Creating an Inclusive Workplace For All

Portrait of Dr. Laura BogardusOctober is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and Dr. Laura Bogardus joins us to discuss fostering an inclusive work environment for employees with disabilities. Across the country, nearly twenty percent of the population or 56 million individuals have a disability – a physical or mental impairment that affects one or more daily life activities in a substantial way.  People with disabilities adapt to social and physical environments that may present obstacles others don’t always notice.  They are often great innovators and problem solvers - yet they have twice the unemployment level (6.1% compared to 3.2%) and less than a third of the labor participation level (20.6% compared to 68.7%). Employment can be hard to find because of access issues and bias - people often make assumptions about what they think people with disabilities cannot do instead of learning what they can do. Continue reading to hear Dr. Bogardus’ thoughts on creating an inclusive work environment.

What are some ways to create an inclusive workplace environment for employees who have a disability?

One of the ways organizations can help employees with disabilities feel a part of the team and that they easily fit into the culture is making the workplace inclusive for all.  Use universal design principles to make workspaces and technology accessible in all office locations. Ensure access to the same experiences, tools, and benefits. If you have a company event, hold it in an accessible location. If you host a meeting, use technology to make presentations easy to experience by all (visit for accessible technology ideas).

Form a Common Interest Group in this area so employees with disabilities, parents that have children with disabilities, or other interested team members can join; this opens the door to making resources available to everyone and it raises awareness about including people with disabilities in your company. Top leadership can set the tone by establishing a percentage goal for total number of staff with disabilities. This encourages everyone to think about accessibility at work and normalizes people with and without disabilities collaborating together– thus creating a more inclusive workplace environment. Make sure human resources, managers, and supervisors are well versed on ADA compliance and accommodations. Train everyone on disability awareness and think through inhibitions about interacting with people with disabilities. Ultimately, employees with disabilities just want to be part of the team.

In the hiring process, how can we avoid making incorrect assumptions about people with disabilities?

Think about how to adjust your candidate outreach and hiring process to attract job candidates with disabilities. Make welcoming language and images visible on your website to help promote an atmosphere of “yes, we want you here” to those with disabilities. Discuss where your organization’s pitfalls may be and find ways to adjust. Become familiar with interviewing people with disabilities and negotiating accommodations.

Train to reduce bias among your recruiting and hiring teams, thereby reinforcing your commitment to an inclusive workplace culture. Hold off on assumptions, and instead, let job candidates with disabilities explain what they can do, including the skills they have to offer. Remember that job candidates do not have to disclose their disabilities but they can explain (or demonstrate) how they will perform a proposed job with or without accommodation (visit for information on accommodations).

Why is Disability Employment Awareness Month important for organizations?

It’s important to recognize this month because disability is a normal part of life, and with 20% of the population experiencing disability, we can’t afford to leave 56 million people out! People with disabilities bring talent, motivation, teamwork, and creativity to workplaces. This month is a great reminder of what we should be doing all year – fostering inclusion of people with disabilities at work.  And we’re in great company! Find out about other leading companies working on inclusion and equality at DisabilityIN.

What are some common myths about employees with a disability?

Here are just a few…

Myth #1: Productivity is lower among people with disabilities. FALSE! Research shows that productivity is comparable to those without disabilities. Productivity is more about making a proper job match and providing accommodations if needed.

Myth #2: The cost of accommodations is high. FALSE! Most accommodations cost less than $500. Adjusting work hours or breaks, providing different lighting, or purchasing a screen reader are examples of low or no-cost accommodations.

Myth #3: People with disabilities take more days off. FALSE! There is no consistent evidence that people with disabilities take more time off from work. In fact, they tend to have higher retention levels, which is thought to be a reaction to the difficulty in securing employment.

Employees with disabilities want to be treated like everyone else and feel a part of the team. When we set aside assumptions and invite opportunities to work alongside people with disabilities, everybody wins.

Dr. Laura Bogardus of Bogardus Research Consulting focuses her career on understanding and developing ways to remove barriers that interfere with individuals’ employment success. She developed her unique perspective on these issues by being heavily involved in both human resources and workforce development. Laura leverages her 20 years of experience to provide specialized consulting among businesses that seek to create or augment their disability employment initiatives. Watch her TEDx Talk on Why We Should Go Beyond EEO.

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