Did You Know?
The Venus de Milo is considered an object of beauty, a piece of art to be admired, an inspiration for many. It does not matter that her arms are missing. Yet all around the world, people with disabilities, whether physical or mental, have been stigmatized and discriminated against throughout history.
What is Disability?
The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that 15% of the global population has a disability. A recent study in the U.S. found that 30% of college-educated employees between the ages of 21 and 65 working full-time in white collar professions have a disability.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
Disabilities may be readily visible (e.g., missing limbs), completely invisible (e.g., dyslexia), or only intermittently perceptible (e.g., a speech impairment). They may change in severity over time or get worse over time, such as a degenerative condition.
Definitions of disability vary legally, medically, and functionally. The lack of a clear definition of disability has been a barrier to the development of inclusion policies and programs to support people with disabilities in the workforce.
A Little History
Most developed nations have laws that ban discrimination on the basis of disability. In the U.S., Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act banned discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds, and was modelled after previous laws which banned race, ethnic origin, and sex-based discrimination by federal fund recipients.
For the first time, the exclusion and segregation of people with disabilities was viewed as discrimination. Previously, it had been assumed that the problems faced by people with disabilities, such as unemployment and lack of education, were inevitable consequences of the physical or mental limitations imposed by the disability itself. Enactment of Section 504 evidenced Congress’ recognition that the inferior social and economic status of people with disabilities was not a consequence of the disability itself, but instead was a result of societal barriers and prejudices. As with racial minorities and women, Congress recognized that legislation was necessary to eradicate discriminatory policies and practices.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law on July 26, 1990. The ADA is based on a basic presumption that people with disabilities want to work and are capable of working, want to be members of their communities and are capable of being members of their communities and that their exclusion and segregation cannot be tolerated. Accommodating a person with a disability is no longer a matter of charity but instead a basic issue of civil rights.
However, people with disabilities still face many barriers in society in general, and especially in the workplace.
Why Include People with Disabilities?
The two main reasons decision makers do not consider people with disabilities in their inclusion policies are not understanding that people with disabilities can perform jobs without significant accommodations having to be made, and not realizing that a significant number of their existing employees have some form of disability. A Center for Talent Innovation study found that only 1 in 10 employees with a disability disclose it to their employer.
As the workforce ages, the rate of disability in the workplace is likely to increase. Employers also need to consider that existing young and otherwise healthy employees could become disabled during their employment, for example due to an accident, illness, or surgery.
Numerous studies have shown that a more diverse workforce has a positive impact on profitability. A 2018 study by McKinsey of more than 1,000 companies across 12 countries found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation compared with companies in the bottom quartile. In addition, the study found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.
Studies have also shown that a group of people with diverse individual expertise and experiences are better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, non-routine problems. Interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints, and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort. People work harder in diverse environments, both cognitively and socially.
Creating Inclusive Workplaces
Making workspaces more inclusive for people with disabilities goes beyond complying with ADA regulations.
Management needs to understand that disabilities almost certainly already exist in their workforce. Many people with invisible disabilities feel compelled to hide those disabilities out of the fear of outright discrimination. Studies show that only 1 in 10 employees share their disability with their employer. A reasonable conclusion to draw from this is that the majority of employees will be reluctant to identify themselves as disabled until they are certain their organizations have policies and initiatives that will support them.
A common concern cited by management for not employing people with disabilities is the potential cost of providing reasonable accommodations, but this fear is largely unfounded. The ADA is relatively vague on what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Studies have shown that the cost of providing accommodations is actually quite low, at a median of $600. That is because many of the accommodations needed, such as flexible schedules and allowing employees to work remotely, cost nothing beyond a willingness to extend flexibility. When needed, the cost of additional software, ergonomic chairs, and other physical accommodations is relatively small. Tax credits are also available to offset the cost of making accommodations for people with disabilities.
Finding leaders and other employees who are impacted by disabilities and are willing to speak publicly about them, especially if their disabilities are invisible to others, is one best practice for encouraging employees with disabilities to feel more secure. Additionally, establishing Employee Resource Groups and designating disability “allies” raise the visibility within the culture that disability inclusion is an important organizational priority.
It is critical to view people with visible disabilities not as disabled first, but as people first. It means recognizing how bias toward individuals with visible and invisible disabilities operates and understanding how those with disabilities resemble and differ from other diversity groups. It means acknowledging that workplace environments may discriminate against those with disabilities. Workplace design; talent recruitment, selection, and promotion practices; as well as the way work gets done often create conditions that make it difficult for people with disabilities to fully participate and contribute.
Finally, people with disabilities who are working their way through school or up the corporate ladder need role models in leadership who look like them and who have had similar life experiences. Outreach programs to provide mentoring and internships to disabled youngsters to show them what they could be capable of rather than what they are not able to do would be a great initiative to create a pipeline of talented candidates for employers looking to expand their talent pool to people with disabilities.
Recruiting and Accommodations
By Vira Trevino-Garcia
With diversity, equity, and inclusivity at the forefront of initiatives for all organizations, understanding and ensuring accommodations for job seekers with disabilities is a top priority. The key to an inclusive recruiting process is ensuring everyone involved has the training and knowledge about accommodations for disabled candidates.
- To create an inclusive environment, begin by stating your accommodations goals and sharing them with everyone in the organization. Every employee should be prepared to discuss the accommodations statement with prospective employees.
- Demonstrate your organization’s values of inclusivity in the job posting and on your website so that your company feels welcoming to anyone with a disability that might otherwise be hesitant to apply.
- The recruiting and hiring team should work closely with HR to understand the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and its requirements for providing equal benefits and reasonable accommodations to all candidates.
- Plan ahead for any candidates that may disclose disabilities and how that can impact the recruiting process for them. For example, be prepared to share application and onboarding material with someone with a visual impairment, or arrange an interview for a candidate with a hearing impairment. Planning ahead for possible requested accommodations will give you opportunity to find the best solutions.
- Ensure that all communications and records are kept confidential. Any medical information obtained in relation to a request for accommodation should be kept separate from an individual’s personnel file.
Planning ahead and formalizing the accommodations policies can increase the likelihood that requests will be handled properly and give employers the flexibility to customize positions to capitalize on the strengths of every employee.
Name: Russell Naisbitt
Position: Houston Practice Manager & Consulting CFO
Years with vcfo: 5+ years
If you could pick one theme for vcfo to turn into a book about the company, what would it be?: Wingman! We’ve got your back.
What are three words to describe vcfo?: Faithful, Talented, Trusted.
What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?:
“I’m a “Kiwi” by birth and a Texan by choice. I got here as fast as I could!” is my stock answer to the oft-asked question, “Where are you from?” When I was 6 years old my parents bought a house in Otara, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, where Caucasians make up less than 20% of the population and Polynesians more than 80%. My two years at Mayfield Primary School were two of the best years of my schooling. My two favorite teachers (one of them being Te Roi Tataurangi, a Maori All Black and father of PGA golfer, Phil) taught me there and, despite my white skin, I was never bullied, ostracized or teased. All my friends were brown-skinned and we were all just “mates”. I think my childhood experiences shaped the way I treat people – with acceptance and affirmation.
However, I am ashamed to admit that in my early professional life I did develop a loathing for one particular people group – Christians. I couldn’t stand them and on occasions would treat them with cruelty. That all changed on December 23, 1990 when I experienced a life-changing spiritual conversion and became one myself. Haha! That joke was definitely on me! 😊
These days, “diversity and inclusion” for me means treating everyone as precious without regard to their ethnicity, faith tradition, socioeconomic status or gender in accordance with the scripture which states, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Or as some other very smart folks once wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
Impairment – An impairment is a diminishment or loss of function or ability (psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function). For example, the inability to move legs easily at the joints or the inability to bear weight on the feet is an impairment.
Disability – A disability is any restriction or lack of ability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being. The inability to walk due to an impairment is a disability.
Handicap – A handicap is an event or situation that places a disadvantage for a given individual that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal. The inability to interact with family or participate fully in family activities due to an impairment is a handicap.
The vcfo VIBE Committee wants all team members to be included and represented. Click here for a diversity calendar to see a wide variety of cultural and religious events from around the world.
Should you wish to do further research on your own time, we have provided recommended reading:
- Behind Gold Doors – Seven Steps to Create a Disability Inclusive Organization by Lonnie Pacelli
- Diverse Perspectives: People with Disabilities Fulfilling Your Business Goals from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy
- How Diversity Makes Us Smarter from Scientific American
This is a publication of the vcfo VIBE Committee.
We are stronger when we are equal.