This blog will be a discussion about people with disabilities in the workplace and ways that employers can promote an environment that allows accessibility to people with physical or mental impairments. The purpose of this blog is to give an understanding of what disability in the workplace looks like in the aspects of employing, working alongside, and supporting people with disabilities in the workplace.
Although this is in the view of a person who does not identify as disabled, I would consider myself an advocate and am writing from an advocate’s viewpoint. One thing I would like readers to keep in mind from reading this blog is understanding that it is imperative that businesses and the community support people with disabilities by providing accessible workplaces, communities, and environments. We all share a role in being equal opportunity employers, this starts with providing access and promoting a healthy workplace environment for all employees and future candidates.
The Importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act
On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was sanctioned by former President George H.W. Bush. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs also establish requirements for telecommunications relay services. Title IV, which is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)
What does this mean for employees with disabilities? The ADA protects employees with disabilities by not allowing the employer to discriminate against the person and ensuring that the employer is giving the employee reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations can include, but are not limited to, allowing service animals, accessible equipment to perform tasks, providing alternative structures of work, and accessible parking.
There are many forms of reasonable accommodation and if a business is not willing to provide these services the person asking for the accommodation can file a report with the ADA. If a business is a government agency it must provide all forms of accessibility in the office, but unfortunately this does not apply to private businesses. It is our duty as employers and hiring professionals to promote an accessible workplace to all our candidates. We need to focus on creating a workplace that allows equal opportunities and growth to all interested applicants and employees.
Hiring People with Disabilities
As a professional in Human Resources, it starts with my position to promote accessibility in the workplace. If a candidate that is interested in joining our company discloses that they have a disability, it is my responsibility to discuss with their hiring manager to plan workplace accommodations in place for this individual. It is the candidate’s right not to disclose this information either if they are not comfortable.
I believe that going through a workplace accessibility checklist will help the company understand how they can improve their ability to accommodate their employees and future talent.
A workplace accessibility checklist would have questions like, “is the location the applicant looking at wheelchair accessible from point of entrance to the actual office they will be working in,” “do we have the technology to allow someone that is blind to access their materials to conduct their role,” or “do our policies allow the candidate to take the time off they need to go to appointments for their physical or mental well-being?”
It starts at Human Resources, but it is everyone’s responsibility in the company to challenge each other to promote accessible workspaces and an environment that fosters wellbeing.
Working Alongside Someone Who Identifies as Disabled
This part of the blog will be the shortest. I say that because we should be treating people with disabilities the same way we treat people without disabilities in the workplace; with the utmost respect and kindness we would treat anyone we encounter, inside or outside the company.
One thing I will highlight is that it is important to be mindful of the language being used in the office such as using people-first language. For a person with a disability it is up to the individual themselves, but until you know how the person wants to be addressed using people-first language is important.
The use of words such as “crazy,” “stupid,” “lame,” “dumb,” “psycho,” “spaz,” “blind-deaf,” “nuts,” “tone-deaf,” “idiot,” and the “R” word are all examples of ableist language and promote harm to people with disabilities. It is our job as professionals in the workplace to promote people-first language and educate each other on the harm of the language we use to people with disabilities in the workplace.
I also want to highlight that not everyone’s disability is visible, and respecting people’s privacy is huge both in this concept and in general. All colleagues deserve the same type of respect. Showing sorrow or saying that you will “pray for them” because they have a disability is highly inappropriate inside and outside of the workplace. It is our role to ensure that all employees are treated with dignity, and everyone deserves the same respect and kindness, no matter their physical, mental, cultural, religious, or personal traits.
Employers’ Support of People with Disabilities
I have noted before that there are visible and invisible disabilities. As employers, it is imperative that we understand it is our job to assist with accommodations and provide a safe environment for people to come to speak to us if they need assistance with their accommodations or need to change something in their role.
The question in the role that you play in the company is, are you providing a safe environment for all your employees? Are you promoting accessibility, respectful behavior, and a safe workplace? As employers, it is our responsibility to promote a mental health-friendly workplace; what does that look like?
This could be allowing personal days for employees to take, reimbursing acts of self-care such as gym memberships, and promoting work-life balance by ensuring that deadlines are within a reasonable time to employees and keeping an open line of communication about how the person is performing and allowing them to discuss ways they can improve with guidance.
It is necessary that companies promote work-life balance as it provides accommodation to everyone and promotes a healthy working environment. If a company can provide reasonable accommodation, promote accessibility in the workplace, and create that work-life balance, they are setting their employees and future employees up for a great career and for a much-needed change in the culture of business in general.
The Last Line
I wanted to thank you for taking the time to read this blog and showing interest in accessibility in the workplace. It is important we come together as professionals to promote the future of accessible workplaces, not only by reasonable accommodations but by pushing past that and starting the foundation of the business in creating a fully accessible workplace for people with disabilities. No matter where you work, or the position you hold you can be a disability advocate in your workplace.
Written By: Elizabeth Palkoska.
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.