Is your organization disability confident?

By now, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in place for over 35 years and roughly 62 million adults in the United States live with a disability — that’s about one in four people.

Yet how many of us can honestly say we are confident when it comes to including persons with disabilities in our workplace culture? 

According to a report from the Return On Disability Group, although 90 percent of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4 percent consider disability in those initiatives.

To be clear, a disability-confident organization is one that puts policies and procedures into practice that ensure people with all types of disabilities are included equally. Similarly, a disability-confident employer thinks about the unique needs that may arise when designing their products, services, collateral, and even job descriptions.

In order to excel in today’s evolving marketplace, you must not only acknowledge the importance of persons with disabilities to your business but also embrace actions that support their success as both employees and consumers. Furthermore, persons with disabilities account for total disposable incomes of over $500 billion, so it’s critical to businesses to ensure that persons with disabilities feel welcome to apply and contribute to your existing team.

  1. Screen In, Not Out

Like any employer, you want the best person for the job. This means, you must be prepared to show your disability confidence by guaranteeing that persons with disabilities are truly welcomed — and that starts before the interview. This can only be done if you and your hiring team are committed to "Screen In, Not Out." This important Inclusion-ism is literally an Human Resources litmus test.

Anyone who has ever attended a Human Resource course has been advised to screen out in order to minimize the number of resumes and to weed out less desirable applicants. There are two clear issues with this practice that disability confident employers need to consider; first, by choosing to screen out you are knowingly shrinking your applicant pool in a time when a different perspective could be crucial to your company growth. Secondly, the “screen out software” that is being used by larger businesses perpetuates unconscious biases that result in a lack of diversity among applicants and, ultimately, your team.

  1. Stay Curious

The second Inclusion-ism you will want to embrace, in support of more disability confidence, is to stay curious. In short, never assume that you know what is going on; by contrast, you should be genuinely open enough about the why and hear the reason without judgement. Instead of asking “what is wrong with you?” you may question, “Why does it seem that you are regularly late on Wednesdays?”

Often, the reason comes down to a simple issue requiring minimal accommodation. You may soon discover that this employee could be a top producer on your team (aside from being late on Wednesdays). 

Bottom line: embracing a "stay curious" attitude means being open to and looking for ways of doing things. By encouraging your entire team to ask questions, listen, and observe with the primary goal of understanding any given issue, you are on the road to becoming disability confident.

  1. Win, Win, Win

In the 1989 publication: "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective," Steven Covey describes the significance of a win-win situation which leads to mutual benefit. 

It is time to refresh that concept to gain relevance in today’s diverse workplace. This is where "Win, Win, Win" comes in. The fact is it takes three wins to be truly inclusive. When you promote a person with disability from within, the business wins (you’ve selected the best candidate), the individual wins (they receive an opportunity that less disability-confident employers may not offer), and the entire team wins (benefiting from an innovative and adaptable leader who has overcome barriers). Plus, there are significant benefits to your customers who may see themselves reflected in the diversity of your team! 

As we all know, people living with disabilities are everywhere; at work, play, traveling, shopping — just like everyone else. The more we strive to be Disability Confident Leaders, the more we can be sure we are practicing from a true Win, Win, Win perspective!

Tova Sherman—a TED Speaker and thought leader with more than 25 years of experience in diversity and inclusion—is the award-winning CEO of reachAbility, an organization which provides supportive and accessible programs dedicated to workplace inclusion for anyone facing barriers. She is the author of Win, Win, Win! The 18 Inclusion-isms You Need to Become a Disability Confident Employer.

Published on Feb 01, 2021