Since 1992, the United Nations has observed the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3. This year’s theme is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want,” based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which emphasize holistic, inclusive development. Of specific interest to training professionals are Goals 4 (“ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”) and 8 (“promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”).

While training organizations may not have a direct impact on international development and UN initiatives, they do play a crucial role in accessible workforce development. Inclusive training is an important part of this work.

Almost one in five Americans has a disability, and 41 percent of them are employed. This number is increasing as companies become more aware of the value people with disabilities can contribute and as acceptance grows for people with disabilities in the workplace. In fact, as Dr. Debby McNichols wrote for Training Industry Magazine this year, “people [with disabilities] who have spent their lives adapting to challenges in their environment can bring productivity, ingenuity and problem-solving skills to the workplace.”

Recognizing this reality, many companies are developing hiring initiatives for people with disabilities. In October, Fortune reported that EY, Microsoft and SAP are specifically recruiting workers with autism, approaching the disability as a “competitive advantage” rather than “a potential setback.” Lori Golden, who manages EY’s accessibility programs, said that individuals with autism “often have very strong mathematical and technical abilities” and can be “very detail-oriented; very good at pattern recognition.” According to Automotive News, Ford launched a pilot program with the Autism Alliance of Michigan this year to hire adults with autism for its product development department. Since then, 38 companies have signed on to create similar programs with the Autism Alliance.

Accenture is also working to promote the employment of people with disabilities, including workers with Down syndrome and autism. Last month, Agnes Pecjo, the local inclusion and diversity lead for Accenture Operations in the Philippines, wrote that by integrating people with disabilities into the workforce, companies gain a “competitive edge” by widening their talent pool, broadening their perspective, encouraging creative thinking and boosting morale.

Of course, simply hiring people with disabilities is not enough, and that’s where L&D comes in. McNichols recommends using Universal Design for Learning to adapt content development for diverse abilities and styles, “minimizing barriers” for the 10 to 15 percent of employees who likely have learning disabilities.

Through Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Dandelion Program, the company has hired 45 people with autism as analysts and software testers in IT operations and cybersecurity. HPE trains team leaders on autism awareness and management and uses them as “autism consultants” to help with onboarding and development of employees with autism. Individual development plans focus on life and executive function skills. HPE also offers a “buddy program” and autism awareness training for managers and team members.

In an email to Training Industry, Rita Faust, president of The Power of the Dream, a Raleigh nonprofit that supports the employment of adults with autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities, suggested that managers “keep an open mind about what reasonable accommodations you can make for the employee with a disability. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and respectful communication with the employee is the key to making things work. Come from the mindset that the employee wants to succeed and listen to his/her suggestions.”

Here are some more tips for inclusive corporate training:

  • Help employees with disabilities identify career paths and development opportunities.
  • Adapt training content to make it accessible. For example, use UDL for employees with learning disabilities, or provide materials in Braille for employees with visual impairments. Ensure that all technologies used in training meet accessibility standards.
  • Secure executive buy-in for inclusive training initiatives by demonstrating the business impact of inclusive employment and training.
  • Implement pre-training that simulates the work environment to prepare employees for the culture of your organization.
  • Utilize job coaches to teach social skills.
  • Train all employees, especially supervisors, on disabilities and accommodation requirements. Be sure to use people-first language (i.e., “a person with autism” rather than “an autistic person”).
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