Disability Inclusion: How to Support Employees with Disabilities in the Workplace

Woman sitting in wheelchair holding an electronic tablet in her lap
Disability inclusion is a key part of DEI. To improve disability inclusion, assess your workplace accessibility, accommodations, and other practices.

Key points about disability inclusion for employers:

  • Disability inclusion is a vital part of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 
  • Accessibility in your physical and remote workspaces, various accommodations, and an emphasis on respect can help you create a welcoming workplace for employees with disabilities.
  • To evaluate your disability inclusion efforts, consider these Questions to Assess Your Workplace Disability Inclusion Efforts.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a key component of a successful workplace. However, it isn’t something you can accomplish in just a few steps. True DEI is an ongoing, multi-layered process that addresses many different communities and experiences. To improve DEI in your workplace, some of your efforts should focus on supporting employees with disabilities. 


What is disability inclusion?

Disability inclusion refers to the process of ensuring that individuals with disabilities have fair compensation and equal opportunity to work, learn, and successfully grow their careers. Disability inclusion is about more than hiring individuals with disabilities (though that’s important, too!). 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an individual with a disability is defined as a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
  • Has a history or record of such an impairment, or 
  • Is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

Why does disability inclusion matter?

Most people know that disability inclusion is important in order to stay compliant. The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment and other areas. In the workplace, though, disability inclusion needs to go beyond the minimum compliance.

Disabilities aren’t uncommon. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 Americans has a disability. But few share their disability with their employer. It’s likely that some of your employees live with a disability, even if you can’t see it or aren’t aware of it. These employees may be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally impacted by their disabilities at work each day. 

For this reason, it’s important that you recognize and support individuals with disabilities by offering workplace accommodations. Developing a disability employment policy and inclusive practices will help you stay compliant and can lead to other worthwhile benefits for you and your employees.


Benefits of disability inclusion in the workplace


Larger talent pool

It’s against the law to deny someone a job because they have a disability. Despite this, many skilled job applicants remain unemployed.  According to one survey, only 29% of Americans of working age with disabilities were employed. In contrast, 75% of Americans of working age without disabilities were employed. 

In today’s competitive job market, many businesses are struggling to hire. People with disabilities represent a vast, untapped market. If you fail to recognize that individuals with disabilities are just as skilled and productive as people without disabilities, you can miss out on a lot of qualified candidates. In fact, companies that embrace disability inclusion gain access to a new talent pool of more than 10.7 million people.


Increased productivity

Individuals with disabilities help to make your workforce more diverse. They also offer unique problem-solving skills and abilities. When you hire employees with different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, and life experiences, you bring different perspectives and skills to your workplace. These varying insights can affect your organization’s overall innovation, creativity, and productivity. In fact, diverse companies have higher rates of productivity. Companies with diverse upper management see their productivity levels soar even more.


Higher retention and profitability

Employees with disabilities tend to have higher retention rates than individuals without disabilities. In most cases, it’s cheaper to retain current employees than hire new ones. As a result, hiring individuals with disabilities can be more cost-effective for your business. Just make sure you offer the appropriate workplace accommodations and support so they want to stick around.

Disability inclusion can also lead to greater profitability overall. According to one study, companies that excel at disability inclusion see 28% higher revenue than other companies over a four year period.


Visible vs. invisible disabilities

To effectively promote disability inclusion, you need to address visible and invisible disabilities. If you see someone using a wheelchair, hearing aid, or other device, you may know that they have a disability. These types of disabilities are known as visible disabilities. 

Invisible disabilities may be harder to spot. These types of disabilities may be physical, mental, or neurological conditions that are not outwardly visible but still affect someone. Examples of invisible disabilities include things like:

  • ADHD
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Dizziness 
  • Dyslexia
  • Fatigue

8 ways to support employees with disabilities

Disability inclusion is an important component of any organization’s success. Here are 8 things you can do to include, support, and empower applicants and employees with disabilities:


1. Make your website and job applications more accessible

Complex menus, captcha tests, and other features can pose barriers to people with disabilities. These elements can limit the number of applicants you receive. 

Improving accessibility will help job applicants with certain disabilities navigate your website and job applications. It usually only takes a few minutes to make your website more accessible. Consider leveraging these tips:

  • Ensure users can navigate your website and job applications using different methods. Some people with visual impairments navigate websites using screen readers that read text out loud or convert text to Braille. Some people also navigate websites using keyboard commands instead of a mouse. Make sure your website supports these alternate pathways.
  • Don’t rely on color to convey key information. People who are colorblind may find it difficult to read any information that relies on color.
  • Add alternative (alt) text to your images. Alt text describes an image’s appearance and function so that people using screen readers can effectively navigate your site.
  • Add closed captioning to the videos on your website. Without captions, your videos will be inaccessible to people with hearing impairments.
  • Include contact information. If someone needs technical support or accommodations, make sure they can contact someone for help.

2. Review the language in your job postings

Next, review the language you use in your job postings. Certain phrases may discourage people with disabilities from applying. On the other hand, different phrases can encourage people with disabilities to apply. You can improve disability inclusion just by altering some of the words you use in your job posts:

  • Include a disability inclusion statement. This should explicitly say that you’re open to hiring individuals with disabilities. A statement like this can help applicants feel welcome and encourage them to apply.
  • Describe your DEI programs, including accommodations and accessibility. This shows applicants that you have programs in place to support them.
  • Remove unnecessary or irrelevant physical requirements. For example, if a position does not require physical labor, the applicant doesn’t need to be able to lift a certain amount of weight. You can remove that requirement from the job posting.

3. Hire from new networks

According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), only 25% of organizations have explicit goals for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. Various resources can help you find skilled applicants with disabilities and support your hiring process. Consider leveraging:


Networks

Networks can help you recruit, hire, retain, and advance qualified people with disabilities. Check out the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN).


Agencies

State agencies can connect you with qualified people with disabilities in your state. You can get started with the State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies.


Recruiting programs

These programs can help you network with college students and recent graduates with disabilities. Consider starting with the Workforce Recruitment Program.


4. Create a welcoming environment

To provide the support and resources that employees with disabilities may need, you must first create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their disability. If you know what challenges they face, you can then target solutions to meet their specific needs. In fact, employees who disclose their disability to someone at work are more than twice as likely to feel happy or content at work (as opposed to those who have not told anyone at work about their disability). However, it’s important to note that some people may not want to disclose a disability. Even if you’ve taken steps to create an inclusive workspace and support disability awareness, respect each employee’s decision. 

To foster a safe, inclusive space, there are a few things you can do:

  • Add disability inclusion to your company policy.
  • Make it clear that respect and empathy are essential to your company values.
  • Design a company benefits plan that supports employees with disabilities.
  • Require company-wide training that aims to educate and reduce disability bias.
  • Create an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for employees with disabilities.
  • Create mentoring or coaching programs for employees with disabilities.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of the accommodations and resources available.

5. Provide accommodations

Under the ADA, you’re required to provide reasonable accommodations to job candidates and employees with disabilities. The accommodations you provide may vary depending on what the employee needs to successfully perform their essential job functions. For example, you may provide reasonable accommodations such as:

  • Equipment – If someone has a visual impairment, you might buy a screen reader so they can use a computer.
  • Different communication methods – If someone communicates better via written communication rather than verbal communication (or vice versa), you might change the way you provide instructions or offer feedback.
  • Service animals – If someone needs a service animal, you might change your company policy to allow certain types of pets in the workplace.
  • Parking – If someone needs accessible parking, you might provide a designated space for them close to the workplace entrance.
  • Flexible schedules – If someone needs time to attend treatments or therapy, align with medication schedules, or something else, you might modify their work schedule so they have more flexibility.

Regardless of the law on disability discrimination, providing accommodations is necessary to support people with disabilities and work towards disability inclusion. You can always provide additional accommodations that aren’t strictly necessary under the ADA to make an employee’s life even easier. Speak with each employee to come up with an effective solution together.


Tax incentives

If you provide accommodations for employees with disabilities, you may be able to receive certain tax credits and deductions. These include:

  • Disabled Access Credit – This credit incentivizes small businesses to increase accessibility for people with disabilities. It provides a non-refundable credit for eligible businesses that make qualifying purchases (such as equipment or devices for people with disabilities).
  • Barrier Removal Tax Deduction – This deduction incentivizes businesses to remove architectural and transportation barriers. Eligible businesses can claim a tax deduction of up to $15,000 a year for qualified expenses.
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit – This credit incentivizes employers to hire individuals who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment. This includes individuals with disabilities. Eligible businesses can claim a maximum tax credit of $1,200 to $9,600.

You can learn more about these tax incentives here.


Additional accommodations and considerations for COVID-19

Some employees with disabilities may be at risk for severe illness or death due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To be mindful of their concerns, you may wish to provide additional accommodations, even if they don’t request them. If an employee does request accommodations, do what you can to make it work. Some examples of COVID-19-related accommodations you may provide include:

  • Remote work for people who can perform their essential job functions from home
  • Extra Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, face shields, and gloves for people who need or want to work onsite
  • Shift changes to reduce physical proximity to or interaction with other people
  • Extra breaks to allow time for handwashing, sanitation, or mental health practices
  • Ability to keep a personal minifridge or storage container at their desk for medication or other necessary supplies

6. Gather employee input

While it’s important to get individual feedback to provide employees with the best accommodations, you should also survey your employees as a group to identify areas of improvement or additional accommodations that may be helpful. In your survey, you might ask questions like:

  • How would you rate our existing programs and disability inclusion efforts?
  • How could we improve?
  • What additional accommodations do you need?

7. Make your physical workplace more accessible

Accessibility and accommodations work together. Even if you don’t currently have employees that require accommodations under the ADA, you can still make your workplace more accessible for future job candidates and employees, plus customers, clients, and other visitors. To further improve your workplace’s accessibility, you can:

  • Remove features that make a building inaccessible to someone with a disability
  • Replace stairs with elevators and/or ramps
  • Add wheelchair-friendly bathrooms
  • Reserve parking spaces for employees with disabilities

8. Emphasize respect

Accommodations and accessibility efforts are crucial to improving disability inclusion in your workplace. But less tangible elements, like mutual respect and a sense of belonging, are just as important to cultivate. Without these components, employees with disabilities may not feel comfortable at your organization. Make it clear to everyone that empathy and respect are non-negotiable.


How Sentric can help

There are many misconceptions about disability inclusion in the workplace. The truth is that disability inclusion doesn’t need to be expensive. It can actually help you stay compliant with the ADA and other requirements, too. Most importantly, though, it helps more people with physical, neurological, and cognitive disabilities find career success.

To evaluate and improve disability inclusion in your workplace, download our Questions to Assess Your Workplace Disability Inclusion Efforts checklist.

A centralized HR system makes it easier to manage accommodations, leave requests, and ADA compliance. To learn more about SentricHR’s all-in-one HRIS, speak with one of our product experts today!

Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is for general informational purposes only and is not a list of services that Sentric provides. Under no circumstance shall we have any liability to you for any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of this post or reliance on any information provided in this post. Your use of this post and checklist and your reliance on any information is solely at your own risk.

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The Sentric Team

The Sentric Team

At Sentric, we help businesses make people management easier with industry-leading technology and standout support.

Sentric HR & Payroll Insights

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