Here's what leaders across industries had to say at ADP's Inclusion Summit about the value of this underemployed population, including best practices to attract and support them.

Disability support is a hot topic in today's DE&I landscape. At ADP's Inclusion Summit 2021, ADP Principal for the Future of Work Giselle Mota captured expert insights on this topic in a panel she moderated titled "Disability Inclusion at Work and Why it Matters." Speaking with Creative Spirit's Laurel Rossi, National Organization on Disability's Charles Catherine, Voya Cares' Jessica Tuman and Numotion brand ambassador Karen Roy, Mota and the panel explored creative ways organizations and leaders can support people of all abilities in the workplace.

Indeed, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are more than just HR checklist items; they've grown into a cultural phenomenon that can have a direct effect on the bottom line.

People with disabilities bring unique skills, creativity, perspective and experience to their jobs and organizations. Here's why, said Catherine, who is blind: "Remember that only 17% of people with disabilities were born with a disability, so that means the rest of us acquired it along the way. A common talking point about this talent pool is that we are resilient, we're problem solvers and able to think outside the box," Catherine said.

"I thought that was a bit of an empty claim myself until COVID hit. Then I realized that I already had developed problem-solving and resiliency muscles myself when I became blind 10 years ago. When the pandemic hit, all I had to do was flex those muscles that were already there," he concluded.

"People with disabilities, including myself," said Mota, "there's something about us, we bring value to the organization, bring with us an innate skill set that comes from certain challenges and struggles."

Between the staggering number of adults with seen and unseen disabilities who are currently unemployed and the surprisingly low percentage of companies hiring people with disabilities despite a commitment to DE&I, it's more crucial than ever to ensure that the workplace is embracing disability inclusion in culture building and hiring practices.

Disability inclusion begins with hiring

Mota began the conversation by highlighting that disability inclusion starts with hiring and can often involve exploring areas for improvement. Agreeing with this sentiment and providing an example of how this process of self-reflection can work, Roy shared that Numotion recently went through the Disability Quality Index. The organization discovered that they had exclusionary language such as "must be able to lift 50 pounds," even when that wasn't required for the job. They found that, with that language, they were unintentionally deterring differently abled candidates from even applying for positions. Identifying and eliminating barrier terms — and getting feedback from the audiences you're targeting — can help improve job descriptions and other communications facing applicants with disabilities. "It's important to have people with lived experiences tweak those job descriptions and weigh in," noted Mota.

Establishing populations with disabilities as a hiring focus is also a key step forward. For example, Rossi highlighted that just 12% of organizations have disability in their DE&I agendas today. She's found that organizations often fail to include disability because they don't know how, or they fear they'll use the wrong terms. She advises reaching out to specialists to learn how to use the right nomenclature and not being afraid to jump in and make mistakes as you learn.

Establish a culture of disability support

Another challenge Rossi highlighted is that as many as 80% of individuals living with a disability are reluctant to disclose that fact. This adds a layer of difficulty in getting accommodations for disabilities. Training can be an important step toward normalizing disabilities, caretaking and encouraging self-identification, says Tuman.

For Tuman's organization, Voya Cares, training included people-first language instruction and disability etiquette to help give employees better tools. Voya also evaluated their accommodations policy to ensure that it was updated and available and that managers knew where to find it. Additionally, they invested in training managers to know what resources are available and how to work with disabled employees more effectively. Each step adds another layer of support to building a culture where employees feel safe disclosing their disability status.

Don't forget to answer a critical question around self-disclosure: What's in it for the employee? Follow up the request with details about what you're going to do with the information. Tuman notes that you can share details about benefits, accommodations policies, and internal support structures that can help employees with disabilities be more successful.

Best practices for tracking disability success

How can organizations track the effectiveness of their disability support initiatives? Catherine noted that many organizations track their self-ID rates, but this is just one piece of the puzzle. The National Organization on Disability offers a free tool called the Disability Tracker that can be used to see which practices map to the best outcomes.

"The key driver for disability inclusion is the relationship between the employee and the manager," said Catherine. Businesses need to ask questions such as, "Do I have disability awareness training? Do we talk about disability? Do we have an employee resource group? Am I tracking promotions within the organization?"

Catherine raised another critical point: There is salary gap that exists between employees with and without disabilities. On average, workers with a disability earn $0.66 for every dollar an employee without a disability makes, according to a Census study.

He also reported that disabled employees pay attention to their employers' philanthropic initiatives and whether organization leaders self-identify as disabled. It's important to track disability inclusion metrics, including the disability pay gap, within your DE&I analytics structure too.

Disability support strategies working right now

As organizations wrestle with labor shortages, recruiting from disability talent pools can help fill critical positions, and research shows that employees with disabilities often have higher retention rates. There are natural skill sets and qualities that many individuals with disabilities have with regard to resiliency and problem-solving that can make them valuable assets in the workplace, according to Catherine.

It's also essential for organizations to consider what steps they can take to support employees with disabilities and individuals facing caretaker responsibilities once they're hired. Tuman notes that an Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on employees with disabilities and caretakers can not only be a great source of support and connection but also a good way for the organization to solicit candid feedback on policies, content and brand building.

Tuman also highlighted the value of developing mentorship or buddy systems to help connect employees with others who are facing similar challenges. Flexible work can also help employees with disabilities meet their own needs and ensure that work is completed. "No one is telling me to be at my computer at 7:30 a.m. and stay there until 6:00 p.m. I put that pressure on myself, but that comes from living in an able-bodied world and trying to pretend I didn't have a disability. That's not necessary anymore," said Roy.

Creating an inclusive culture for all

It's also important to have a plan in place for caregivers. "Where we are with the pandemic has really elevated the caregiving issues," said Tuman. As Rossi noted, during the pandemic many caregivers opted out of the workforce, and organizations trying to win them back may need to offer more flexible and moderate work environments. Creating space for employees to self-identify as caregivers can enable businesses to provide targeted support and benefits.

Benefits can also help employees who have to manage complex situations due to disabilities or caregiving responsibilities. For example, organizations could help their employees navigate the social security system. Since these calls typically occur during traditional work hours, having benefits available to support employees in these situations can help reduce absenteeism and increase retention.

"If you're not one of the companies putting disability at the top of your agenda, please do," said Rossi. There are non-profits, consultancies, and expert employees that can help, and it's an investment that will pay dividends. Roy adds, "DE&I isn't just the right thing to do — it's good business sense."

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