4 Ways to Expand Inclusion of People with Disabilities

Feb 22, 2019

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February 21, 2019, Deborah Stadtler

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 Report from the Institute on Disability, nearly one in eight 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 a 2018 whitepaper on accessibility from Accenture. 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 (NOD). “A good first step is to establish your baseline, so you can prioritize goals, strategically allocate resources, and track year-over-year progress. One tool is NOD’s Disability Employment Tracker, which offers essential data to benchmark your employment practices and performance against other companies.”

Companies looking to recruit and hire those with disabilities can leverage many of the practices developed for their diversity & inclusion programs. A 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey showed that while 57 percent of respondents had diversity hiring goals, only 28 percent had disability goals.

Consider the following four ways of building inclusion:

1. Create an inclusive culture. 

Companies that are inclusive of those 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 their culture of inclusion by partnering with outside groups, such as a pilot program with the Michigan Alliance on Autism, as well as internal special interest groups (SIGs), 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.

“Marriott has created Talent Network Teams (TNTs) that were designed to bring associates together to ideate, collaborate and build relationships,” said David Rodriquez, Executive Vice President & Global Chief Human Resources Officer at Marriott International. “We created a TNT 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.”

2. Broaden your talent practices. 

Companies should examine practices at all stages of talent management, from recruiting and benefits to retention and advancement, when attempting to recruit and hire those with disabilities.

“Inclusion is a deeply ingrained aspect of our company culture dating back to the company’s origin as a family business,” said Rodriquez. “Marriott has a longstanding commitment to hiring and supporting people with different abilities in the workplace. 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.”

“In many of our markets, we have partnered with external organizations to help us hire talent that is differently abled, “said Trujillo. “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,” said Nurmsen at NOD. “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 non-profit organizations, and feature employees with disabilities in branding materials.

“Our culture of inclusion is strengthened by TakeCare, Marriott’s global employee well-being program, “ said Rodriquez. “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 non-visible. 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 Trujilo. “This group has done a tremendous amount to raise awareness with our employees.”

4. Prioritize access for all. 

Providing access goes beyond just physical structures to resources, electronic and digital access, and inclusive design. Accenture, a company that has won accolades for its inclusion of people with disabilities, includes job skills training, accessible software design and artificial intelligence solutions as part of their strategy.

Prioritizing accessibility and accommodation is a critical area in meeting inclusion goals. GM’s Disability Advisory Council is a cross-functional team of executives and employee resource group member 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 and articles.

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 will not only boost the bottom line, but increase productivity, reduce turnover and create a better brand image.

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