In 2019, 180 companies participated in the Disability Equality Index (DEI), an initiative that benchmarks organizations’ “disability inclusion efforts” and publishes a list of “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion.” Since its creation in 2014, “there has been a significant spike in participation and a growing need from corporations to utilize the DEI to advance disability inclusion across their businesses,” according to the 2019 report.
Is your organization taking notice of the growing interest in ensuring equitable employment for people with disabilities? If so, you may be concerned about how your new “Autism at Work” or other inclusive hiring initiative will impact talent development and management. After all, there are a lot of myths about people with disabilities, particularly when it comes to the workplace.
Fortunately, these myths are just that — myths. Managing and training employees with disabilities can be not only doable but rewarding as well (you may already be doing it without knowing it). Here are five common myths about disability inclusion in the workplace — and the truths that will make your organization more welcoming, supportive and successful.
1. You Don’t Have Any Employees With Disabilities
A survey by the Center for Talent Innovation found that while one out of three professionals has a disability, only 13% have a “visible” (i.e., noticeable) disability. What’s more, 61% of employees with disabilities have not disclosed their disability to their manager, 76% have not disclosed it to their teams, 79% have not disclosed it to the human resources (HR) department and 96% do not disclose it to clients.
The 62% of employees with an “invisible disability” (e.g., autism, mental health conditions, chronic illnesses and ADHD) face a dilemma: disclose the disability and potentially receive support and accommodations — but discrimination and prejudice as well — or keep it a secret, potentially losing out on critical support but staying protected from conscious or unconscious bias.
The costs of keeping a disability a secret at work are high: The Center for Talent Innovation survey found that employees with disabilities who do not regularly disclose them are more likely to feel unhappy, nervous, anxious and/or isolated at work. Of course, the costs of bias are also high, making some workplaces a lose-lose for workers with disabilities.
Your organization likely has a significant number of employees with disabilities. Do they feel safe to be fully themselves at work? If not, training leaders on psychological safety and training all employees on unconscious bias and disability awareness is probably a good first step to take.
2. Accommodations Are Too Expensive
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires both private and public employers in the U.S. to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities, provided those accommodations do not result “in undue hardship” to the employer. It’s a common misconception that such accommodations are costly in terms of money, time and effort. However, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “two-thirds of accommodations cost less than $500, with nearly a quarter costing nothing at all” — but such accommodations can return an average of $5,000 to the employer.
The type (and cost) of accommodation depends, of course, on the individual and his or her disability or disabilities. However, here are some common accommodations:
3. Autistic Employees Should Work in Technology
Major corporations have begun autism hiring initiatives to recruit and train autistic people for jobs, often in technical fields. HP Enterprise/DXC Technology’s Dandelion Program, for example, offers internships and jobs in cybersecurity, data analytics and software testing, while Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program recruits autistic employees for engineering, data science and program management jobs.
While it’s true that many autistic people have skills that transfer well to these types of roles, such as attention to detail and pattern recognition, it’s also true that each autistic person is unique, just like each person without autism is unique. The trend toward personalized learning and customized employee experiences is true here, too. Managers should get to know their employees as individuals (regardless of whether they have a disability) and approach management and training accordingly.
Organizations have found success with autistic employees in a variety of fields, from finance and entertainment to retail and restaurants.
4. Inclusion Initiatives Only Benefit the Employees With Disabilities
While the benefits of inclusive employment to the employees cannot be discounted, it’s also important to realize that having colleagues with disabilities is beneficial to non-disabled employees and the organization as a whole. Inclusive organizations, on average, have 28% higher revenue, 200% higher net income and 30% higher economic profit margins, according to an Accenture report. In addition, having a workforce that’s representative of the general population (26% of whom, in the U.S., have a disability) improves your organization’s ability to serve your customers. The discretionary income of working-age people with disabilities is $21 billion, according to the American Institutes for Research. Hiring people with disabilities can help you reach that market.
Co-workers without disabilities benefit from a diverse workforce in several ways, in addition to better organizational performance. Some workplace accommodations, such as accessible learning and flexible work options, are helpful to all employees, regardless of disability status. In addition, “working alongside employees with disabilities makes non-disabled individuals more aware of how to make the workplace more inclusive and better for everyone,” according to the Accenture report. Finally, inclusive marketing and advertising boost a company’s reputation, making all of its employees feel more pride in working there.
5. Employees With Disabilities Will Require Significant Additional Training
Most of your employees with disabilities require no more or less training than the rest of your workforce. Employers are not expected or required to hire people who aren’t qualified for the position; your learners with disabilities went through the same screening as your learners without disabilities and are ready to perform.
Like any other employee, workers with disabilities need ongoing learning in order to grow and succeed. They may need some accommodations to help them learn (and they may not), but ensuring equitable access to high-quality training for a diverse workforce should be a given in the modern workplace. There are also many organizations you can partner with to hire and onboard prequalified employees with disabilities or to support your training efforts for current employees.
Improving the employment rate of people with disabilities is not a vague aspiration or a pie-in-the-sky dream. In the future of work, it’s a necessity for organizations to be both successful and ethical. By challenging these five myths when they pop up in your organization, you will be well on your way to creating a just, productive and engaging workplace.