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DEI & A?

Jul 18, 2022
The pandemic acted as a catalyst, spring-boarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to the forefront of many organizations’ agendas. […]

The pandemic acted as a catalyst, spring-boarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to the forefront of many organizations’ agendas. But the acronym DEI is currently missing a very important letter, and that is A for accessibility. It’s important to note that inclusive is not synonymous with accessible – however if your workplace is accessible, it can then be considered inclusive. With the ‘Great Resignation’ still raging on, and many countries facing a growing skills gap, many employers have begun looking more closely at a talent pool that was predominantly ignored until now – those with disabilities. 

According to ‘Access for all Creating Inclusive Global Built Environments’, “One billion people – or 15% of the world’s population have a disability.” With a global spending power estimated to be a market the size of China, it is appalling that people with disabilities are unable to access goods, services, and employment opportunities due to both inaccessible built environments and inaccessible resources.  

 People with disabilities are continuously forced to adapt to an inaccessible world – a world that might incorrectly assume that they aren’t a viable option for the workforce. When in fact, hiring those with disabilities can help businesses attract and retain talent (and customers), close skill and talent gaps, increase efficiency and productivity, increase creativity and innovation, and increase business sustainability. Not only that, but shareholders are increasingly asking for more diversity metrics every year from the companies they invest in. Numbers don’t lie, and the numbers show that diverse and inclusive companies perform better, and are therefore better investments. Accenture’s report, ‘Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,’ found that companies that embraced and supported those with disabilities achieved 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income, and 30 percent higher economic profit margins over a four-year period. 

Within just America alone, there are 10.7 million people with disabilities who are unemployed – whether it be because of inaccessible work environments or inadvertent prejudice. Now, this brings up the question, “How do we make our workplace more accessible?” First, it’s important to realize that there is no “one-size-fits-all.” However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make your workplace as accessible and inclusive as possible. 

Recruiting Strategies 

When thinking about accessibility, many just think about the built or physical environment. Unfortunately, that is only a small piece of the accessibility and inclusion puzzle. If your organization wants to hire someone who has a disability, using a disability inclusion statement in your job description, and in the careers section of your organization’s website is extremely important.  VidCruiter has a great guide, Types of Hiring Biases and How to Reduce Them, to help you along your inclusive hiring journey.

It is important that your inclusion statement references reasonable accommodations so that potential employees know that your organization is willing to make the workplace accessible for them. Let applicants know that your workplace welcomes and values all candidates with phrasing like: “Applicants should have the ability to complete tasks with reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations might include but are not limited to flexible hours and hybrid or remote work.” When writing your job description, avoid language that might discourage disabled workers. This could be as simple as changing something like “this role requires walking throughout the office to access files” to “this role requires moving through the office to access files.” 

Monster has a great table that demonstrates what discriminatory language might look like which has been slightly modified for our needs:  

Discriminatory Language More Inclusive Language 
Must be able to lift 50 pounds Moves equipment weighing up to 50 pounds 
Seeking able-bodied individual [No replacement-avoid completely] 
Bending and crouching under desks to install equipment Positions self to install equipment, including under desks 
Must be able to stand for entire shift Must be able to remain in a stationary position during shift 
Talks to business partners about various projects Communicate with business partners about various projects 
Walks throughout the building to access files Moves throughout the building to access files 
This role requires visually inspecting sites for safety This role requires inspection of sites to detect safety concerns 

You also have to make sure that your organization’s website and HR systems are accessible to people with various types of disabilities i.e., hard of sight or hearing, dyslexia, autism, etc. If a candidate asks for reasonable accommodations during the application process, you must comply. It’s also important to never assume that a person with disabilities lacks the necessary training, education, and experience for employment, or that they wouldn’t be able to perform essential job functions. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) restricts employers from asking specific questions about a candidate’s disability, if they have voluntarily disclosed their disability, an employer may ask the candidate what workplace accommodations they might need.  

Global Disability Laws and Acts 

Depending on where you are located, your country probably has its own guidelines for disability accommodations. In the US, we follow the ADA. In the UK, they have the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the Equality Act of 2010 (EQA). Although it should be noted that the EQA, which covers a wider range of things, has replaced the DDA across the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland. China has the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Disabled Persons, and the Law on the Suppression of Architectural Barriers. In India, they have the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016. This isn’t a comprehensive list but goes to show that there are quite a few different legal frameworks out there, and many of them look at disabilities, and in turn, accessibility, differently. A more comprehensive list can be found on the United Nations website.  

Accommodating for Accessibility 

So, how do you accommodate for accessibility? It is imperative that all employees have access to both the physical locations and digital resources that are required to do their jobs. As many resources have been digitalized, and even more are located on the internet, it’s important that your website is accessible. A good way to start is to ask, does it comply with ADA Section 508, WCAG, AODA, ACA, or IS5568 standards?  

In order to stay in compliance with the ADA (and many other countries’ regulations), both the physical and digital workplace must be accessible, and if they are not, reasonable accommodations must be made so that they may do their job to the best of their ability. According to a survey by the Job Accommodation Network (Jan), 58% of accommodations cost nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. That might leave you asking what about that other 42%? Nearly all costs involved in making accommodations are a one-time purchase that averaged only $500. Not in your budget? There are tax incentives such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) that can help cover the costs. Contrary to belief, accommodations do not have to be a costly endeavor. As mentioned before, it’s important to note that one size does not fit all, and reasonable accommodations will vary significantly from person to person. That being said, here is a list of possible reasonable accommodations you might encounter.   

Accommodation Example 
Making or modifying existing facilities and furniture used by employees readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities  An employee with PTSD might need dividers or a more private workspace to reduce distractions. An employee with ADHD or Autism might need a quiet room to themselves to do their work to reduce stimulation.  An employee with mobility issues may need reserved parking closer to the building, a ramp, higher desk, and an accessible bathroom. 
Providing or adjusting resources, equipment, or software An employee with low vision may need a computer with voice recognition, talk to text software, or enlarged fonts. 
Part-time work schedule An employee who has fatigue or is unable to stand for more than four hours per day because of a disability may need a part-time schedule. 
Modified or flexible work schedule An employee who takes medications causing grogginess might need a later or flexible schedule. 
Hybrid or remote work A neurodivergent or limited mobility employee might have trouble working in an office every day, or at all depending on a range of factors. In cases like this, but not limited to these disabilities, an employee might be better suited to work hybrid or fully remote. 
Unpaid leave of absence An employee with a disability may need a leave of absence for medical treatments or procedures such as surgery or to recover from illness related to the disability. 
Job restructuring An employee with decreased physical strength due to a disability might seek the elimination of certain manual tasks, where such tasks are not essential duties of the job. Altering when and/or how essential functions are performed  
Appropriate adjustment or modifications of communication, training materials, policies, and examinations  This might include providing alternative formats for instructions and feedback for an employee who has a preferred communication method.  An employee with a disability interfering with concentration or learning may need additional or specialized training or supervision to master new job skills and duties. An employee with insulin-dependent diabetes might need additional breaks to test blood sugar or to administer insulin, or permission to eat food throughout the day. 
Education of other employees An employee with a disability such as HIV/AIDS who is facing misunderstandings on the job might seek disability education of co-workers and supervisors to raise awareness and dispel fears and stereotypes. 
Transfer to a vacant position An employee who is not able to perform the essential functions of his or her current position may seek a transfer to a vacant position for which he or she is qualified. A transfer may also be appropriate where the employee remains qualified for the current position with accommodation, but both the employee and the employer agree that a transfer is an appropriate modification. 
Time away for treatment An employee who needs to attend doctor’s appointments or to undergo treatments such as chemotherapy may need time away from the workplace. 

What is Universal Design?  

“Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design,” Ron Mace, design pioneer and visionary of Universal Design.  

 The human population is extremely diverse, as such, we need to create environments that respect this diversity and promote the inclusion of all people, no matter their differences. Universal Design recognizes these differences and seeks to meet a wide variety of preferences and needs from the get-go. This eliminates much of the need for adaptation, renovation, or specialized design as it already accounts for many of the preferences and needs such a diverse population might have.  

The ADA states, “The Principles of Universal Design can guide the design of environments, processes, policies, technologies, and tools to facilitate the integration of ALL employees in the workplace. Universal Design has the potential to optimize productivity, safety, collaboration, and communication for all employees.” 

Universal Design in the Workplace 

As previously stated, a universally designed workplace eliminates much of the need for adaptation, renovation, or specialized design, potentially saving your company a lot of time and money. Universally designed environments also provide employees with a safer and more productive work environment.  

The Northwest ADA lists some examples of universal design in the workplace which has been modified. 

Environmental – effective lighting; adequate space for travel and maneuvering; minimal noise levels; elimination of obstacles in path of travel; accessible entrances; zero step entries; automatic door openers; wider doorways and hallways. 

Controls and Tools – accessible door handles, light switches, elevator controls, faucets; tools with textured grips with a diameter that minimizes grasping force. 

Workstation and Storage – minimal glare; blinds or curtains on windows adjacent to workstation; adjustable chairs and workstations (ergonomic furniture); storage in range of reach for all employees; organizers and file folder storage on the desktop; modular furniture; options for working in private or more open collaboration spaces. 

Technology– accessibility features in operating systems; captioning; speech to text software; training in the ergonomics of seating posture and positioning; ergonomic use of keyboard, mouse and monitor. 

Communications – volume controls on telecommunication equipment; accessible, high contrast signage; alternate formats (large print, electronic files); distributing meeting agendas in advance and meeting notes afterward. 

Safety – multi-sensory alarm signals (auditory, visual); emergency and safety equipment clearly identified and placed in a conspicuous location. 

Every job is unique and not every job can embody all Universal Design principles; however, CRE professionals should strive to integrate Universal Design to the greatest extent possible to create accessible and inclusive environments.  

Take Your First Step  

As previously stated, making the workplace accessible and inclusive will never be a one size fits all, as each person’s disability affects them differently. However, if employers are genuinely committed to creating an accessible and inclusive workplace, the best place to start is by identifying areas for improvement. Set measurable goals and deadlines for when these goals need to be met. Communicate with your employees and see what they think would benefit them. Once you start taking action to meet these goals, that’s where real change and benefits will begin to occur. While some of these issues fall into the HR realm, when it comes to universal and accessible design, part of the responsibility also falls onto the CRE team. If you are constructing a new office or commercial space, be mindful of universal design. It’s always more expensive and time-intensive to retrofit a building and make it accessible than to put some forethought into it and build an accessible building.  It’s also important to note that these changes and benefits won’t happen overnight; however, by implementing these changes today both employers and their employees will reap numerous benefits and take us one step closer to being a truly inclusive society. 

What Are Other Corporations Doing? 

Some examples of organizations that have opened their doors to the disabled community are Deloitte, Microsoft, EY, HSBC, Accenture, and 3M. Disability:IN provides a comprehensive benchmarking tool for disability inclusion and scores companies through their Disability Equality Index. Disability:IN recognizes that there is no one “right way” to practice inclusion, and a score of 100 on the DEI simply means that a company adheres to many of the numerous leading disability inclusion practices featured in the DEI. Interested in learning more about disability inclusion best practices? Read more here

Author’s Note

Kendra Nicholls is CoreNet Global’s Strategic Content Manager. She identifies as neurodivergent and has a great interest in DEI – particularly in disability inclusion and accessibility. Interested in learning more about accessibility and inclusion in the workplace? Check out CoreNet Global’s ‘Building a Global Framework for Accessibility and Inclusion in the Workplace‘ podcast featuring Kendra Nicholls and Rick Williams, Head of Consultancy for the Business Disability Forum.

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Accessibility ADA DEI Disability Disability Inclusion Diversity Equity and Inclusion Flexible Workplace Great Resignation Hybrid inclusion Inclusive Design Neurodivergent Reasonable Accommodations Skills Gap Talent Universal Design Wellness Workplace workspace
David Harrison