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How to Create a Disability-friendly Company Culture
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How to Create a Disability-friendly Company Culture

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), people with disabilities are more likely than their counterparts to be employed in part-time jobs, at a rate of 31 to 17 percent.

While 66 percent of adults without disabilities are employed, only about 20 percent of adults with disabilities are in the workforce. 

Fewer than 34 percent of persons with disabilities hold professional and managerial roles, but the comparable figure for workers without disabilities is slightly higher than 40 percent.

These differences in employment outcomes have motivated company leaders to develop methods of recruiting and retaining qualified job candidates with disabilities.

The recognition that persons with disabilities can contribute significantly to the growth and value of a company has prompted employers to examine ways that company culture can help or hinder persons with disabilities.


Culture Is Everything

A culture where all employees feel welcome promotes a feeling of solidarity, improves productivity and encourages professional development. 

Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron identify four basic types of a company culture that represent a spectrum of interpersonal attachment on one end to complete separateness at the other extreme.

  1. Clan cultures represent the most socially attached groups and are built around interpersonal values that maximize sharing and that surrender individual recognition in favor of consensus and upholding company traditions. Educational institutions often exhibit some variant of the clan, or group, culture.
  2. Less intensely attached, the development culture values personal initiative and innovation when these actions benefit the team. This type of culture fosters creativity and healthy competition and is common in some technology startups and software development companies.
  3. The market culture places a premium on productivity and task completion. This culture promotes interpersonal competition and rewards individual achievement when it increases profit and customer satisfaction. Most vehicle dealerships are a good example of market culture.
  4. The hierarchy culture has rigidly-defined policies, procedures, and job descriptions. Rewards are status-based and communication follows a top-down pattern. This culture is often found in military organizations and in large corporations.

What Difference Does It Make?

A strong culture has well-defined procedures and an easily recognizable path to success. 

With a clear set of expectations in place, new employees are able to assimilate quickly in an atmosphere of mutual support and consensual sharing of company values.

Weak cultures are characterized by leaders who fail to actively promote the culture, resulting in policies and practices that are applied inconsistently. Built around rules rather than people, such cultures weaken morale and stifle creativity.

Persons with disabilities may have difficulty fitting into a standard recipe for job success and can benefit from the well-defined expectations that a strong culture communicates. 

At the same time, mutual support and sharing of company practices can speed onboarding and orientation

The mentoring opportunities that a strong culture offers can be of great benefit to the company and to its employees.


The Dynamic Workforce

To say that workforce demographics are changing is an understatement. 

The average age of workers continues to increase and more people than ever before are employed in unconventional occupations. 

The gig economy is here to stay and offers unique opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Working remotely allows a person who uses a wheelchair to complete tasks in a suitable setting without needing to request accommodations. 

Remote work lets the employee choose his or her schedule and sometimes even job duties, which can eliminate disability-related barriers to employment.


What a Company Can Do

The increasing sophistication of technology and its improved interfacing with adaptive equipment makes it possible for persons who use wheelchairs to complete an increasing variety of work activities both at the office and at remote locations.

The Changing Workplace

Special accommodations have been so effective in facilitating employment for some persons with disabilities that the DOL has developed numerous resources to help employers and employees through the process

The resources help in identifying workplace accommodations that promote an accessible and inclusive work environment. 

The Job Accommodation Network can be useful for workplace planning and management.

Training The Trainer

Learning to attract and retain talented workers who have disabilities, and to nurture their professional development, is not a skill that managers naturally possess. 

The DOL's Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion was developed as a way to address the dilemma by closing the skills gap that many of today's employers face.

The Role of Technology

Technology can be a manager's best ally when it comes to onboarding, orientation, training and professional development of employees with disabilities.

Online applications, for instance, allow persons with disabilities to complete onboarding tasks under conditions that are less likely to negatively impact their performance or test scores. 

Other accommodations might interface with, or even eliminate the need for adaptive technology.

Phones that allow hands-free operation, computer apps that help an employee with scheduling and voice-assisted technologies that eliminate the need for manual operation are just a few of the solutions that can promote an inclusive workplace.

The Secret Ingredient

The most significant barriers to workplace inclusion are often neither physical nor technological.

Organizational tone and personal attitudes can be communicated in ways that undermine inclusion.

Skepticism, fear, pity, and stereotypes all serve to create obstacles that prevent persons with disabilities from assimilating into the work environment. 

Employers can help by engaging their employees in discussions about disabilities and by providing ongoing diversity awareness training for their teams.

If you are a person who uses a wheelchair and are looking for employment, the DOL website offers a wealth of resources for workers with disabilities. 

Agency leaders will find this page about creating an accessible and welcoming workplace to be a great starting point for creating an inclusive workplace where everyone feels welcome.

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