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Diversity & Inclusion

The Power of Disability Representation in DEI

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is one of the most sought-after organizational attributes by prospective employees and an initiative that improves recruiting efforts. But there is often a disconnect between what is advertised during recruitment and what is delivered once assimilated to company culture.

According to a 2023 HR Trends Report, DEI does not make HR’s top five priorities due to time constraints dedicated to DEI efforts, lack of resources and funding, disparate strategies, low data to guide efforts, and low executive buy-in.

In recent years, diversity, equity, and inclusion have become buzzwords in the corporate world. Organizations have recognized the importance of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported. However, disability representation in DEI initiatives has often been overlooked or neglected.

According to the World Health Organization, about 15% of the global population have some form of disability. Yet, the representation of people with disabilities in the workforce is significantly lower than that of non-disabled individuals. In the US, roughly 21% of people with disabilities are employed, compared to approximately 65% of people without disabilities. This disparity highlights the urgent need to address disability inclusion in DEI initiatives.

Challenges of Disability Representation in DEI

The lack of disability representation in DEI initiatives can be attributed to several factors, including:

  • Inaccessible workplaces: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, including in the workplace and communications. However, the physical and digital workplace environment is often designed without considering the needs of people with disabilities. This makes it difficult for them to access and navigate the workspace and use technology effectively. Employers, especially those in hybrid or looking to incorporate hybrid work arrangements, need to consider the accessibility of their physical workplace environment and ensure it is disability inclusive.
  • Bias and discrimination: People with disabilities often face bias and discrimination in the workplace, including negative attitudes, unequal treatment, and lack of accommodations. This can lead to feelings of isolation, exclusion, and disengagement. Title I of the ADA covers discrimination of people with disabilities in the employee lifecycle, such as recruiting and hiring, terminations, and training.
  • Limited understanding of disabilities: Many organizations and individuals have limited knowledge and understanding of disabilities, leading to misconceptions and stereotypes. This lack of awareness makes it difficult to create inclusive policies and practices that cater to the needs of people with disabilities. Employers should look to involve their HR professionals in investing in proper training and education regarding people with disabilities in the workplace, not just from a compliance standpoint, but also to broaden emotional intelligence in all facets of business operations.

6 Tips for Promoting Disability Representation in the Workplace

To promote disability representation in the workplace, organizations can adopt the following strategies:

  1. Include in DEI initiatives: There are many prongs to DEI initiatives, and because disability inclusion is often overlooked or neglected, try making a push for it on the priority list. For example, if your organization already has resources (i.e. employee resource groups) for other underrepresented groups, advocating for disability inclusion in this year’s DEI initiatives can be a great first step.
  2. Ensure executive buy-in: Organizations can prioritize disability inclusion in their DEI initiatives by setting clear goals, monitoring progress, and holding leaders accountable for creating an inclusive workplace. Though many leaders are involved in the DEI decision-making process, only 13% of DEI leaders believe their C-suite leaders actively demonstrate support.
  3. Add DEI to budget planning: Only 28% of companies have maintained their DEI budgets, while 18% have actually lowered their budgets. While DEI might not be the top priority at your organization, it is imperative that DEI initiatives are incorporated into budget planning. Without a budget, there’s only so much you can do to effectuate change. The budget can be justified to pay for a guest speaker or working with an external firm that specializes in disability recruiting.
  4. Educate and raise awareness: Organizations can provide training and education to employees to increase their awareness and understanding of disabilities, such as neurodiversity, autism, and other lesser-known disabilities. This can help to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes and create a more inclusive workplace culture, as well as ensure all essential compliance requirements are met. Additionally, adding specialized HR professionals who focus on DEI initiatives can help provide invaluable insight into disability inclusion.
  5. Regular reminders of purpose: One important challenge many HR professionals and businesses are facing is diversity fatigue—the stress and burnout associated with DEI initiatives. One of the best ways to fight diversity fatigue is to remind your diversity leaders of their purpose—from celebrating milestones and important goals achieved, to exploring how you run meetings (i.e. length, channel, frequency, number of participants) and being intentional in all decisions and strategies.
  6. Create accessible workplaces: Organizations can design the physical and digital workplace environment to cater to the needs of people with disabilities. This can include providing accommodations, such as assistive technology, accessible facilities, and flexible work arrangements.

3 Benefits of Disability Inclusion

People with disabilities offer so much more than their skill sets. They often come from diverse walks of life that can be invaluable not only to their role within your organization, but to the overall company culture.
Here are three benefits of disability inclusion in the workplace:

  1. Innovation and creativity: People with disabilities bring unique perspectives and experiences that can drive innovation and creativity. By embracing disability inclusion, organizations can tap into the potential of this diverse talent pool and enhance their creativity and innovation.
  2. Increased engagement and retention: Creating an inclusive workplace that caters to the needs of people with disabilities can increase their engagement, job satisfaction, and retention. This can result in a more loyal and committed workforce.
  3. Enhanced reputation: Disability inclusion is becoming increasingly important to consumers and investors. By prioritizing disability representation in DEI initiatives, organizations can enhance their reputation and appeal to a broader audience.

Disability representation in DEI initiatives is essential to creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. By overcoming the challenges and embracing the opportunities, organizations can tap into the potential of this diverse talent pool and enhance their creativity, innovation, and reputation. By prioritizing disability inclusion, organizations can create a more equitable and just society for everyone.

Learn more by exploring how DEIBA can improve both your company’s culture and profit.

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