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4 Key Considerations for Building an Inclusive Work Environment for Individuals with Disabilities

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Join us on 10/05 for our webinar on Disability Regulations:  Accommodations and Best Practices– Register today!

October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year’s NDEAM theme is #InclusionWorks, and employers are encouraged to demonstrate their support for the inclusion of individuals in the workplace by displaying this year’s poster.  One more tangible way that companies can demonstrate inclusion is by maintaining a workplace that provides reasonable access to applicants and employees with disabilities. These questions can help you determine whether your organization is making the right decisions and accommodations for individuals with disabilities:

1.    Is your organization’s website accessible? 

All federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding are required to be Section 508-compliant (Rehabilitation Act of 1973) with regards to accessibility of websites for individuals with disabilities. Some states and countries also require websites to be accessible. Many companies are voluntarily choosing to be 508-compliant in order to break down barriers and allow all Internet users the ability to navigate through their websites, as well as to conduct business and apply for jobs online.  

For federal contractors and subcontractors required to abide by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, a prominent notice must be placed on the company’s website giving instructions on how an applicant needing an accommodation in order to apply for a job can contact someone at the organization. The company can list either a phone number or an email address as a method to contact someone. As a best practice, those receiving calls and/or emails should be properly trained on etiquette for communicating with individuals with disabilities, and the accommodation, no matter its form, should be tracked for purposes of providing information upon request to federal agencies in case of an audit or complaint investigation.  Responses to requests for accommodations should also be completed in a timely manner.

2.    Is the place where you are conducting an interview accessible? 

Not only should the application process be accessible, but an employer should consider whether or not the site where the interview will take place is accessible for individuals with disabilities.  Some things to consider are: whether or not there are ample handicapped parking spaces, ramps to get to the building, or electronic doors or doors that can be easily opened by someone in a wheelchair or someone with limited use of hands. If the location of the interview is on an upper-level floor, does the location have working elevators? A best practice would be to offer instructions ahead of time to applicants to make it easier for an IWD to request assistance during the interview process and to notify them where handicap parking is located along with any ramps and elevators. The instructions could include asking whether or not any accommodations are needed as part of the interview process which could include, for example, having a sign language interpreter on hand, needing additional time to take written tests, or having any forms available in braille or large print.

3.    If the person is hired, is the onboarding process accessible?

It is not unusual for organizations to be so focused on attracting individuals with disabilities to apply for jobs and then ensuring that the hiring process is inclusive for all individuals, that they actually forget to determine whether the new hire’s experience after receiving the acceptance letter is inclusive. In this electronic age that we live in today, it is important to keep in mind that the onboarding process which includes signing up for benefits, submitting emergency contact information, and reviewing company policies and procedures, should be easily accessible to all.  Although many of the accommodations often made by employers with regards to this process revolve around visual impairments, keep in mind that someone with a hearing impairment might also need an accommodation if videos are required to be reviewed as part of the onboarding process or on-going training for employees is needed. These should be available with close captioning or with a transcript available.

4.    Is the disability such that the direct supervisor and/or first-aid personnel need to be notified?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, an employee’s medical history or condition must be kept confidential. One exception to this rule is that the employee’s supervisor or manager is allowed to be told of the medical condition if the employee will require an accommodation. It is a best practice for a person’s direct supervisor to be made aware of medical conditions, such as epilepsy, diabetes, or severe allergies in order to properly treat the individual or inform proper medical teams in case of an emergency. If the company has first-aid personnel, they should also be informed of any medical conditions that could require medical attention in case of an emergency. 

In conclusion, as part of a building a compliant and inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities, check your website to determine whether or not it is accessible to applicants.  Review the interview process and ensure that facilities where face-to-face meetings are taking place with applicants are accessible. Consider creating a document to send to applicants ahead of time instructing them of handicap parking spaces and process to request an accommodation during the interview. Review the onboarding process to ensure that it also is inclusive of all employees.  And inform proper staff of any medical conditions that might require special attention in the event of a medical emergency.

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