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Creating Inclusive Workplaces

Explore strategies for fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace culture.

Hiring a diverse workforce is simply not enough. You must ensure that you are building an inclusive work culture to retain employees with disabilities. This section provides information on how employers can best foster a culture where all employees feel valued and heard. This work occurs on both the organizational and interpersonal levels.

Building an Inclusive Culture

Employees represent an organization and work as a team to help achieve its mission. Organizations share information, such as objectives and values, to build a united workforce that focuses their efforts on one common goal. To ensure that a workplace culture supports the inclusion of people with disabilities, diversity, including disability diversity, must be included as an organization-wide value. 

A good place to start building an inclusive workplace culture is to understand why it matters. Read Disability Inclusion in the Workplace: Why it Matters to learn how disability inclusion can promote retaining of valuable employees. If your organization is a small business, EARN's Small Business Toolkit can inform these efforts. Once you understand why disability inclusion is important, and it has become a core value of your organization, you must then express a commitment to disability inclusion to both customers and employees. 

If you would like to take a deeper dive into the working of building a disability-inclusive workplace culture, these resources offer additional insights to help:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that one in five American adults experience a mental health condition each year. Yet, mental illness is one of the most misunderstood disabilities. EARN’s Workplace Mental Health Toolkit provides information on strategies that help employers foster a mental health friendly workplace, as does the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Checklist. Read Lead the Way: Merck’s Inclusive Business Culture to learn how one employer was able to reduce stigma related to discussing mental health conditions at work. 

Working Together

Workplace culture is cultivated each day that your employees are working together. These everyday interactions, including social interactions, are informed by each employee’s individual choices. All your employees should have access to the information they need to make good choices that are free from bias when interacting with their colleagues with disabilities. Read about disability etiquette guidelines to learn more about interacting with people with disabilities in the workplace, including the use of person-first and identity-first language. For more information, take the Working Together online training.

Resources for Supporting Workplace Disability Inclusion

EARN also has resources specific to supporting different populations of workers. For example, many organizations are working to increase the inclusion of autistic people and other neurodiverse people in their workforces. Learn more about neurodiversity in the workplace, or find out how to develop this type of program in you organization by reading Neurodiversity Inclusion: Checklist for Organizational Success. For information on supporting multiply marginalized workers, visit Disability and Diversity at Work or read the Intersectionality in the Workplace research-to-practice brief.

Retaining employees that have been employed within an organization for a long time, or recruiting experienced workers is important to the success of organizations. Older workers offer organizations significant experience and expertise, as well as insight into a rapidly growing customer base. With their broad experience in the field, they can also serve as mentors to younger workers. Learn more about retention of older workers.

Many people, often due to a lack of experience, may be unsure of the skills and abilities people with disabilities offer. Therefore, provide information about moving past any assumptions. Events, such as participation in National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), can help your organization understand the contributions from people with disabilities. 

Supporting Inclusion through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Disability-focused ERGs can be an invaluable resource for employees to learn more about overcoming stereotypes and negative assumptions relating to disability at work. ERGs, also known as Employee Networks or Affinity Groups, are employee-led, often grass-roots groups within organizations that are voluntary to join. Many disability-focused ERGs represent both employees with disabilities and allies within an organization. For more information on this topic, read EARN’s Fostering Disability-Inclusive Workplaces through Employee Resource Groups.

Supporting Inclusion through Accommodations

Supervisors and managers are critical components in ensuring teams within an organization can work well together. It is important that team leaders, especially those who may lack experience working with people with disabilities, understand the role accommodations play in ensuring employees with disabilities can perform their best on the job. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on accommodations, including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations related to workplace accommodations. Processes and procedures that ensure employees have access to accommodations, if necessary, is an important part of retention of disabled workers.