People with disabilities are some of the most underrepresented individuals in the workplace. In the U.S., 26% of adults have a disability — yet many employees with disabilities still feel less included and valued than their colleagues, according to a recent report by Global Disability Inclusion and Mercer Insights. Yet there are clear benefits of disability inclusion for organizations. In fact, research has found that employees with disabilities take less sick leave and stay with companies longer. Disability-inclusive organizations also have higher revenue and better shareholder returns, according to an Accenture report.

Here are five things learning professionals need to know to progress toward true disability inclusion in their work, and learning, environments.

1. It’s The Environment That Disables A Person – Not Their Impairment

The social model of disability, developed by people with disabilities, states that people are disabled by the barriers that exist in societies, organizations and, indeed, in training approaches, not by their impairments or different abilities. For example, if you’re dyslexic, it’s not your impairment that disables you but the fact that many eLearning courses are text based. Or, if you have ADHD, it can be the way that training is structured that limits your abilities.

In the rapid shift from in-person to virtual learning and development (L&D), the needs of people with different abilities have often been overlooked. Learning professionals have a responsibility to ensure inclusive and accessible learning environments become standard, not an exception. Doing so will improve learning experiences for everyone, not just learners with disabilities. For example, by ensuring that you use closed captions in all your webinars, that you use voiceover in all your eLearning and that all your materials use simplified text, accessible fonts and color contrasting, everyone will benefit from a more accessible and easy-to-use program.

2. Not Everyone Identifies With The Term “Disability”

To understand how your training programs can be more accessible, it’s helpful to have data on the accessibility needs of your people. However, many organizations struggle to gather this information because not everyone identifies with the term “disability.” So, to gather meaningful data that can help you make your learning more accessible and inclusive, it can be more helpful to ask people about their learning adjustment or accessibility needs. After all, the information you require is not someone’s impairment, but what their individual accessibility needs are.

3. People Know Their Abilities And Impairments Best – But You Need To Ask Them

Just as with learning needs, accessibility needs vary. While some learners, especially those adjusting to a disability, may require support in understanding the adjustments they need, most learners with disabilities know which adaptions they need. But you have to ask them in order to deliver an accessible learning experience. Only by asking, “How can I make this learning experience more accessible for you?” can you show that you care about learners’ inclusion and recognize that they probably know what they need to succeed. In turn, you will have the information you need to implement the right changes for them. This means ensuring that accessibility questions are embedded into all your learning processes and evaluations. And it means listening to the answers.

4. Your People Can Help Make Your Learning More Accessible

If you’re wondering where to start to ensure your learning processes, practices and content are accessible, ask your people. In particular, ask your disability employee network, if you have one. Using accessible guidelines and resources is important, but to truly understand and show true commitment to learners with disabilities, (and sustain your own learning), it’s best to work directly with people who have a lived experience with a disability. It’s likely that you have people in your organization who would be willing to help you understand, if you just ask. So, when creating new learning processes or programs, ask for input on accessibility (although do not ask about people’s specific disabilities) up front, rather than as an afterthought. That way, you can create accessible learning content and deliver it in a way that is inclusive for everyone.

  1. Managers Need To Know About Accessibility But Don’t Need To Be Disability Experts

To ensure your managers know how to support people with disabilities, it can be tempting to roll out specific disability training courses to all managers. However, this can create the impression that managers need to be experts on specific disabilities, which can lead to some managers feeling overwhelmed. It’s much more helpful if managers understand their responsibilities to create an inclusive and accessible environment, and how to talk to their teams about their accessibility needs. Then, provide just-in-time resources regarding specific disabilities and accessibility needs, so they have what they need to know, when they need to know it.

The most important thing to remember is that people know themselves, and their abilities, best. Consulting your learners with disabilities directly about their accessibility needs will help deliver solutions that create truly accessible and inclusive learning environments.