As companies face a war for talent and a lack of qualified workers in many fields, individuals with disabilities are being recognized as a source of engaged, committed employees. According to the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report from the Institute on Disability, nearly 1 in 8 people in the U.S. has a disability, and that number is rising annually.
Companies that succeed in incorporating candidates with disabilities have seen 28 percent higher revenue and two times higher net income, according to an Accenture 2018 white paper on accessibility. Workplace Initiative, a network of companies, nonprofits and government agencies working to remove barriers for those with disabilities, reports that those companies also experienced reduced turnover, lower recruiting costs, increased productivity and improved customer outreach.
"The most immediate challenge for many companies looking to advance disability inclusion in their workforce is knowing where to start. Topics like digital accessibility, Section 503 compliance or self-ID surveys may be new territory," said Felicia Nurmsen, managing director of employer services at the National Organization on Disability. "A good first step is to establish your baseline, so you can prioritize goals, strategically allocate resources and track year-over-year progress."
Companies looking to recruit and hire those with disabilities can leverage many of the practices developed for their diversity and inclusion programs. The 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey showed that while 57 percent of respondents had diversity hiring goals, only 28 percent had goals for hiring people with disabilities.
Consider the following four ways to build inclusion:
1. Create an inclusive culture.
Companies that are inclusive of workers with disabilities manage their culture in various ways. Some survey employee attitudes and invite employees to self-identify; others nominate a diversity champion and support disability-specific resource groups. Including senior leadership in messaging and awareness efforts helps underscore the importance of inclusion.
General Motors extends its culture of inclusion by partnering with outside groups, such as the Michigan Alliance on Autism and its pilot program, as well as with internal special interest groups, such as the GM Able employee resource group. "Further, we have a disability advisory council that meets quarterly to focus on specific issues for the constituency," said Ken Barrett, global chief diversity officer for General Motors.
"Inclusion is a deeply ingrained aspect of our company culture dating back to the company's origin as a family business," said David Rodriguez, executive vice president and global chief human resources officer at Marriott International. "Marriott has created talent network teams [TNTs] that were designed to bring associates together to ideate, collaborate and build relationships. [One TNT has focused on] improving the guest experience for travelers with disabilities, which generated tangible and actionable outcomes and engaged our associates."
"We feel strongly that creating an inclusive culture where people with different abilities are present, welcome and accommodated is the best approach," said Julia Trujillo, senior vice president of global talent and workforce development at MetLife. "We have taken steps to raise awareness and develop skills with our employees, as well as to ensure our processes and systems are inclusive of all abilities. We are intentional about continuously evolving this approach as we learn and grow."
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2. Broaden your talent practices.
For help recruiting people with disabilities, companies can turn to community organizations.
"Our hiring initiatives focus on partnerships with community-based organizations, ensuring our locations are trained on laws related to disability, and regular disability-awareness communications," Rodriguez said.
"In many of our markets, we have partnered with external organizations to help us hire talent that is differently abled," Trujillo said. "For example, our recruiters have been trained to maximize engagement opportunities with and accommodations for candidates of all abilities. We've also trained our recruiters to ensure they know how to engage with candidates who have unique needs."
3. Foster wider awareness.
"A new disability-inclusion effort will fall flat without building trust among employees," Nurmsen said. "Raising awareness is an important step to combat stigma and lend authenticity to your message, and representation and storytelling are powerful tactics that bring your corporate values to life." Many companies celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, benchmark their progress with tools from nonprofit organizations and feature employees with disabilities in branding materials.
"Our culture of inclusion is strengthened by TakeCare, Marriott's global employee well-being program," Rodriguez said. "We cultivate and celebrate our shared responsibility to maintain an environment where every associate feels they belong and can freely express their ideas and talents. A few years ago, we launched the Ability to Succeed campaign with a video that highlighted a number of associates whose journeys include a variety of disabilities both visible and invisible. The campaign kicked off a series of events, communications and enhanced training that led to increased self-disclosure of disability status in our workforce."
"We have long had an employee resource group to support our employees who are differently abled or are caregivers," said Trujillo. "This group has done a tremendous amount to raise awareness with our employees. We are continuing to focus on how we can raise awareness and engage our employees in a meaningful way."
4. Prioritize access for all.
Providing access goes beyond making sure people who use canes or wheelchairs can navigate stairs or doorways. Inclusive design means that people with disabilities can also use websites and digital tools. Accenture has won accolades for its inclusion of people with disabilities and includes job skills training, accessible software design and artificial intelligence solutions in its strategy.
Prioritizing accessibility and accommodation is critical to meeting inclusion goals. GM's Disability Advisory Council is a cross-functional team of executives and employee resource group members focusing on improving inclusion of those with disabilities. The council has championed captioned broadcasts, improved processes for requesting accommodations, generated better lead resourcing for talent acquisition and hosted educational lunches.
Organizations that carefully examine and enhance these four areas will be well on the way to improving their inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Building a more diverse workforce can not only boost the bottom line, but also increase productivity, reduce turnover and create a better brand image.
Deborah Stadtler is managing editor for HRPS, SHRM's executive network.