Igniting Purpose: A Call to Action

Learn how to implement disability and accessibility program that improves hiring processes, offer essential support, and fosters a welcoming culture that benefits everyone.

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Jun 17, 2024

This is part three of a series entitled Igniting Purpose by Ron Fish.

Accessibility. Disability Inclusion. Accommodations. Don’t inadvertently exclude the ability community from your diversity and inclusion initiatives! Did you know that disability is the only diversity category individuals can move in and out of, sometimes multiple times throughout their lives? Human Resources practitioners (people and talent functions) are uniquely positioned to impact the ability community by implementing accessible hiring processes, providing support and accommodations, raising organizational awareness about accessibility, and fostering a welcoming and inclusive culture. Join me on this highly rewarding journey and learn how you can make a significant impact.

I transitioned from a big tech company to a smaller brand a few years ago, seeking a more meaningful role. As I began my new journey, I was hired to build a global talent acquisition and recruiting program that delivered diverse talent, bolstering diversity across the company’s leadership team. One short year later, the true testament to the accomplishment was evidenced on the company’s leadership webpage through an amazing photo array that showcased cultural and gender diversity. What about disability inclusion?

I have been building accessible hiring programs for many years, but at an elementary level. It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered how collaboration across departments could create a comprehensive and inclusive program, nurturing the candidate experience for the ability community during the application process, interviews, onboarding, and into the employee experience.

Here are steps, associated costs, and outcomes for improving your company’s hiring programs, employer brand, and organizational culture:

Getting Started: Costs and Commitment
FREE. It doesn’t cost anything to get started, just some of your time, commitment, and determination! Cost is more of a consideration when you embrace opportunities to sponsor industry-leading organizations like Disability:IN or invest in programs at ability schools or organizations within the community. Your efforts can make an immediate impact! If your firm has the given budget, by all means, feel free to invest and gain traction quickly.

Designing an Accessible Interview Framework
Is your hiring program accessible, offering accommodations for the ability community, as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, India’s RPwD Act, and other global entities like the UNCRPD Convention? From a compliance perspective, US companies designated as federal contractors can face consequences for violating corresponding OFCCP guidelines. The first step is simple: offering an email address or specific contact for related requests in your job descriptions, career site, and hiring FAQs. Creating a path for this community to request and receive support is critical to achieving an optimal interview experience.

Offering Accommodations During Onboarding
Did you know that more than 75% of global employees with disabilities don’t disclose them? Most are concerned that doing so will negatively impact their ability to secure or retain employment. Encourage all new hires to connect with HR if they need support to optimize their work environment during orientation and onboarding sessions – a slide in your orientation deck can go a long way. This approach demonstrates your organization’s commitment to accessibility and fosters a welcoming atmosphere. It also extends the offer to the 75% who may not achieve the ideal workplace and others who encounter a disability after being employed for some time.

Training Hiring Stakeholders
This one is very important. If your recruiters request accommodations, do they know how to manage the request effectively or loop in HR to assist? Figuring this out on the fly or disregarding the request can harm the candidate’s experience, culture, and employer brand. Create a process for routing requests and educate the team on how to proceed when interview accommodations are requested. Providing a self-description and turning on captioning during video interviews is a great way to make virtual discussions more accessible. Ensure involved interviewers are coached to lead patiently, repeat questions without judgment when required, and consider typing questions into a chat after asking them verbally.

Advertising jobs as a Disability-Friendly Employer
This is a low- or no-cost option that doesn’t necessarily require an additional budget, especially if you currently leverage a compliance partner for posting on State and diversity job boards. You can refine advertising to target the disability community or seek out programs like the disability networks in Utah, North Carolina, and Florida or other global programs in the United Kingdom, Europe, or India. Using available posting ‘tags’ in job descriptions is a great way to reach the ability community (for example, PWDNET in Utah).

Ensuring Website Accessibility
The ADA and globally recognized GDPR guidelines require websites to maintain accessibility standards; is your Career Site accessible to people with disabilities? In the first article of this Igniting Purpose series, I highlighted how my company inadvertently eliminated people with disabilities from our applicant pool – we now have an ADA-compliant website with corresponding accessibility testing by the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. You can start by doing a free website accessibility check using acessiBe. As required, meet with your corporate website team to learn about their approach to website accessibility. Encourage them to make enhancements, highlighting the importance of accessible web navigation for applicants, customers, and other users with disabilities.

Gaining Executive Support
You may see how this impacts an underrepresented population and corporate culture, but your manager or company executives may not immediately be on board. A great jumping-off point would be citing, “We need to create great programs that show (more) actions behind the public diversity statements we make.” Credible data that has resonated with senior leadership is featured in this study, where Accenture showcased how industry leaders in disability inclusion are outperforming competitors by as much as 1.6X in reported revenues. Customers care about your firm’s culture and people initiatives! There is no downside to fostering a welcoming and inclusive workplace, especially considering that you are broadening or upgrading your talent pool – check out this article about the disability inclusion advantage.

Engaging with the Ecosystem
Look into local and national organizations that drive disability inclusion. Partner with city/state/government programs in geos where you have offices, seek their guidance, and find opportunities for training to gain some footing that will lend credibility to your efforts. Look into partnership, outreach, or accreditation opportunities through organizations similar to the Division Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the National Association for the Blind, or the Neurodiversity Alliance (research to find organizations in your region).

Impact on Company Culture
This type of work does not go unnoticed, and it creates foundational programs that back the diversity, inclusion, and belonging statements every company makes on its website and social media pages. When you have real initiatives that back your statements, it bolsters your employment brand. New employees care more about company culture than benefits or salary in today’s society. Shocking right? When it comes to the ability community itself, inclusivity scores are lower in the disability community – inclusivity initiatives for this oft-overlooked group can profoundly impact your organization and give purpose to the litany of employees who have disabilities or family members with disabilities.

Creating Resource Groups
In the same way that other underrepresented communities create employee resource groups (ERGs), this is a great way to create visibility and awareness in your organization and foster an inclusive culture. The benefits are two-fold. A safe place is created where people can openly discuss disabilities that they may or may not have disclosed previously. I have seen the benefits firsthand within the ‘CurbCuts’ accessibility club at my own organization. It has been incredible to participate and witness the open communication. In parallel, I also encourage you to learn about the inclusive language you should use when referring to individuals with disabilities.

Supporting Employees Who Disclose Disabilities
Career progression, professional growth, and promotion will often happen naturally with proper nurturing and development. The employee is responsible for performing the ‘essential functions’ of the role, while the employer is responsible for providing reasonable accommodations. The average cost for accommodations is modest – for example, $0 to 500 in the US. Human Resources should stay involved in tracking global employees who have disclosed disabilities and coach managers to ensure proper accommodations and support are provided. Mentorship for employees is a key way to ensure success when provided to the ability of employees during their journey.

It has been a privilege to partner with both public and private organizations through accessibility initiatives and during speaking engagements. I can’t begin to explain this journey’s profound effect on me and how enriching it has been to make a difference for an underrepresented community and underutilized workforce. My friends and family have noticed and are sharing sentiments about the work I am doing. Family members with disabilities think of me as their voice in the market, and they back each endeavor alongside me.

I challenge you to do the same and begin impacting your company’s culture and within the ability community!

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