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Employer Assistance & Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN): A service of The Viscardi Center.
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Creating an Inclusive Work Environment

Creating an environment in which people with disabilities feel valued and respected is critical to successfully recruiting and retaining them. Workplace inclusion is a strategy and product of company-wide policies, attitudes and practices.  Together these factors influence employee perceptions about the work environment which, in turn, impact engagement, job satisfaction and productivity. Creating a positive work environment for employees of diverse backgrounds should include strategies for the inclusion of people with disabilities, acknowledging that all employees desire to participate in an environment that allows them to work to their full potential.

Advantages of an Inclusive Culture

  • Helps the organization create a reputation as an “employer of choice” and thereby attract diverse job applicants, including those with disabilities.
  • Increases the likelihood that employees with non-apparent disabilities will disclose to their supervisor or human resource representative.
  • Increases employee job satisfaction, engagement, and retention.
  • Reduces turnover and absenteeism.
  • Improves accessibility for employees and customers.

Communicating an Inclusive Culture

There are a variety of ways that organizations, supervisors and HR professionals can create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities.

  • Include individuals with disabilities as part of your company's diversity statement.
  • Ensure website accessibility.  
  • Offer written materials in alternative formats.
  • Include an Equal Employment Opportunity statement in job advertisements and notices.
  • Create and publicize a grievance procedure to report, and seek resolution for, situations in which employees believe discrimination and/or unfair treatment occurred.
  • Include images of persons with disabilities in marketing and outreach materials. Whenever possible include one of the 12 universal access symbols.
  • Train front-line managers to focus on job performance of individuals, not their disabilities.
  • Train all front line staff to understand disability disclosure for people with disabilities and aging populations in interviewing and accommodations requests
  • Provide diversity training to employees on disability issues in the workplace.
  • Implement effective accommodation policies and practices.
  • Use a centralized funding model for covering the costs of disability related accommodations.
  • Advertise open job positions on job boards and media known to be utilized by persons with disabilities.
  • Ensure physical accessibility.
  • Establish a disability-focused employee resource group and provide top management support for the effort. 

Fostering a Disability-Inclusive Culture

John D. Kemp, President and CEO of the The Viscardi Center, explains the benefits of fostering a disability-inclusive culture in your organization.

Webinar: Leading Disability Inclusion Practices

Improving Accessibility

Improved accessibility benefits everyone.  The physical work environment should promote independence and full participation of people with disabilities. Eliminate existing barriers and make a plan to increase accessibility, including accessible technology and web-based applicant systems. Increasing accessibility will:

  • Reduce the potential of unintentionally screening out applicants with disabilities.
  • Ensure access to goods and services for employees, and customers or clients with disabilities.

Tips for Human Resource Professionals

Human Resources professionals play a major role in communicating inclusion, and enforcing policies that promote diversity.  They should:

  • Communicate the organization's commitment to diversity and equitable employment.
  • Conduct regular surveys to assess employee perceptions of inclusion or bias in the workplace.
  • Create mentoring opportunities that include people with disabilities.
  • Include disability in diversity initiatives.
  • Conduct trainings for managers regarding disability.
  • Include diversity and inclusion effectiveness in supervisor job descriptions and performance management expectations.
  • Implement effective accommodation policies and practices.
  • Use disability focused employee resource groups to recruit workers with disabilities, facilitate the development of accessible products and services, and acquire information on emerging assistive technologies and accommodations.
  • Focus on targeted recruiting to reach out to candidates with disabilities
  • Provide training and advancement opportunities for employees with disabilities.

Tips for Managers

Managers can significantly influence the inclusion and job satisfaction of employees with, and without, disabilities. The following list emphasizes the importance of managerial behavior.

  • Recognize that manager behavior has a powerful impact on the workplace experiences of all employees, including those with disabilities and significantly influence the perceptions and behaviors of others toward co-workers with disabilities.
  • Positively engage with employees requesting accommodations. Perceptions of managerial respect are a key predictor of employee workplace engagement and productivity.
  • Trust your judgment and act on any concerns you have related to discrimination against employees with disabilities.
  • Create an inclusive decision-making environment and reduce conflict and discrimination by  promoting a workplace that values diversity:  
    • Acknowledge and respect all team members.
    • Promote cooperation.
    • Be flexible.

When employees with disabilities interact with supervisors and colleagues, it is important to treat them equitably, reasonably, and courteously. Therefore, training and mentoring designed for supervisors, managers and colleagues should address appropriate behaviors and attitudes for communicating an inclusive culture. With limited resources, narrowing profit margins, and renewed attention to the bottom line, companies need to hire talented and diverse candidates while retaining and supporting all valued employees.

Other Resources

Leveling the Playing Field; Attracting, Engaging, and Advancing People with Disabilities<>
This Cornell University resource includes information on creating a workplace that enables people with disabilities to thrive and advance.

What Is An Inclusive Culture?<>
This Burton Blatt Institute brief describes a disability inclusive culture, including key elements such as universal design, recruitment, training, advancement opportunities, workplace accommodations and accessibility.

Creating an Inclusive Culture for Disabled Individuals<>
This article, featured in Diversity Executive, provides information on ways to create a more inclusive workplace for employees with disabilities.

Inclusive Policies & Practices: What Do We Know?<>
This Burton Blatt Institute guide offers advice on inclusive policies and practices. The authors provide information on the role of management and diversity behaviors, peer support and affinity groups, recruitment and hiring, and accommodation policies and practices.

SHRM: Disability Inclusion Affects 4 Groups<>
This Society of Human Resources Management article discusses the basics of disability inclusion, including: recruitment, training, employee benefits, information resources and employee resource groups. It highlights KPMG, LLP's practices.

Employer Practices Rehabilitation Research & Training Center (Employer Practices -RRTC)< >
As recently as 2008, the employment rate of working age people with disabilities in the U.S. was 39.5 percent, compared to 79.9 for their nondisabled peers. Identifying barriers to improve the current situation and employer practices that advance the employment of people with disabilities is imperative and the aim of this project. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employer Practices Related to the Employment Outcomes Among Individuals with Disabilities (EPRRTC) seeks to create new knowledge of specific employer practices most strongly associated with desired employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities and the prevalence of these practices.

Page last updated on Tuesday, January 28, 2014