Easy steps for including disabled people in your workforce

Posted on Wednesday, 28 June 2017 by Matt Ater

Are you tapping into the valued and valuable workforce of people with disabilities? Over my 20 years in accessibility I have seen over and over that organizations are not prepared for employing people with disabilities. The question is why? Well, the answer is usually as simple as, they didn’t plan.

Now, this seems easy to fix. In fact, it is. Project planning skills will be handy.

Assemble a Team of Stakeholders

Just like any plan, you need resources and a team to implement. Obviously start with the human resources department and make sure they are fully and positively engaged in the success of this plan. Next, be sure the hiring manager is on board and committed to owning the success of the hire. Enlist the IT department to ensure accessibility of tools and integration and support for assistive technology. And, don’t forget to involve the folks responsible for purchasing to make sure they understand the need to buy accessible tech and services. Be sure to bring in the people who carry out training so that they can address accessibility issues before the person with a disability starts. As I’ll discuss below, this is a critical, and often overlooked part of onboarding. Finally, of course, you need to bring in the legal department or adviser and not just for completing a “compliance check list,” but to help craft a plan that ensures the whole organization understands and embraces responsibility for success.

Steps to Success

Next ensure you address all the steps necessary for successful employment, from hiring to onboarding and support. For example, when you are ready to fill a job, be sure you have assessed the duties and responsibilities for the position and written a clear description of duties and qualifications, focusing on the accomplishment of duties rather than on how tasks are done. Quite often, employers think of basic job qualifications as tasks such as lifting a certain amount of weight or driving to meetings. Of course, these aren’t the functions of the job.

Next, make sure that hiring tools, from forms to applications are accessible and usable by people with disabilities. You will also want to ensure the accessibility of internal systems like timesheets and other business applications as well as documents produced and used by your employees. And, as I said before, do not forget to plan for making employee training accessible. Be sure to have someone check the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and any state codes regarding physical access, braille/large print signage and other facility issues.

Finally, I recommend that you build disability awareness training into your plan for all employees. This will help your employees understand disability and address misconceptions and biases.

Congratulations! Up to this point, your planning stakeholders tell you everything is going well so far. Now what can go wrong?

Technology!

You need to address technology accessibility. One of the biggest mistakes in hiring people with disabilities is not understanding that they may need accessible technology to be successful. Start by identifying any assistive technology that may be needed. These are disability specific software and hardware solutions and often the person with a disability will know about solutions that work well for him/her. Test the assistive technology with “ALL” applications using common work flows. Assess the applications to ensure all functions can be completed. Add any needed assistive technology to the technology configuration management process.

Note: This does not replace auditing the applications for accessibility based on the applicable standards.

What can you do if the assistive technology doesn’t play nice with your business applications? This is not uncommon so planning and preparing a solution is very important. The best case is to remediate the accessibility issues in the documents and applications you own or develop in house. Most likely, your plan will also involve an effort to persuade the application owner to address accessibility. Remember, you’re the customer so it’s OK for you to ask the developer of software you use to make it accessible. Finally, as a last resort you may need to have a process in place to adapt the assistive technology to work with your software and systems.

Training!

We’ve already mentioned it a couple of times. You need to ensure your training and support for the employee is fully accessible. We often find this is a missed step. A disabled employee shows up for the first day of work and the orientation and training you’ve prepared is not accessible. Planning and preparation will save you from lost productivity and loss of employee morale. Own the problem and find a solution. You may need to adjust a web interface, or ensure that documents are accessible.

Bottom line

Make sure you have a plan. Start now. Don’t wait until you have your first disabled employee. Have everything prepared when the employee shows up the first day. The last thing you want is to have a new employee waiting for you to get things figured out.

Remember: people with disabilities want to be like everyone else and to be productive at work just like their peers.

About Matt Ater

Matt is the General Manager at TPG. He has been working in the accessibility and assistive technology industry for 25 years. Matt lives in Washington, DC and loves Baseball.

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