using that curb cut to increase their efficiency and to create convenience.”
According to Shaffer, “If we think about things in a universal way when we design with the most marginalized individual in mind and ensure that we’re creating something where they’re going to be included, then we’re going to create a much better, richer experience for those who don’t necessarily need that, but can still benefit from it. That’s accessibility.”
Business leaders taking this approach to accessibility may decide to caption all of their audio content or ensure that the technology they’re using is accessible for people who are blind. As they make these investments and efforts to increase accessibility, companies will likely want to find a way to track their progress.
Measuring Inclusivity and Progress
One of the main concerns that leaders have about improving their inclusivity is how to achieve measurable results. Wondering about the measurability of initiatives is valid both for corporations and people with disabilities. In fact, Shaffer pointed out that when companies talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, they often reference race and gender factors and the LGBTQ community but fail to mention people with disabilities explicitly.
Shaffer said this approach is problematic because “what gets mentioned gets measured, what gets measured matters. If we are serious about disability inclusion explicitly, then we explicitly need to talk about disability.”
One way to measure a company’s inclusivity is with Disability:IN’s Disability Equality Index. Garcia noticed that some corporate leaders are apprehensive about getting their initial measurement because they are afraid of receiving poor scores. She pointed out that “you shouldn’t be scared off by an initial score when the goal is really inclusion.”
Corporations that want to make meaningful changes rather than just checking off a box should be willing to look at the flaws in their current practices so that they can develop plans to fix any deficiencies.
As Shaffer puts it, “you won’t get it right, right away, but the only way you can get it wrong is by doing nothing at all.”
As you look to bring more accessibility into your business and take on more inclusive practices, it may help to start by looking at some of the most frequently requested accommodations, like closed captions. Verbit is serving as an essential partner for businesses striving to offer more accessible environments and content to their employees, consumers and audiences. Verbit’s captioning, transcription and audio description solutions are helping to make workplaces and brands more inclusive to individuals with disabilities, among others. Contact us to learn more about how to implement inclusivity-boosting tools at your company.