Best Practices Shared for Employing People with Disabilities

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 25, 2015
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A company striving to attract and hire people with disabilities embeds a video on its website that emphasizes a business culture that is inclusive. However, the company is not attracting those job seekers.

One problem may be that the video is not captioned—excluding those with hearing impairments. Additionally, the company’s careers portal may not conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which allow content to be received in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing its meaning.

This company, for all of its good intentions, lacked organizational readiness, which is key for employers looking to attract, employ and retain people with disabilities, said Nadine Vogel, founder and president of Springboard Consulting LLC. The New Jersey-based company works with national and global firms to support employees with disabilities or who have dependents with special needs.

The author of DIVE IN, Springboard into the Profitability, Productivity & Potential of the Special Needs Workforce, (Paramount Market Publishing, 2009) shared best practices for employing people with disabilities during the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2015 Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Determining Readiness

The first step is conducting a disability organizational assessment and gap analysis to determine the organization’s overall readiness. Factors to consider:

*Does your organization have a business strategy for recruiting, hiring and retaining people with disabilities?

*Has your organization asked people with disabilities to test your online application forms and videos?

Vogel suggested bringing in 10 people with 10 different disabilities and capturing their experience on video as they talk through any challenges they experience.

*Do you have a disability employee resource group?

It should be aligned with the organization’s business goals and objectives. Group members could assist with onboarding new hires with disabilities, identifying marketing opportunities for products and services tailored to people with disabilities, and reviewing policies and business processes that affect people with disabilities, Vogel wrote in an article for Profiles in Diversity Journal.

*Do managers and others in your organization know how to appropriately respond to a person with a disability? 

When speaking with someone in a wheelchair, for example, maintain eye level by sitting rather than kneeling. Rising from a kneeling position may lead to grasping the person’s wheelchair for support, which intrudes upon his or her personal space, Vogel said during the March 23 concurrent session.

*Has the organization considered, and communicated, how persons with a disability—including visitors—should be assisted during an emergency or evacuation drill?

*Set aside one eight-hour day with managers of all functions—legal, HR, safety and security, facilities, communications, emergency preparedness, and others—to talk about their role in organizational readiness in attracting, hiring and retaining people with disabilities. It’s important to have all managers commit to a full day of discussion, Vogel stressed. The idea is to share stories across functions, not engage in a checklist of questions and answers.

Recruiting Strategies

Among ways employers can find qualified candidates who have disabilities:

*Look beyond the campus career center and reach out to schools’ disability service directors, who work with students with disabilities and can find candidates who meet an employer’s skills and education criteria. 

*Partner with groups such as the Easter Seals and a city or state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services or bureau of rehabilitation services to broaden the talent pipeline.

These groups also may provide tips on how to appropriately interact with people with disabilities, whether they are customers, job seekers or employees. The United Spinal Association, for example, has a free downloadable book on this topic and the Easter Seals has a page on its website devoted to disability etiquette.

*Participate in Disability Mentoring Day in October, which the U.S. Department of Labor launched in 2009. Some companies have extended this to once every quarter, Vogel said. This job-shadowing experience sometimes leads to student summer internships at the company.

*Global organizations, especially, should observe the annual International Day of People with Disability on Dec. 3, Vogel said. 

It is aimed at increasing public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities, and to celebrate their achievements and contributions.

Self-Identifying

Job applicants and employees with disabilities may be hesitant to self-identify; there can be confusion as to how much information to share, when and with whom to share it, and fear as to how a supervisor or colleagues will respond, said Vogel, whose daughter has a disability.

She advised companies to include on their website a definition of disabilities that lists such things as chemical sensitivity, where appropriate.

Vogel also stressed the importance of outlining essential job functions for all positions at the company. This allows a job candidate to read the list of duties for a given job and then determine whether he or she is able to perform those functions, which could include checking a box. A job that requires traveling 80 percent of the time could be an issue for someone whose disability limits him or her from fulfilling that responsibility.

“Disclosing is not the same as requesting an accommodation,” she noted.

Some companies have a committee made up of representatives from areas such as HR and safety and security that look at accommodation requests. The manager of the employee requesting an accommodation may be copied on the request and weigh in with the committee, but the decision rests with the committee.

This provides process consistency and limits the number of people in the organization who are aware of an accommodation request, Vogel said.

An accommodation is a tool to aid an employee’s productivity, such as providing a larger monitor to an employee with a visual impairment, Vogel reminded attendees. It’s important to realize, too, that requests for accommodation may be temporary in nature, such as for a pregnant employee, a visitor or an employee in a cast.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

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