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Four Tips For Including Disability In Your Company’s Diversity Goals


Karen Herson is the Founder & CEO of Concepts, Inc., a disability- and woman-owned small communications firm.

Today, more and more companies are investing in workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Far too often, though, these efforts focus only on limited demographic factors such as race, age, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. As such, they overlook one of the largest groups in the United States—people with disabilities. Not only is disability an integral part of diversity, it also intersects all other identities. Thus, it’s a critical perspective to have at the proverbial table.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 26% of adults in the United States have some type of disability. This equates to roughly one in four adults. With today’s evolving workforce landscape, those leading the DEI charge must understand that if their current plan does not include disability, it is incomplete. While it is reported that 90% of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4% consider disability as a diversity factor. Thus, as labor shortages continue to rise, companies that tap into this large, untapped talent pool have the opportunity to not just fill positions, but also a diversity gap and build a more inclusive workforce.

To help employers and human resources and diversity and inclusion professionals better understand how disability fits in DEI, here are four quick tips to consider:

1. Learn about the benefits.

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People with disabilities make up one of the largest consumer markets in the U.S. Increasing representation in a company’s workforce is essential when trying to reach new markets because it can help you gain a better understanding of consumers’ needs.

In a previous article, I outlined a number of benefits that employees with disabilities bring to a business, from reducing turnover to improving company morale and culture to boosting the bottom line. In fact, companies that implement and support disability inclusion policies and practices report an average of 28% higher revenue. Companies may also qualify for certain employer tax incentives when successfully employing people with disabilities in their workplace.

2. Understand the intersections.

No two people are the same, and no two people with disabilities are either. Someone’s disability is part, but not all, of who they are. In fact, disability is an identity factor that crosses all others. Moreover, someone can acquire a disability at any point during their life, whether temporary or permanent, and not all disabilities, such as mental health conditions and chronic conditions like diabetes, are visible to the eye. As a result, many employers might not even realize that people with disabilities are already employed within their company.

When it comes to mental health conditions in particular, failing to address and support employees’ needs may be contributing to what is being labeled the Great Resignation. But, by expressly incorporating mental health conditions and other non-visible disabilities in their DEI plans, companies can demonstrate a commitment to retaining valued employees. Encouraging employees to self-identify as a person with a disability and analyzing resulting data can help employers understand the landscape at their company. However, note that inviting employees to self-identify is only permissible when the question is being asked for affirmative action purposes, such as those prescribed for federal contractors covered by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act or a voluntarily adopted program.

3. Research the laws.

To fully integrate disability into your organization’s DEI plans, it is also essential to familiarize yourself with the laws set in place to protect people with disabilities in the workplace. The most widely known and applicable law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law, passed in 1990, advances the inclusion and protects the civil rights of people with disabilities in all aspects of life, including work. As part of this, it requires employers to provide employees with disabilities reasonable accommodations to assist them in performing the essential functions of a job. For federal contractors, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act also applies and, for many, requires them to take proactive steps to recruit and retain people with disabilities.

As mentioned previously, disability is the only minority group that an individual can join at any point in their life. Because of this, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state family and medical leave laws also may come into play. FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to either give birth or adopt a child, care for a family member or manage their own serious health issue. In certain circumstances, leave for management of one’s own health issue may also be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

4. Aim for representation at all levels.

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DEI plans should not just focus on the hiring and retention of people with disabilities. They should also work to ensure the workplace is a safe and accommodating place where all people, including people with disabilities, have opportunities to advance. People with disabilities are ready to contribute their lived experiences to problem-solving and deserve a seat at the table. Ensuring that company leadership includes the perspectives of people with disabilities not only promotes a more inclusive work culture but also a more inclusive decision-making process.

Whether you are developing a DEI plan or determining any other aspect of business operations, a more inclusive decision-making process is a more effective decision-making process—and people with disabilities are essential voices to have at the table. Understanding the importance of expanding DEI efforts to include people with disabilities reflects the growing trend toward diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA).


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