Disability Inclusion Requires Common Sense

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Nov 6, 2008
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F​​inding ways to include employees with disabilities and those with special needs children into all aspects of an organization’s work is not rocket science, according to Nadine O. Vogel, president of Springboard Consulting LLC: “It’s common sense.”

During an Oct. 27, 2008, concurrent session at the SHRM Diversity Conference & Exposition in Atlanta, Vogel outlined several crucial areas employers should pay attention to in order to ensure employees with disability connections feel welcomed and engaged.

When it comes to recruiting, for example, Vogel said all sources are not created equal. She said employers may have the best success tapping into college students with disabilities by participating in recruiting events held by schools which actively promote the availability of students with disabilities.

But employers must pay special attention to the face they present to candidates, she cautioned, to be sure recruiting materials and web sites tell prospective applicants that the company really does want them. For example, she recommends employers use a montage of photos, some of which may show people with various kinds of visible disabilities, as opposed to a single photo of an individual in a wheelchair, as is often the case. And photos should be accompanied by text which stresses an employer’s commitment to people with disabilities, she suggested.

Vogel suggests employers also customize disability-related training to meet the needs of various employee groups, such as those in the C-suite, managers, human resources and others. “You can’t train the same way for everyone,” she noted.

Some employers even give employees the opportunity to work like a person with a specific type of a disability for a day as one way to increase employee awareness of what it’s like to have a disability in that workplace.

Disability etiquette and awareness training should provide employees with an overview of the following:

  • The importance of person-first language (i.e., “a person who is blind” rather than “a blind person”).
  • Appropriate and inappropriate terminology.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Specific disabilities affecting mobility, vision, hearing, as well as those that are hidden.
  • How to act around service animals.
  • How to manage conflicts related to disability.
  • Confidentiality.
  • The different needs employees with disabilities and those with children with special needs may have.
  • Emergency evacuation procedures.

Vogel says employees are more likely to disclose they need help evacuating the building, for example, when employers ask in such a way that does not require an employee to say they have a disability.

Look at HR Programs Through a Disability Lens

Emergency evacuation procedures aren’t the only procedures which require special scrutiny, Vogel says. Employers should carefully review how employees affected by disability are treated with regard to these issues:

  • Onboarding—How welcoming is the organization? Is it easy for employees with disabilities to find their way around?
  • Accommodations—Is the accommodation process easy to follow and objective?
  • Employee assistance program—Is the provider fully prepared to help identify disability-related resources and solutions?
  • Group health plan—Is the language related to disabilities clear and is the carrier able to guide employees who have claims denied due to disability?
  • Benefit disclosures—Do beneficiary forms advise employees that government benefits may be lost if a dependent with a disability receives an insurance payout of more than $2,000?
  • Intranet—Does the site connect employees to organizations with information on specific diseases, special education, support networks, and state and local agencies?
  • Newsletters—Does the employer communicate about disability-related topics as much as other diversity-related topics?
  • Relocation—Are employees who refuse relocation (perhaps because of a special-needs child or the need for special services) penalized in any way?
  • Affinity groups—Is a group available for disabilities and, if so, is it connected to the business in some way so it doesn’t become simply a support group?
  • Celebrations and other events—Does the organization host awareness and celebration events associated with disabilities?

“Properly integrating initiatives that support employees who either have a disability or who have a child or other dependent with special needs will always mean increased productivity, retention and, if properly communicated, increased revenue,” Vogel says. “For employees, it will mean the world.

“People with disabilities are individuals with families, jobs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, problems and joys,” she added. “While the disability is an integral part of who they are, it alone should not and does not define them.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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