Strategies for Enterprise-Wide Training on Disability Inclusion

Over the years, I have talked to many companies who identify themselves at different levels of success when it comes to disability hiring and inclusion. As I began my partnership with Andy Houghton, founder of No Barriers Media, to build out training strategies for our iDisabilityTM product, we talked to many companies to identify what topics would appeal the most to their organizations. Depending on who we spoke with in the organization and where the company fell with disability inclusion, either being a newer focus or something they had been doing for a while, different topics were suggested, such as communicating with people with disabilities, building partnerships in the disability community, and of course, interviewing and onboarding people with disabilities. I was not surprised when many of the topics were ones I had reviewed during the various disability inclusion training programs I have conducted over the last 20+ years with my customers.  However, I was surprised to learn that the most common thread with companies was a request not to assume any level of knowledge within the organization; that disability inclusion topics and strategies that seem universally understood may not be understood within all levels of the organization. The request was clear, start with the basics and move forward.

It is with this thought in mind that I encourage you to consider implementing an enterprise-wide training program, that is available to all employees, regardless of their current role within the hierarchy of your organization. It is not enough for employees in diversity and inclusion to understand what disability employment and engagement looks like. Remember, when the OFCCP begins conducting focused reviews with federal contractors in FY 2019, October 1, 2018, they will come onsite and interview managers responsible for Section 503 compliance within your organization as well as those employees that are affected by those policies. This will include evaluating how the company is performing in relation to disability hiring, accommodations, and successfully preventing discrimination. From what has been shared with me by companies I work closely with, as well as those I talked with at the Disability:IN conference this summer, the general workforce has questions – questions that can be answered through access to a successful enterprise-wide training program.

In addition to training being helpful for people who make hiring, accommodations, engagement, and promotional decisions within your organization, this product will be seen by employees both with and without disabilities. Setting a clear path forward for your employees regarding inclusion expectations will positively impact how your employees with disabilities view the culture of your organization.

In this blog, I will share some of the tips that I have learned over the years when conducting training for my customers that you can employ as you are putting your strategy together or adjusting existing strategies to become more impactful. To move from talking about hiring, to actually seeing people with disabilities being hired in your organization, training is essential; your employees need access to answers to questions they have about disability employment and inclusion.

Tip #1: An Hour of Training Will Never be Enough

The topic of disability inclusion is multi-faceted. Meaning that with the diverse types of disabilities, the variety of appropriate and reasonable accommodations, and the breadth of the company that disability touches from customer service, to supply chain, to employees, a one-hour session will not be sufficient in providing information on all concepts relevant to the inclusion of people with disabilities.

It is difficult to make a lasting impact throughout the organizational footprint with a one-hour training video or seminar. To best impact how your employees view inclusion of people with disabilities, and ensure understanding of what disability stigma is, and how it negatively impacts the company, disability needs to be something that is talked about frequently. If you limit these sessions to one-hour training periods, conducted on an annual or semi-annual basis, then your employees are not realizing the opportunity to change cultures in the most meaningful way.

Tip #2: Training Should be Available As-Needed

Whether questions arise from a customer service agent being asked to explain an accessible product feature, a hiring manager interviewing a person with a disability for the first time, a new accommodation request from an employee recently diagnosed with a disability, or a recruiter attending a disability focused job fair, when questions arise employees need immediate answers. Waiting several weeks or several months for the next corporate training session will minimize the importance of these questions. After all, questions are good – they demonstrate that the employee is thinking about inclusion and what they need to do to be successful.

Having a clearly defined path for associates to find answers to their disability inclusion questions is an important requirement in creating a training program that is effective. Training should be easy to access, simple to consume, and provide clear direction. This is why when developing iDisabilityTM,  Andy and I made the decision to limit each segment to 15-minute training sessions, across a multitude of topics. The purpose for this is to provide on-demand training developed to understand the limitations of a business associate’s time constraints. When building a training program for your company, be sure to allow busy colleagues the opportunity to find solutions to their disability inclusion questions without disrupting the normal flow of processes. Having information available quickly, to people considering how they can be inclusive, will encourage them to navigate through the process rather than abandoning it because it is too time consuming.

Tip #3: Identify a Solution that is Scalable and Sustainable

When developing a training solution, ensure that it is one that will still be impactful as time progresses, and as internal objectives and federal hiring policies change. It should be something that can be adapted to meet the current needs of the organization and be able to grow with the organization.

Tip #4: Cover How to Include Disability Across the Enterprise

What does it mean when you talk about disability inclusion across an enterprise? It means considering all the ways in which inclusion should be discussed, whether it is within the supply chain, the talent pipeline, employee development, employee retention, or community engagement. When building your training program, do not make the mistake of focusing only on one of the areas of engagement – to be well prepared for possible participation in OFCCP Focused Reviews, ensure that disability is a part of the discussion for all areas across the enterprise.

The more that disability is a part of the conversation you have with your employees, whether it be your front-line customer service agents, supplier diversity associates, facilities management, human resources, mid-level management, technology or leadership, the more likely that your organization will be seen as an employer of choice by the disability community. These conversations will also establish your commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities across all job roles as well as your organizations stance on eliminating discrimination of people with disabilities.

Ensuring disability is being included in all program areas as well as at all levels of personnel will also be impactful when it comes to preparing employees for any questions they may receive about disability inclusion within your organization.

Tip #5: Avoid Training Programs that Hide Disability

Your training should be focused on drawing attention to disability inclusion and celebrating the culture of this group of people, rather than looking to redefine their group or cover it up with the use of euphemisms. Avoiding the use of the word disability or using training techniques and programs that accentuate the stereotypes or myths associated with disability employment both negatively impact the success of disability inclusion programs and reinforce stigma associated with disability.

Tip #6: Develop Metrics and Set Training Goals

Once you have laid out a plan to train your team, ensure that you have established clearly defined goals and expectations with your workforce. Follow-up regularly to ensure that training is being completed and goals are being met. Develop metrics for your employees to understand what success looks like and to identify where additional training is needed.

For more information about what you can do to prepare for FY 2019 OFCCP Focused Reviews, please visit my blog later this month to discuss disability inclusion in the supply chain and self-disclosure.

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Contact us if you would like to discuss how Bender Consulting Services can be a part of your company’s success with disability inclusion or to review our services.

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