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Organizational DEI Efforts Among the Disabled Community


Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have become central topics of discussion and strategic focus within organizations in recent years. While progress has been made in some areas towards more inclusive work cultures, certain groups – such as those with disabilities – remain underrepresented and face unique barriers.


Today we will explore DEI efforts targeted towards improving opportunities and representation for employees and prospective hires with disabilities. Through a review of relevant research and practical examples, recommendations are provided for how organizations can strengthen their disability inclusion strategies.


The Disability Employment Gap


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020), only about one-fifth of Americans with disabilities are employed, compared to nearly three-fifths of those without disabilities. The disability employment rate has barely changed over the past two decades despite a rising number of individuals living with disabilities (American Institutes for Research, 2020). Several factors contribute to this persistent gap:


  • Lack of accommodations and accessibility: Many workplaces have physical, technological, and attitudinal barriers that exclude people with disabilities from equal participation. Reasonable accommodations - such as alternative formats, assistive technologies, schedule adjustments - are not always provided as required by law (American Institutes for Research, 2020).

  • Bias and misperceptions: Negative stereotypes regarding productivity, costs, and liability risks associated with hiring people with disabilities persist among some employers and managers (Bruce et al., 2014). This can unintentionally influence recruitment and selection decisions.

  • Systemic barriers: Educational disparities, lack of role models, and limited social networks for people with disabilities reduce exposure to career opportunities and pathways (Joshi et al., 2020). Systemic inequities must be addressed.


Targeted efforts are needed to close the disability employment gap through raising awareness, implementing strategic accommodations, expanding access to training and mentorship, and fostering an inclusive culture where all talents can thrive. The following sections outline recommended actions organizations can take.


Specific Accommodation Strategies


As a foundational step, organizations must establish formal accommodation processes and ensure managers and staff are educated (Schur et al., 2014). Effective disability inclusion also requires flexibility and creativity to remove barriers proactively. Some strategies research supports include:


  • Conduct accessibility audits of facilities, digital platforms, and communications to identify and address issues (Erickson et al., 2014).

  • Provide flexible arrangements, such as modified schedules, telework, or job sharing to accommodate limitations (Baldridge & Veiga, 2001).

  • Invest in assistive technologies, such as screen readers or voice command software, which can benefit both employees with disabilities and help drive innovation (Revansiddh et al., 2017).

  • Consider restructuring roles to capitalize on employees’ skills rather than focusing on limitations of disabilities (Schur et al., 2005).

  • Establish mentoring programs pairing new hires with disabilities with experienced employees as a support system.


Recruitment and Selection Best Practices


Recruiting qualified candidates with disabilities requires intentional outreach (Beech et al., 2021). Best practice strategies organizations nationwide have implemented successfully include:


  • Partnering with disability advocacy organizations and using their specialist recruiters/job boards to directly target diverse candidates.

  • Clearly stating the organization's commitment to DEI and disability inclusion in all postings and careers website content.

  • Welcoming alternative application formats beyond standard resumes/cover letters from candidates.

  • Providing accommodation assistance during interviews such as American Sign Language interpreters.

  • Training all staff involved in recruiting and interviewing on inclusive behaviors and legal obligations.

  • Avoiding making assumptions and asking only job-relevant questions to mitigate risk of bias influencing selection decisions.

  • Establishing relationships with educational programs serving students with disabilities as a pipeline for future talent.


Case Study: Microsoft


Microsoft has set an example as a leader in disability inclusion and hiring. Some highlights of their efforts include:


  • Hiring over 1,000 employees with disabilities since 2015 across their global operations (Microsoft, 2019).

  • Launching the Microsoft Abilities Hiring Program in partnership with outside specialists to identify talent and roll out tailored recruitment.

  • Maintaining over 80 ERGs (employee resource groups) including Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Neurodiversity for community and support.

  • Receiving a near-perfect score on the Disability Equality Index in recognition of policies like professional development stipends for accessible technology.

  • Training their managers through immersive experiences like simulations of visual/hearing impairments to raise awareness of challenges faced (Dare et al., 2019).


Microsoft's proactive, multi-pronged strategy demonstrates how commitment from the top and innovations in practices can enable the success of employees with disabilities at all levels of a large, global technology company.


Cultivating an Inclusive Workplace Culture


A welcoming culture where uniqueness is valued is key for retaining top diverse talent (Mitchell et al., 2021). Organizations should consider these additional recommendations supported by research:


  • Educate all employees on disability etiquette, appropriate language, and the social model of disability to cultivate understanding and respect.

  • Incorporate disability awareness into diversity training programs. Address misconceptions, legal obligations, and how to be an effective ally.

  • Highlight disabled role models internally through employee profiles shared across communication channels.

  • Foster community through disability employee resource/affinity groups with leadership support.

  • Establish sponsorship programs pairing high-potential employees with disabilities to senior leaders as mentors and advocates.

  • Collect voluntary self-identification data on disability status anonymously to benchmark progress of initiatives over time.

  • Survey employees on their experiences periodically and address any issues of exclusion or barriers immediately.


Cultivating true inclusion requires an organizational culture that appreciates and celebrates diversity in all its forms, including disability. A multifaceted, ongoing effort following best practices can help achieve this.


Conclusion


As the world of work continues evolving to be more accommodating and just, proactively recruiting and empowering talent with disabilities remains an opportunity area for many organizations. Implementing targeted strategies informed by research across hiring practices, ongoing support, and cultural drivers of inclusion can help close the disability employment gap. Doing so leverages significant untapped human potential while cultivating workforces that are more representative of society as a whole. With committed leadership and innovative solutions, organizations stand to gain from the perspectives and contributions of employees with disabilities.


References


  • American Institutes for Research. (2020, February). Employment of People With Disabilities: A Hidden Opportunity. https://www.air.org/resource/employment-people-disabilities-hidden-opportunity

  • Baldridge, D. C., & Veiga, J. F. (2001). Toward a greater understanding of the willingness to request an accommodation: Can requesters' beliefs disable the Americans with Disabilities Act? Academy of Management Review, 26(1), 85–99. https://doi.org/10.2307/259118

  • Beech, A. S., D'Aniello, C., Davies, A. R., Halcomb, E. J., & Blue, I. (2021). Effective strategies for the recruitment of people with disabilities into professional roles: A systematic review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 122, 104007. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2021.104007

  • Bruce, M. A., Griffiths, C. A., Thornton, A., & Stuart, P. (2014). Integration of mental health peer educators within assertive outreach teams. Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, 9(3), 141-151. https://doi.org/10.1108/jmhtep-02-2013-0010

  • Dare, J., Salim, A., & Gençtürk, E. F. (2019). Simulating blindness to develop empathy and inclusion at Microsoft. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 113(5), 431–439. https://doi.org/10.1177/0145482X19875594

  • Erickson, W. A., von Schrader, S., Bruyère, S. M., & VanLooy, S. A. (2014). The employment environment: Employer perspectives, policies, and practices regarding the employment of persons with disabilities. Rehabilitation Research, Policy, and Education, 28(4), 245-263. https://doi.org/10.1891/2168-6653.28.4.245

  • Joshi, A., Couper, M. P., Chow, S., Fekete, E. M., Sikdar, S., Kahane, L., . . . Krieger, J. L. (2020). Self-reported disability status and perceived access to workplace accommodations among US workers: Findings from the American Communities Survey. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 63(4), 311-321. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23068

  • Microsoft. (2019, November 4). Microsoft Releases Annual Report on Inclusion Across Company and Society. https://news.microsoft.com/2019/11/04/microsoft-releases-annual-report-on-inclusion-across-company-and-society/

  • Mitchell, T. L., Sauer, J. L., & Hastings, S. W. (2021). Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace: Best practices and recommendations from corporate Canada. Canadian HR Reporter, 32(7), 1-4.

  • Revansiddh, K., Bhave, D., Gowthaman, M., Kumar, N., Naik, Y., & Bapna, S. (2017). Enabling Accessibility: An approach towards inclusion. Harvard Business Review, 8(1), 23-27.

  • Schur, L., Kruse, D., & Blanck, P. (2005). Corporate culture and the employment of persons with disabilities. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 23(1), 3-20. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.623

  • Schur, L., Nishii, L., Ada, A., Kruse, D., Bruyère, S., & Blanck, P. (2014). Accommodating employees with disabilities: Does strategy matter?. Human Resource Management, 53(4), 557-575. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21617

  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm


 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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