One in five Americans has a disability. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, just 20.2% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force, compared to 69.1% of people without disabilities. That’s a huge untapped pool of talent – and there’s ample evidence that companies benefit from including people with disabilities in their workforce.
Most recently, in February 2018, the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation published a systematic review of studies on the subject. The authors found that the benefits included “improvements in profitability (e.g., profits and cost-effectiveness, turnover and retention, reliability and punctuality, employee loyalty, company image), competitive advantage (e.g., diverse customers, customer loyalty and satisfaction, innovation, productivity, work ethic, safety), inclusive work culture, and ability awareness.” Despite these benefits, people with disabilities are often left out of initiatives to improve workplace diversity, which tend to focus on gender and race.
Several misconceptions about people with disabilities have made employers reluctant to hire them. For one, many employers worry that workplace accommodations are expensive. In reality, 59% cost nothing, and the rest have a one-time cost of about $500. Businesses may also qualify for tax benefits for hiring workers with disabilities. Employers also mistakenly believe that employees with disabilities are less reliable – the Journal article shows they actually have better attendance than employees without disabilities, and the same or better productivity and job retention.
There are some areas you can look at improving if your organization wants to create a truly inclusive, welcoming and disability-friendly work environment.
1. Improve the recruitment experience
These days, many companies and talent agencies share their job postings online, through their own websites and/or on career sites. Unfortunately, websites often have barriers that make them difficult to use for people with various disabilities (vision, hearing, mobility and others). This may prevent job seekers from researching and finding open positions, reading job postings and submitting applications.
Recognizing the need for better accessibility, the web development community has come up with an easy-to-implement solution. Web accessibility experts around the world have created an internationally accepted technical standard for websites and other digital properties, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). When properly implemented, they remove most barriers and make websites more compatible for users of assistive technologies, such as screen readers for individuals who are blind or have low vision.
If your website doesn’t conform to WCAG version 2.0, it likely isn’t compliant with accessibility laws and regulations, which increases your organization’s risk of complaints, fines and lawsuits.
To make the recruitment process more welcoming to people with disabilities – and meet your legal obligations – it’s most efficient and cost-effective to work with an accessibility partner with an extensive team and proven track record in evaluating digital properties.
The accessibility evaluation should include a combination of automated, functional and manual tests (performed by people with disabilities and experienced users of assistive technology) to identify and fix barriers that may be present.
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Another way to enhance the job-seeking experience for people with physical disabilities is to feature assistive technology communication supports on your website at no cost. Visitors with physical disabilities who have difficulty typing, moving a mouse, gesturing or reading a screen will be able to apply for jobs more easily.
2. Establish a digital accessibility policy
An official policy has many potential benefits. It makes digital accessibility a priority, meaning that it will be easier for everyone (job candidates, employees, customers, investors, etc.) to use your digital properties. It sends a signal to your team, job seekers and the world at large that your organization is committed to inclusion and diversity, including disability. It also creates a process for improving your team’s knowledge of accessibility and creating accessible content.
3. Expand your recruitment sources
In addition to posting jobs on your company website and on career sites, think about where else you can reach job seekers with disabilities.
The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) recommends trying public resources, such as regional offices of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or state vocational rehabilitation centers, private resources such as organizations that specialize in disability, educational institutions that have offices for students with disabilities, internship and work experience programs, career fairs aimed at people with disabilities, and non-profits and social service agencies serving the disability community.
With creativity and commitment, your company can reap the benefits of a truly diverse workforce. The business world has many success stories about incorporating disability into diversity policies and practices – your company could be the next one.