As of 2015, nearly 40 million Americans were living with some form of disability, yet despite this high number, many businesses are inaccessible, failing to provide both services and employment opportunities for disabled individuals. In the last several years, though, a growing number of companies have come to realize that accessibility can work to their advantage. Disabled individuals can be valuable members of the workforce and customers who are treated well spread the word about accessible businesses, helping the company grow.
Shaping The Accessible Workplace
Compared to typical members of the community, disabled individuals are consistently underemployed – and as of 2015, disabled people make less than 70% of the median income of nondisabled people. Their unemployment levels are also unusually high; many are qualified for and looking for jobs, yet can’t find supportive opportunities.
One of the best ways for businesses to boost inclusion in the workplace is by investing in training programs for nondisabled staff and leadership. This is vital because if other employees fail to welcome disabled team members and view them as equals, then your office is a hostile environment. But when fellow employees are taught about disability etiquette and are trained to move past stigma, then everyone can thrive.
IBM is one of the prominent companies to invest in disability awareness training for staff and leadership; the company also runs recruitment programs to onboard and support staff of all abilities. On a global scale, IBM is recognized as a top employer for disabled staff, for its accessibility programs, as a dyslexia-friendly workplace, and as a top diversity and inclusion innovator. IBM can serve as a model for other businesses that want to open their doors to disabled staff and customers.
Removing Structural Barriers
Very often, when disabled people approach a business, whether for employment or as a customer, they’re stopped at the door – literally. Though the Americans With Disability Act (ADA), which mandates accessibility in public accommodations, was passed 28 years ago, many businesses still lack ramps, doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and accessible bathrooms. In Philadelphia, for example, activists have filed complaints against 15 inaccessible businesses in one neighborhood and identified 300 buildings in the area that lack accessible entries. Most major cities share this problem.
Of course, some companies stand out when it comes to making sure all individuals are welcome. For example, the Teaneck, New Jersey-based law firm David, Saperstein, and Salomon purchased an accessible building featuring covered parking, double-entry doors to accommodate wheelchairs, and elevators. These may not seem like big things to able-bodied individuals who are used to accessing public spaces without difficulty, but when you’re regularly blocked from inclusion in daily activities, access is life changing.
Promoting Adaptive Products
Finally, offering adaptive services and products is a vital part of any business model. It expands your company’s client base and creates a lot of press – like any minority group, the disability community talks about what businesses are supportive. For example, the clothing company ASOS recently released adaptive garments designed in conjunction with a disabled athlete, who also modeled the garments. Similarly, Target has released adaptive and sensory-friendly garments for adults and children, designed to facilitate independence, accommodate feeding tubes, and eliminate seams and tags that can irritate autistic wearers and others with sensitive skin.
Many San Antonio-area families discovered just how transformative inclusive and adaptive spaces are when Morgan’s Inspiration Island opened in the area. Morgan’s Inspiration Island is a fully inclusive waterpark featuring air-powered wheelchairs for those who use electric chairs ordinarily and is designed to allow everyone to enjoy the park together. As an inclusive space, Morgan’s Inspiration Island can teach the next generation how important inclusion is and minimize the need for disability training programs down the road because disability inclusion will have always been a part of their lives.The ADA has produced an entire generation of disabled individuals who grew up with access to inclusive education, and they’re workforce ready. Though businesses are lagging behind, an increasing number have discovered the value of recruiting disabled employees. After a lifetime of exclusion, they bring valuable ideas, innovative approaches, and abundant skills to workplaces that treat them well.