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3 Tips for Building an Inclusive Workplace for People with Disabilities

Dec 2, 2022
Tim Vogus offers advice to managers aiming to establish a work environment that is inclusive and accepting of people with mental or physical disabilities

By Lacie Blankenship

December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day dedicated to the rights and well-being of those with disabilities. Neurodiversity, disabilities, ableism, and inaccessibility have dominated conversations among business leaders around the globe. Tim Vogus, Deputy Director, Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, and Brownlee O. Currey, Jr., Professor of Management, offers 3 ways managers can build and foster an inclusive environment for employees with disabilities.

Knowledge is Power 

Tim Vogus

Tim Vogus

Organizations can make their working environment more inclusive to people with disabilities by educating all employees, especially managers, through workshops and training. Ensuring that all employees have knowledge of disabilities and guidance on how to collaborate with people with disabilities is a crucial step for inclusive workplaces.  

“Employers often place the burden of overcoming inaccessible processes on the professionals with disabilities,” says Vogus. “It’s time for business leaders and their organizations to be constructed in ways that directly address accessibility and present potential employees with a fair and inclusive process and set all employees up for sustainable success.” 

Be Willing to Reevaluate 

From recruiting to quarterly reviews, processes at most organizations could be more accommodating to professionals with disabilities. To improve hiring, employers can start by broadening the ways in which they source employees (e.g., attending disability-focused job fairs) and paying attention to the language in their job announcements to be direct, clear, and free from extra requirements that might prevent disabled applicants from applying. In addition, offering varying application formats to ensure widespread accessibility (i.e.: large fonts, audio, electronic, paper, braille), providing interview questions in advance, and reevaluating the social expectations of an interview. 

“Sometimes people just assume that, ‘if this candidate isn’t making good eye contact, then they are antisocial or being rude,’” said Vogus. “As part of my research, and just as someone who is friends with many Autistic adults, multiple people have told me, ‘I don’t make eye contact because I can either look at you or pay attention to what you’re saying.’ Some people can’t do both, because it’s just too much sensory input.”

The pandemic compelled many workplaces to shift to remote/hybrid formats quickly. As organizations weigh returns to the office, it’s important managers remember the disabled community. For many, working remotely is a huge factor in making employment accessible. Organizations can consider this as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities.  

Open the Door for Honest Communication

Building an inclusive workplace is about more than hiring people with disabilities and will take more than a day’s work. Long-term inclusion and acceptance require strategy, systems, and support. Employees must feel comfortable approaching employers with any issues standing in their way. Similarly, business leaders must be willing to discuss topics they may have never considered an issue before, like light and sound sensitivity.  

“I encourage employers to not see the job and the intentional hiring of neurodivergent people or people with disabilities as the destination,” says Vogus. “It’s the starting point. The destination is a fully inclusive workplace where all people can thrive doing meaningful work and building careers.” 

The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation unites engineers, business scholars, disabilities researchers, and neuroscience and education experts to take a strengths-based approach to understanding autism and neurodiversity for innovation in technology and workplace practices. To learn more about the center, click here.

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