A Quick Guide to Disability Inclusion

August 28, 2020  |  Michelle Nichols

In 2020, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The goal of the Act was to increase opportunities for those with disabilities: both visible and invisible. While the ADA is federally mandated, workplaces can use its requirements as a starting point for creating an inclusive environment for disabled candidates and employees.

As a longtime compliance practitioner and consultant, I’ve seen organizations implement the ADA as a Compliance initiative, an HR initiative, and even a Legal Department initiative. While programs have been successful as initiatives under each of those groups, I propose that an organization look at the ADA as a blueprint for Disability Inclusion instead of adherence to employment and/or discrimination laws.

If organizations consider how to make a disabled team member feel welcome, the focus becomes on ensuring an employee’s success. This “interactive process” becomes the cornerstone of identifying what the team members CAN do and how to remove barriers to success. Disability inclusion as a part of an organization’s overall inclusion program pulls all of the requisite corporate elements (Compliance, HR, Legal, Facilities, etc…) together to ensure success.

As the wife of a wheelchair-bound husband, I get to witness firsthand organizations that view the ADA as a “check the box” versus those who have truly integrated the legal framework into an effective inclusion program – one focused on the whole person.

Real Life Example of Disability Inclusion

Years ago, we took our young children to Disney World. Navigating large theme parks can be a challenge for a mobility-impaired person. Add in the heat of Florida and the excitement of two kids, and it can feel downright impossible. From the moment we arrived at the park, it was clear that each Disney cast member had been well-trained on disability inclusion. Their interactions were not based in legal concepts, but in respect and a true desire to create the best experience for their guests.

For example, when we would go to a ride, we would invariably go to the “wheelchair entrance,” where we were warmly greeted. The cast member would say, “Hi Mr. Nichols, I’m glad you are here today. I wanted to let you know that on this ride, you can either transfer out of your chair or we can wait for a cart that can accommodate your chair. What is your preference?” If my husband responded that he would transfer out of his chair, they would follow up with, “Excellent! What is the best way for me to assist you today?” My husband would respond that he was capable of transferring himself and they would promise to keep his chair safe and be there to assist at the end of the ride. Each interaction was more pleasant than the next. Their focus on positivity without being condescending was refreshing. My husband does not often find that level of emotional intelligence in relating to his disability.

What You Can Do

As the ADA turns 30, I challenge you to reexamine your disability inclusion programs and practices and determine:

  • Can your managers identify hidden and visible disabilities in their team members?
  • Are they capable of engaging in the interactive process that focuses on what their team member CAN do? Do they seek assistance from the right resources if they are unsure?
  • Are you teaching (and role playing) emotional intelligence and empathy towards disabled team members?
  • Is disability inclusion part of your overall inclusion strategy? Are your disabled team members providing input to that strategy?
  • Are you surveying disabled candidates and employees for feedback and learning from their suggestions?

Building a well-rounded program ensures success for ADA adherence AND continues to build the culture of success in an effective D&I program. While the ADA provides a useful framework, let’s remember that it is a mere starting point, not a ceiling!

Interested in implementing an ADA training program at your organization? Check out Emtrain’s ADA training course!


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