Over 15% of the world’s population—that’s an estimated one billion people—are living and working with a disability. While it may be obvious that Brad in HR is in a wheelchair, many disabilities are life-altering and invisible. Failing to recruit and support such a potentially huge segment of the workforce is not only silly, but it’s also bad business.
In 2022, as we enter our third year of working from home, employers could choose to see this as an opportunity to recruit disabled employees. It’s a chance to seek out talent they may have overlooked in the past. In this blog post, the Smithey Law Group LLC team will go through some innovative ways to support disabled employees.
Make Accessibility Part of Your Culture
Accessibility is about more than simply putting in a wheelchair ramp or purchasing signs with braille included. Being accessible to people with disabilities means letting people know up front that you’re willing to accommodate a wide variety of bodies and abilities.
This starts with the recruiting process. Employers supporting disabled employees often specify that flexible work arrangements are acceptable right in their job postings. They make clear that they will work with candidates who want or need to work from home. Something as simple as that kind of welcoming language in a job posting can be the difference between an accessible job and an inaccessible one for someone with mobility challenges!
Another way to support disabled employees in the recruiting process is to use recruitment agencies with a focus on accessibility and inclusion. Look beyond recruiters you may usually work with when searching for candidates. Supporting your employees begins with recruiting a great group from the start.
Once you’ve made great hires, it’s important to train your team on the basics of technological inclusion. That may mean providing documents in large print, braille, or easy read versions during meetings. In our virtual world, you should also help managers understand that online documents need to be compatible with screen readers. These are all straightforward ways to support disabled employees and enable them to work effectively from home.
Take time on your work-from-home encounters to think about any low-tech participation needs people with disabilities might have for the occasional in-person meeting. These can include wheelchair accessibility in meeting spaces, hearing loops, power outlet access, and computer access.
Provide Training and Positive Support to All Employees
Although 15% of the human population lives with some form of disability, that means 85% of people still do not know what it’s like to live with a disability. Colleagues can be well-meaning, but they may not understand that their words and gestures are hurtful and harmful to their relationships with disabled colleagues. By training employees on unconscious bias and discrimination, employers and employees alike can support disabled employees.
Training and support are especially important in a virtual environment where it’s hard to read body language and intent. And training doesn’t have to be grueling or painstaking. You don’t have to make your employees sit in training sessions for hours at a time. Instead, training can be in short spurts and ongoing—and it does not always have to be formal. Get creative and find ways to incorporate it into the language and culture of your company. Help build relationships between employees by helping non-disabled employees understand the experiences of their disabled colleagues better. This can be one of the more important ways to support disabled employees if your office operates in a hybrid format and some workers are remote, and others are in the office.
If you’re not sure how to go about this, or you are concerned that creative ideas may result in more harm than good, a great employment legal matters lawyer can help. Employment legal matters lawyers have extensive client experience with training programs, and some are subject-matter experts on how to support disabled employees. Whether you choose formal or informal methods, don’t hesitate to ask a knowledgeable employment legal matters attorney for training advice.
Meet Regularly with Employees
When you’re in an office environment, casual communication is a normal part of the day. However, when an employee is working from home and communication is virtual, it requires effort to keep the magic of teamwork alive. You can support disabled employees by making sure that someone in the company checks in with them throughout the day or week, as necessary. You can demonstrate that you understand the importance of positive support to disabled employees who work from home by using something as simple as regular check-ins as a relationship-building tool.
Craft Ways to Socialize and Brainstorm
As an employer, you want to provide a great experience for all your workers, regardless of their disability status. Supporting disabled employees isn’t just about making sure offices and virtual spaces are accessible; it’s also about knowing who your employees are and what they want. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to get to know people informally.
While working from home has many benefits, especially for disabled people, it can feel isolating. Creating ways for employees—both in-office and work-from-home—to safely socialize can be a teamwork game-changer.
Team-building social exercises are ways to support disabled employees by including them in a variety of fun, virtual events that everyone can participate in. Many companies now offer activity kits for virtual meet-ups. These kits can be mailed to participants’ houses in advance of a happy hour or activity. These can include activities from virtual company picnics to online murder mystery parties.
But the value in social events is not only food and fun. It is also important to ensure that disabled employees working from home know they can approach you. They need to be able to voice any concerns or suggestions. If they do not feel like they are part of the team, make sure you have at least created an environment where they can voice these feelings.
How a Great Employment Law Attorney Can Help
At Smithey Law Group LLC, we have represented employers and employees in matters all across the spectrum of employment law issues. Employment law is what we do—and it’s the only thing we do. We offer a comprehensive suite of services to businesses facing complex, modern employment law problems. We have represented hundreds of Maryland-area businesses as they’ve grown and faced some of their thorniest employment law problems. Contact us today to see how we can help you as your trusted employment law business partner.