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10 Steps to Building a Disability-Inclusive Team

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With the continued success and publicity of disability-focused employment initiatives, more and more employers are committing to establish disability-inclusive workplaces. However, while many express a desire to build teams within their organizations that include people with disabilities, they often aren’t sure where to begin.

Consider the following 10 steps to help build a disability-inclusive team:

1.       Gain Executive-Level Buy-In – Before an employer can truly commit to building a disability-inclusive team, they must strive to ensure senior-level leadership (meaning C-suite executives) is supportive and committed to moving this agenda forward. Without executive leadership’s commitment to focus on disability inclusion in the workplace, creating inclusion goals will lack strength and will likely be overtaken by other priorities. The most successful disability-inclusive employers have C-suite leaders who are supportive and engaged, as they generally set the tone for the company’s inclusive culture.

2.       Set Targets – Not every employer’s goals for disability-inclusive hiring are the same. Employers must consider the overall number of employee hires they anticipate per year, what their overall diversity goals are, and even their HR departments’ recruitment capacity. They must also determine if there are specific areas/departments that may benefit from targeted outreach to potential candidates with disabilities, and if there are already appropriate supports in place to ensure a smooth transition.

3.       Encourage Cross-Departmental Engagement – It’s not enough to have executive leadership and the HR department on board when planning to build disability-inclusive teams. There should be support and engagement from managers and employees throughout the workplace, including those in communications/public relations, operations, research and development, and sales. By having more people on board to support these inclusive efforts, the greater the likelihood for success and longevity.

4.       Build Community Partnerships – In addition to gaining internal support to build a disability-inclusive team, developing relationships with external disability-serving organizations is a great way to reach potential employees with disabilities. This can include connecting with local non-profit service providers or chapters of national non-profits such as the Arc and Easter Seals. Employers may also choose to reach out to employment-focused federal agencies with local offices, such as Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies or American Job Centers. Building partnerships with these agencies will not only help with employee recruitment, but can also provide other benefits to employers, such as one-on-one assistance or job coaching.

5.       Train Your Current Workforce – Another step to building a disability-inclusive team is providing disability etiquette and awareness training to current employees, as this will also help to foster a culture of inclusion.  Providing training can even increase disclosure rates of current employees who have non-apparent disabilities but haven’t felt comfortable to disclose as over 70 percent of disabilities are not visible.

6.       Ensure all Policies and Diversity Statements Include Disability – It is important to ensure disability inclusive language is incorporated in all diversity and policy statements. This means including the words “disability” and “people with disabilities” in diversity policies and affirming in policy statements a commitment to equal opportunity employment for people with disabilities. The company’s accommodation statement should also be listed with the EEO statement, other policy statements, and in an easy to find place like at the bottom of every job description.

7.       Implement Inclusive Recruitment and Marketing Practices – If employers desire to recruit people with disabilities, it’s important for them to diversify the ways they reach and attract job candidates. In addition to promoting opportunities through disability-focused organizations, employers should also look out for in-person and virtual career fair opportunities like with local colleges and universities. Employers should connect with both the Office of Student Disability Services and the main Student Career and Development Center and ensure any materials they provide are accessible and branded with disability inclusive language.   All marketing content whether on the company’s website, or social media channels, should also have messages around disability inclusion within the organization.  

8.       Consider Access and a Structured Accommodation Request Process – Physical access to a workplace (i.e. ramps and wheelchair-accessible restrooms) is very important when developing an inclusive team and culture, but accessibility goes far beyond physical structures. Employers should also keep in mind other forms of access, including communication and technology access.

Employers should have a clearly defined accommodation process and statement for   candidates   with disabilities to request any needed accommodations. This should also be shared internally with all employees in case they need to request an accommodation for a current disability or acquire a disability during their career. An effective accommodations statement should have two methods of contact, both phone and email, for accessibility purposes, and provide a response within at least 24 hours on next steps.  

9.       Establish Spaces and Opportunities to Provide Feedback and Network – Once you have begun to employ and engage employees with disabilities, it’s important to establish spaces and procedures for them to provide feedback and to connect with other employees with disabilities. Employees should be able to identify concerns and barriers to inclusion without fear of being viewed or treated differently; thus, employers should have ways for all employees   to share feedback anonymously or confidentially. This could be with a team of HR Business Partners or a designated team responsible for employee experience.

Establishing a disability-focused Employee Resource Group (ERG) is another great way to gain feedback from employees with disabilities and provide an opportunity for them to network and receive support from those with similar experiences.

10.   Strive for Employee Retention and Advancement – Recruiting employees with disabilities is significant, however, ensuring that they stay and even advance through the organization is even better. In addition to establishing a disability-focused ERG, which is a proven method for supporting employee retention, many inclusive employers understand that retaining employees, especially those with disabilities, is dependent on the workplace culture and its inclusivity.   To further achieve this, inclusive organizations provide professional development/training opportunities, mentoring programs, and celebrate disability related months and days.  

When it comes to building a disability-inclusive team in the workplace, moving from desire to implementation takes continued commitment, but following these 10 steps will make the process smoother and achievable. For more ideas on how to build a disability-inclusive team, contact the CareerCircle team.

Contributions to this blog were made by Andraéa LaVant of Solutions Marketing Group.