We spoke with disability inclusion advocate Becky Curran about how employers can attract and retain talented employees who have disabilities. In her role as director of the Disability Equality Index as Disability:IN, she manages a benchmarking tool that businesses can use to rate their disability inclusion policies and practices. Here are her top tips for improving disability inclusion.
1. Include the word “disability” in diversity statements
Instead of implying that your company welcomes everyone, spell it out. Many diversity inclusion statements are too broad. These statements often allude to general diversity, such as diversity of thought. “But unless you explicity write it out, people continue to feel exluded,” she explains.
Diversity statements and other communication materials should include the word disability. This helps eliminate the guess work. Potential job applicants and current employees who haven’t yet disclosed their disabilities will immediately know that your company’s diversity policies include them.
2. Tell people they can request an accommodation
“We always tell people to be as transparent as possible,” Curran says. “Especially when it comes to job sites, make it known that people can request an accommodation if they need for the application and interview process, and then for onboarding.”
She suggests that when you email a candidate to set up an interview, you also include a note about disability accommodation. For example, after listing the location and date for the interview, add this statement:
If you if you need an accommodation to successfully participate in the interview or complete the job application process, contact this email address or phone number.
3. Improve physical accessibility
If you want your job applicant pool to be diverse, you’ve got to make sure that all applicants can access the building. Opening a dialog about disability inclusion as soon as possible helps both parties prepare for any potential accessibility challenges. Depending on the person’s particular disability, they may need different accommodations. For example, ensure applicants that your building has an elevator, if it does. Offer to help with opening heavy doors, reaching elevator buttons, and getting to the right office.
4. Improve digital accessibility
“Accessibility is about physical space, but it's also about digital space,” she says. With so many aspects of our jobs becoming digitized, it’s important to make sure that technology is as accessible as possible. This can include making sure that people who are blind or have low vision can access website, and including captions or transcripts in videos or other audio that your company creates. Make sure that a wide range of users can navigate internal systems such as payroll and timesheets.
“A lot of companies are better outward facing. They want to attract customers of all abilities,” Curran explains. “And hiring an employee who may be blind or low vision could actually help you get better at these website advancements,” she says.
5. Consider the ways accessibility benefits everybody
Ensuring that both physical and digital assets are accessible doesn’t only benefit disabled employees. Many accessibility upgrades can serve a dual purpose. One way to improve disability inclusion is by offering captioning audio description at conferences or other large meetings. Curran suggests CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), which is a service where a provider translates speech to text in real-time. This helps deaf people participate in meetings, and it also provides an instant transcript of the live event. This transcript could be helpful for anyone who needs help hearing a live speech, especially if it’s an international meeting where people speak many different languages. Plus, your organization will have a transcript of the event for people who couldn't attend it in person.
6. Hire lifelong problem-solvers
“I think people forget that people with disabilities are big problem solvers,” Curran says.
She was born with achondroplasia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism. “When I get out of bed in the morning, I have to make sure that I land on the step stool to get out of the bed.”
She faces extra challenges when she travels. Her day starts with making sure she doesn’t fall when she’s trying to get out of bed, trying to reach the sink in the hotel bathroom, and even hoping the toilet seat isn't loose so she doesn’t pinch her leg when she climbs up to sit.
She explains, “All these different things are happening before I even leave the door in the morning. And I'm not going to talk about those things, because I don't want it to look like a setback. But these are things that helped me grow as a problem solver.”