For over 20 years, I have been working with employers to connect them to talent in the disability community. Each time I speak with a new company, department or team at a customer site about hiring people with disabilities, I ask the question, ‘Why?’
Why do you think that unemployment for people with disabilities is still a critical issue in the United States? The truth is that stigma is the underlying cause of why people with disabilities are not included. This stigma results in a number of misconceptions on the part of employers that create barriers for people with disabilities. One of the common misconceptions is that hiring a person with a disability is a costly endeavor. According to a study by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), ‘most employers report no cost or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities’ and that employers find these accommodations to be effective. Yet the myth persists that accommodations put a financial burden on companies. Today, I wanted to provide samples of some common accommodations that are not only free for employers, but also provide benefits for their workforce and commonly increase team productivity.
Providing written instruction instead of, or in addition to, verbal instruction is a common accommodation that has no cost to employers. This can take the form of procedural documents that detail step-by-step instructions for completing a task or, for a simple or one-time task, may just mean sending an employee instruction via instant messaging or email. Providing instruction in written format is often an effective accommodation for people with disabilities that impact hearing, learning, and memory. Written instruction ensures that the person with a disability has an additional source for obtaining information to successfully perform their job and provides a resource that can be referred to multiple times.
Sample disabilities this accommodation may be appropriate for: brain injury, AD/HD, deafness, multiple sclerosis, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disabilities, epilepsy
Other benefits: Maintaining written instruction for repeated processes in the workplace also benefits employees that do not have disabilities. This creates a series of information that can be referred to for processes that are completed infrequently or that can be used as manuals and guides for new employees joining the organization. Putting these documents in place and saving in a shared folder or area can allow employees the ability to find answers on their own, use documents as a quality checklist to ensure all steps are completed, and allow for someone to fill in when a team member is out of the office. Additionally, sending an email or instant message to communicate a simple task that needs performed or ask a quick question will help to eliminate interruptions to workflow.
Ending Side Chatter During Meetings
Side chatter during meetings and teleconferences can be common place in a boisterous work environment or with a close-knit team. While this may generally be accepted as a part of the creative process or typical practice within an organization, ending side chatter as an accommodation can be beneficial for employees with disabilities, employees without disabilities and the employer. Ensuring team members do not speak over each other during meetings or create an on-going hum of side chatter in the background will likely be an effective accommodation for people with disabilities that impact hearing, vision, learning, and attention. Removing the on-going distraction will allow the person with a disability to focus on the important give and take, understand who is speaking, and participate in the central discussion of the meeting.
Sample disabilities this accommodation may be appropriate for: autism spectrum disabilities, AD/HD, blindness, deafness, learning disabilities
Other benefits: Side chatter can be distracting for all employees and often can result in meeting participants missing out on crucial information. Preventing this distraction will result in everyone hearing all pertinent information and being able to contribute to the conversation in an effective manner. This solution often leads to increased meeting productivity, due to the minimization of interruption.
For full benefit, consider also using an agenda that is sent out prior to meetings. This will let participants with disabilities know what to expect and be prepared for during the meetings. Providing this accommodation can be a benefit for individuals with disabilities that impact learning, memory and attention. This accommodation will be a significant benefit to all employees as well, allowing them the opportunity to be as prepared as possible to discuss projects and topics, as well as brainstorm possible solutions or innovations to bring to the meeting ahead of time.
Electronic Organizers or Timers
Most companies use software packages that include programs with functions to organize and prioritize tasks and assignments or the ability to set reminders to appear at certain times throughout the day. For people with some disabilities, use of these tools can greatly impact their success in their job role. These resources allow them to consistently manage time effectively. Sometimes using the clock or reminder app on a mobile device can replace computer software for roles where the employee may not be stationary. These tools are generally requested as an accommodation for people with disabilities that impact memory, learning, and attention.
Sample disabilities this accommodation may be appropriate for: autism spectrum disabilities, AD/HD, brain injury, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities
Other benefits: While many employees may already benefit from use of these tools, offering additional guidance or suggested solutions for how to effectively utilize these tools are beneficial for all employees. They may not know the full range of options to mange their time using electronic solutions for task prioritization, follow-up reminders and setting timed deadlines. Using these tools helps all employees to increase productivity and gain keen organizational and follow-up skills; two competencies that will allow them to grow within their current job role and within the organization.
While not all employees can necessarily have their most desired seat in an office and not all offices have the same layout and design, it is important to remember that physical environment does impact employee success. I placed a woman who was hard of hearing at one of my customer locations who requested that she be seated in a location where her back would be toward a wall, removing the likelihood that colleagues would approach her from behind, a situation that could be jarring and anxiety producing since she could not hear them approach. I had another employee who requested to be moved away from a location near the restrooms, as the constant stream of people coming in and out caused distraction from work. Still another employee requested to be located near a natural lighting source, since the lack of light could affect mood. Workspace placement requests vary largely based on the particular employee’s disability. Employers receiving an accommodation request related to workspace placement should consider the most effective solution for the individual, rather than creating a blanket solution. Commonly disabilities that affect mental health, concentration, mood and emotion can be accommodated in some part by ensuring an environment that is conducive to the individual’s success.
Sample disabilities this accommodation may be appropriate for: autism spectrum disabilities, AD/HD, blindness, hearing loss, learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, PTSD
Other benefits: While being seated in the correct location in the workplace may have more of a significant impact on employees with certain disabilities in ensuring their success, work environment impacts all employees. Not all people thrive in the same environment. When the possibility exists to allow employees to have input into their workspace placement, they are more relaxed and comfortable, leading to greater focus on productivity. Regardless of if they have a disability, some people are more drawn to quiet workspaces that minimize distraction and others feed off of the energy of working closer to teammates.
Technology Setting Adjustments
Some accommodations are as simple as allowing an employee to put certain settings in place for the technology used in their job role that afford them the best opportunity for success. These adjustments could be related to using zoom features on a monitor, talk to text or read aloud features, establishing key stroke settings, volume controls on a phone, or other common features. These solutions most often are needed for people with disabilities that affect vision, hearing, and mobility.
Sample disabilities this accommodation may be appropriate for: blindness, low vision, hard of hearing, paralysis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, amputation
Other benefits: Allowing employees to individualize their technology experience allows them to create a digital environment that will be the most successful for their specific needs. This may be resetting a mouse for left or right-handed use, adjusting screen brightness to minimize eye fatigue, etc. Encouraging employees to use these features allows them to minimize distractions that exist digitally and focus on meeting production goals.
As you can see from the areas above, many accommodations are simple and low or no-cost solutions for employers. For some of these items, your organization may already be using these suggestions as general practices in your workforce. If that is the case, excellent, you are ready to hire people with disabilities. If you are not consistently using these suggestions for your team or workforce, you will experience benefit from employing these as a standard practice.
Over time, accommodations for people with disabilities have led to some of the conveniences, innovations and product enhancements we take for granted today. Automatic doors have become a staple convenience at busy supermarkets and stores making it easier to navigate shopping carts or exit with your packages. Voice activated tools laid the groundwork for hands-free use of technology while driving or in your home. Curb cuts have not only made it easier for individuals who use wheelchairs to navigate sidewalks but have made it easier for parents whose children are still in strollers to do so.
As employers hire more people with disabilities, who knows what new innovations and enhancements will be realized in the future, benefiting employers and consumers world-wide, based on the accommodations we provide now.