As a small business owner, you’re responsible for helping your employees feel comfortable, accepted and supported. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 19% of workers are disabled, raising the question: Is everyone truly positioned for success under your current workplace policy? If not, you may want to make some changes.
Companies with a strong disability culture outperform companies without one—on revenue, profit margins, productivity, safety and retention. Though physical accessibility will be priority No. 1 when creating a positive and inclusive disability culture, here are four more tips you’ll also want to consider.
1. Enlist Someone With a Disability to Help Create Your Policy
It pays to consult someone with a disability when you’re crafting a policy that’s this sensitive in nature. While they won’t be the authority on accommodations for every disability, this person can speak to the everyday hurdles someone in their shoes faces. These conversations may help inform a comprehensive policy that minimizes these shared challenges.
2. Educate Employees on Disabled Culture in the Office
Topics like sensitivity and social etiquette around the disabled should be at the core of workplace trainings. Use these sessions to dispel stereotypes about those who are disabled, and to share tips on how to best work alongside someone with different abilities.
Some small changes you and your employees can make to promote a positive disability culture include:
Pushing in desk chairs to keep pathways clear.
Saving front-row seats at company events for hearing- or vision-impaired employees.
Reserving open space at the front of conference rooms for wheelchairs.
3. Provide Assistive Technology
Physical disabilities will require some special accommodations. For instance, if your building doesn’t have wheelchair access, you’ll need to install a ramp or a lift so these employees can safely and independently report for work. Other assistive technologies, such as color-coded keyboards, specialized screen readers and assistive listening devices, should be available for employees who need them.
Invisible disabilities, such as communication and learning disabilities and mental health conditions, will require different accommodations. For instance, employees with depression may thrive with flexible work hours. By allowing them to work remotely or shift their hours from time to time, they can still be productive while prioritizing their mental health.
4. Don’t Make Employees Plead for Accommodations
Your employees shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get the accommodations they need. Some of these needs—e.g., disability-friendly parking and wheelchair access to restrooms, break rooms, cafeterias and meeting rooms—are easy to anticipate; others may be less obvious.
To accommodate employees with disabilities, ensure that both your physical and digital environments are suitable for everyone. Are your doorways and corridors wide enough? Does your office allow employees to bring their service pets to work? Are presentations accessible in an alt reader?
Around 31% of reasonable accommodations cost an employer nothing, and 50% cost less than $50. Yet, to get an accommodation they’re entitled to, employees report being discouraged, made to feel embarrassed, or asked to produce an unusual amount of proof and paperwork.
In an inclusive culture, employees don’t have to beg for something they need to do their job. Encourage them to speak up about accommodations they need, such as a particular desk height or extra breaks to take medications, and follow through with solutions.
Why Small Businesses Need a Strong Disability Culture
Having an inclusive and diverse workforce can boost productivity, improve morale and drive revenue. Not to mention, workers with disabilities tend to make remarkably innovative contributions. According to one study, disabled workers were more likely than averagely abled employees to contribute ideas that drove value to their company—75% versus 66%, respectively.
Every company can cultivate an inclusive culture. With appropriate etiquette and necessary accommodations, you can create an environment where every worker can succeed.
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