Now is the Perfect Time to Include Disability in Your DEI Plan–Because Disability is Diversity

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Image of diverse group of individuals conversing a workplace, including one woman who uses a wheelchair.Now is the Perfect Time to Include Disability in Your DEI Plan–Because Disability is Diversity
By the EARN Team

Chances are your organization has a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plan that expresses your company’s commitment to fostering a workplace welcoming of employees from all backgrounds. Far too often, however, such plans overlook an important group: people with disabilities. DEI plans that do not include people with disabilities are incomplete, because disability is diversity—and disability inclusion reaps many benefits.

Individuals with disabilities can offer employers a competitive edge by providing varied perspectives on how to confront challenges and get the job done. By virtue of their lived experiences, they often bring creativity, innovation, adaptability, resourcefulness and problem solving to the workplace—and research shows that this positively impacts the bottom line. This is the impetus behind the growing trend among some organizations to expand DEI to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA), with the addition of “A” clearly communicating a commitment that disability is part of the diversity equation.

So, how can organizations interested in moving from DEI to DEIA start? The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) provides easy-to-use resources and information to help. For example, EARN’s Inclusion@Work Framework outlines seven core components of a disability-inclusive workplace, along with a menu of easy-to-follow strategies for achieving them. Additional resources address topics such as mental health, neurodiversity and the retention of employees with disabilities. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is another resource that supports employers in advancing inclusion and accessibility. It offers detailed information on reasonable accommodations for all types of disabilities, as well as one-on-one assistance on individual situations and circumstances.

Overall, a key part of building a disability-inclusive workplace culture is communicating a commitment to doing so, with support directly from the top. Such a commitment, expressed publicly, goes a long way toward attracting qualified people with disabilities. It also makes current employees with disabilities, whether disclosed or not, feel they are valued and have a voice in your organization. As a result, employers may find themselves more successful in encouraging employees to self-identify as having a disability, which in turn can help better track your organization’s progress toward meeting DEIA goals. (It is important to note, however, that inviting employees to self-identify is only permissible when the question is being asked for affirmative action purposes, such as those prescribed for federal contractors covered by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act or a voluntarily adopted program.)

When seeking to move from DEI to DEIA, a good first step is to start a disability-focused employee resource group (ERG) so that employees can provide input, collaborate and share ideas with each other and the organization at-large. After all, current employees with disabilities are in the best position to know how to attract and support future employees with disabilities.

However you choose to get started, moving from DEI to DEIA can be done effectively and with ease if you are aware and make use of available resources. Most importantly, workplace inclusion of people with disabilities is a critical step toward a more successful and diverse organization, because disability is diversity.

About the Author

This post was authored by members of the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) team.

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