For years, companies have avoided hiring people with disabilities. Whether it’s through belief that disabled employees won’t perform well, or fear of bringing profits and performance down, this is has been an unfortunate truth.

Over time, companies have come to understand that their perceptions are untrue. In fact, new research suggests the opposite. But by focusing only on diversity in gender, ethnicity, and nationality many companies are still ignoring this sizeable and very diverse pool of talent.

Hiring people with disabilities is good for business. Let’s create more accessible workplaces.

1. Start with your immediate needs

Your end goal should be to always be as accessible to everyone as possible. While that is a great objective, it can also mean you might bite off more than you can chew. Instead of starting a complete overhaul, focus your efforts on your most pressing needs first.

Most companies are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees, and candidates who are viable applicants. Look at your current workforce and start your accessibility efforts there. Not only does this make the process more approachable, you also will be able to make the relevant changes straight away.

2. Increase applicant accessibility

If your online job application system isn’t accessible for those that are impaired, you are eliminating a potential superstar applicant from the very beginning.

Your company’s hiring page should mention any history of providing accommodations, or the process for requesting accommodations – as well as the estimated time that may take. Making accessibility requests can be incredibly stressful. Anything your company can do to alleviate this stress goes a long way to creating a positive image of your company’s inclusivity.

Offering accessible technology on your website and elsewhere sends a clear message: your organisation values diversity and is actively working to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

3. Offer accessibility tools

Accessibility isn’t just about adding wheelchair ramps and Braille on signage. Its also involves looking at technology and how it can improve an employee’s ability to be a top performer. Think adjustable desks and monitors, improved lighting, color-coded keyboards, screen reader software, and sign language apps.

Microsoft has developed accessibility solutions that are practical and intelligent in both Windows 10 and Office 365. These include closed captioning, live call transcription, and narrator to read text. They even provide built in software tools that allow employees to check that their work and emails are accessible to coworkers. Learn more about their work in this video.

4. Train on disability inclusion

Most of us will say that we do not discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Yet studies show that this bias, when paired with the discomfort of the unknown, has a negative impact on the interview process.

When a candidate with a disability arrives for an interview, the hiring manager may need a moment to process, which may skew the entire interview. The fear of saying the wrong thing may cause the interviewer to become absorbed in an internal monologue that evaluates whether the candidate can do the job with their disability. Yet, most likely, the candidate has already conquered many of the challenges that may cause concern.

Alleviate this stress by providing disability inclusion training for hiring managers. Have them stick to an interview script that focuses on core skills. Help them assess the whole person instead of just their disability. Allow them to be prepared so an uncomfortable new situation doesn’t prevent their focus from being on the interview process.

Training shouldn’t end with the management team. All employees need to know what they can do to contribute to a better work environment. This training can even be incorporated as part of the new employees onboarding process. That way you can set the tone and company culture from the very start.

Even with this training people may forget or make mistakes. Reminders on best practises can be included in every team meeting to make sure it stays top of mind.

5. Enlist insight experts

If you are looking for an expert opinion to make your office more inclusive and disability friendly, there are plenty of firms and organisations that you can hire. However, you may have all the resources you need right under your own roof.

Rely on existing employees with disabilities –both visible and invisible – to enlighten you about issues that could be resolved or improved. The focus should be on things that will directly improve their ability to reach their full potential at work. While you may already have installed ramps, an employee who uses a wheelchair may clue you in to the fact that heavy doors don’t have automatic openers on them.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and often, small changes that you would never have thought about (as an abled person) can make the greatest difference. Don’t hesitate; ask employees to call attention to problem areas and to poke ‘holes’ in your current culture of inclusion.

6. Create an inclusive attitude and revise company policies

A true disability-friendly culture is built from the inside out. While education and awareness are important tactics, its even more important to ensure your diversity and inclusion policies specifically mention disabilities.

Make sure your employee handbook addresses disability discrimination. Ensure procedures and practises include provisions for disabilities. Offer accessibility tools as well as training on how to use them. Work to remove conscious and unconscious biases by offering everyone opportunities to participate in ongoing discussions.

Remember that people will only feel comfortable self-identifying as having a disability in an environment that feels inclusive and welcoming. Make sure your company celebrates diversity and doesn’t leave disability out of its diversity conversations.

7. Make Global Accessibility Awareness Day a team event

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was established to create awareness and highlight the need for increased digital accessibility. It is held annually on the third Thursday of May.

Get your employees involved in the conversation by hosting a GAAD event. Talk about all the changes your company has made in the last year to improve accessibility. Get in an inspirational speak in to talk about how inclusion has improved their ability to contribute to their fullest potential.

Or create an opportunity for abled employees to experience digital accessibility first hand. Modify devices by going without a mouse, use keyboard navigation, use a screen reader or voice recognition.

8. Understand you’ll never be “done”

You have had the important conversation, made accessibility accommodations, and educated your team. That means you’re done right? Not exactly.

You have made real progress and addressed any current accessibility issues your team faces. But the thing is that you will never be completely “done”. New technologies will be introduced, or a new employee that requires different accommodations will join the team. As with all your inclusion policies, accessibility is an ever-evolving process that requires conscious effort and constant evaluation.

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