This is the second of a two-part series that The Arc@Work will publish this month to speak on the new and emerging challenges faced by workers with IDD and how employers, disability services agencies, and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) can work together on creating solutions that create inclusion and workplace equity.
In the first part of this blog series, we discussed how hard the disability labor force has been hit by the pandemic and the various barriers that now face these individuals as they look for work. At the same time, the fact that many companies have had to either temporarily or permanently cut staff as a result of COVID-19, which means that employers will be hiring as the economy begins its slow climb back up to its pre-pandemic levels. Now is the perfect time for employers to assess where they stand in their disability inclusive culture and recruiting strategies. Below is a list of considerations and strategies that employers can consider to mainstream disability-inclusion in rebuilding their staff.
Make your online job application accessible. One of the first barriers that many job candidates encounter in the process is an inaccessible online job application process. Web accessibility is a growing field and there are now several resources for web developers to use to learn how to develop accessible job descriptions and webpages and test their accessibility after the fact. Accessible job descriptions are screen reader compatible, are in plain language and use the The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.
Cut out limiting language from your job description. Are all the stated job functions essential to performing the job?Have you ever put a physical requirement on a job, like being “able to lift 40 lbs repeatedly” or “needs to be able to stand for long periods of time”, but neither were actual requirements for the job? While these functions are sometimes included in boilerplate or standard job description language, these are also very real barriers for some applicants with disabilities. You must take a moment to identify and separate out the essential functions of the job from the non-essential functions of the job prior to beginning your recruiting efforts. You will then better be able to convey which parts of the job are actual versus desired skills and capabilities. Your business may be missing out on top talent by using standardized job description language that doesn’t actually apply to the position in question. Make sure that your job descriptions do not use limiting language or include physical “requirements” that are not appropriate for the job.
In the same vein, it is also important not to list having a valid driver’s license as a job requirement if driving is not an essential part of the job. Some individuals with disabilities are either unable to drive or do not have a valid driver’s license and either take public transportation to work or are driven by a family member or caregiver. It is important not to limit individuals by listing this as a requirement unless driving is an absolutely necessary part of the job.
Your job description should also state that individuals with disabilities are encouraged to apply and reasonable accommodations will be provided. This will not only be reassuring for prospective applicants with disabilities, but using these terms in your job description will also help your job application show up among the top results in a search on popular job boards like Indeed or Idealist.
Ensure that your interview process is equitable and accessible to people of all abilities and communication styles. Many recruiters and HR professionals subscribe to a standardized approach to recruiting and interviewing job candidates for open positions. For hourly positions, this may take the form of an initial phone screen interview followed by an in-person or virtual interview. The phone interview is where many people who communicate differently, have a processing delay or a cognitive disability, or are deaf or hard of hearing may encounter barriers. Interviewers who take dozens of phone screening calls a day may get the impression that a person who speaks or communicates differently may be doing so out of disinterest in the job. This, in turn, can cost a candidate with a disability a fair shot at employment. One of the small ways to accommodate job candidates with disabilities is by offering alternative formats for interviews. Recruiters can offer a phone screen as a default option but also offer to either connect via a teleconferencing platform or an in-person interview based on an individual’s preferences and strengths.
Be intentional about recruiting individuals with disabilities. It is important for employers to remember that maintaining a diverse workforce creates competitive advantages and positively impacts the bottom line in the long-term. This is especially true for new or reopening businesses: committing to inclusive hiring from the outset and establishing your brand as an inclusive employer in your community will boost your brand among your target consumers. In order to reach and provide a bridge for job seekers with disabilities, recruiters should seek out the support of local disability service agencies to identify and recruit qualified job seekers. Partnering with these agencies can also inform an employer’s approach to making sure that new hires abide by OSSHA COVID-10 safety protocols at work.
Follow local government and OSHA guidelines for safety but allow for flexibility. It’s critically important that all employees feel safe enough to return to work. Employers should continue to follow the work safety guidelines provided by OSHA and the CDC as they reopen to guarantee employee well-being.
It is also important to ensure that employees are able to meet those standards and are not adversely impacted (such as individuals with sensory difficulties, individuals who have social awareness difficulties, and others). Speak to your employees that may have issues meeting these safety requirements and think creatively on alternatives to these protocols that better suit people with disabilities. For example: if an individual has trouble wearing standard issued masks with thick fabric, help them find an alternative mask that better suits their needs. If an employee has trouble with social distancing, place them in a role that requires less customer interface.
Make remote work a standard option—even after COVID stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. One of the few positives that have emerged from the pandemic is popularization of remote work as an alternative to in-person work. Numerous articles have emerged since the pandemic began on how remote work has become a boon for workers with disabilities because of the absence of commuting (primary barrier) and the built-in accommodations in the individual’s home.
There is a case of a tech company that has at least two hundred individuals with autism on staff whose CEO has said that remote work has actually improved productivity and communication among staff. The remote work option, though, is only available to individuals whose job requirements can be met via remote work. Not all individuals have this opportunity.
Staying connected and encouraging the feedback loop. Another key success that has emerged from an increasingly remote workforce has been the emergence of alternative modes of communication that employees and managers can use to stay connected. Watercooler conversations have been replaced with tools like Slack, which have been traditionally used in the tech industry. In-person meetings are now taking place over Zoom, Webex, or Microsoft Teams—the latter of which has built-in accessibility features such as AI generated live captioning. Training is key for everyone to access these platforms.
Improve digital accessibility. While remote work is a great accommodation, it is also important to guarantee access and participation of employees with disabilities in the company’s virtual spaces and meetings. Employers should make sure that virtual meetings are accessible (closed captions, ASL interpreters, recording meetings when possible, providing written materials before meetings and summaries after, etc.) and should invest in making shared documents and spaces accessible as well.
The Arc@Work works with public and private sector companies to either create disability-inclusive hiring programs or build upon existing initiatives. Through our work, we’ve placed more than 1000 individuals with disabilities into jobs at a 97% retention rate. We’ve also supported more than 500 businesses become more disability-inclusive. Wherever your company might be in your disability inclusion journey, we’re here to help. Contact us to set up a free consultation now.