When it comes to accommodating employees with disabilities, keep in mind that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is concerned with increasing access for people with all kinds of disabilities—from physical conditions like blindness and multiple sclerosis to other types of diagnoses like ADHD or autism. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “[Focus] should be on the accommodation requested, whether it is reasonable, whether it can be provided without an undue hardship, and whether other accommodations can be considered.”
Diversity in the workplace should be seen not only as a human rights issue but also as a crucial part of remaining competitive in an ever-changing marketplace. If your organization puts all its people first, that policy is bound to have a positive effect on not only PR related to CSR-related reputation-building, but also on potential sales to an increasingly diverse consumer marketplace. Considering that 64 million Americans are officially diagnosed with some sort of disability, the potential for expanded company outreach is hardly insignificant.
What are a few best practices for making accommodations for all employees in the workplace in 2018? Here are a few ideas for HR managers and company leaders, as we close out the year.
Accommodating Employees with Intellectual Disabilities
Anne-Maria Yritys writes about the value of learning disabilities in the workplace, arguing that individuals living these diagnoses can teach us much about understanding the world in different, more expansive ways. In fact, different ways of thinking or functioning in the world can help us think about our company’s products and services from more points of view—a powerful argument for bringing more diverse marketing consultants into the UX conversation.
For example, Nos, Why Not? is a company based out of Galicia, Spain, with the explicit goal of supporting and enabling photographers with intellectual disabilities. Through the act of taking pictures of the physical world, individuals can transcend their mental diagnoses and become healed and empowered through the power of art—despite persistent societal stigma surrounding the differently-abled among us.
Accommodating Employees with Physical Disabilities
Fast Company’s Eillie Anzilotti recently explored the issue of accessibility from a Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standpoint, pointing out that Title III of the ADA requires all public and private institutions “render themselves accessible to those with sensory, cognitive, and physical limitations. However, Anzilotti points out, when the ADA was penned in 1990, the Internet wasn’t as much of “a thing” as it is now.
Enter Accessible360, a company that provides disability audits of company websites to help ensure any given site is accessible to variously-abled people. While we used to think of accessible design as wheelchair-accessible office design, voice commands, and sign language interpretation, the nature of our workplaces tend to be focused around digital literacy, fluency, and workplace tools like Slack and Google Docs. All employees need to feel comfortable accessing and utilizing those tools. How can HR departments ensure all employees’ needs are being met?
One way is by reaching out via confidential HR-administered surveys and polls. Another way is by offering up resources via floor-wide emails informing employees of the resources available to them. You may be surprised to discover which types of resources are most eagerly sought after, in the absence of disability-related self-identification.
Accommodating Employees with Invisible Disabilities
Conditions like dyslexia, depression, and ADHD can be next to impossible to spot, on the surface. This is is why it’s crucial that HR departments work with companies to accommodate employees with these conditions in the most discreet, professional manner available. For example, something as simple as providing noise-cancelling headphones and/or a quiet work area to help reduce auditory distractions can make all the difference in the world for employees’ productivity levels.
For example, when planning team-building activities, choose inclusive exercises that aid in team bonding and natural collaboration in order to be as inclusive as possible for all employees. Try consulting employees beforehand, as well as providing a few different options to choose from, when planning team interactions. Training, learning, and development must be accessible to employees with disabilities—not just recruitment and hiring policies.
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Since the Internet is the new frontier, companies like Microsoft and Google are determined to make the online world accessible to all. Let us follow their lead, then, in creating HR policies that take the latest adaptive technologies and training ideologies into account so that we can stand by the American ideal of “the pursuit of happiness,” as we look toward 2018. The private sector is standing out as one potential leader in the absence of meaningful government policy in support of the ADA, under the current administration.
Let’s encourage future-casting that allows businesses to better adapt to a diverse employee base. In the HR-sphere, this translates to adopting workplace and management policies that are mindful of all user experiences and employee learning curves, rather than only concerning ourselves with the privileged few. The rest of the world is watching.