Establishing a disability-inclusive culture is good for business

The benefits of cultivating disability-inclusive cultures, rooted in understanding and kindness, are significant. Here’s how to get started.

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Companies are faced with the need to establish an inclusive culture when it comes to people with special needs and their caregivers. But, what is often left out in the process is recognition of the role that “kindness” plays in our day-to-day professional lives.

A recent survey* conducted by Voya Financial assessed people’s attitudes toward kindness in our daily lives and in the workplace. According to the survey, almost all Americans (98%) agree that it’s important for companies to treat their employees, customers, and business partners with respect and kindness, and 95% believe that it’s important for companies to demonstrate kindness to all individuals, regardless of abilities or needs. 

If “kindness” is to be part of a company’s culture — and it should be part of a truly inclusive culture — it must begin with understanding the differences that exist among people and having policies and resources in place to help employees learn how to treat people with respect and trust. There are several important steps that must be taken to build a culture that embraces and celebrates differences. 

Getting started 

A disability inclusion program — one rooted in understanding and kindness — starts with a company’s leaders. Getting leadership’s buy-in is almost a cliché in business today, but it’s essential. How that buy-in is obtained is the tricky part. Here’s some advice: A company’s leadership wants to know the benefits that inclusivity brings to an organization’s reputation, business performance and recruiting. Having executives understand the needs and wants of people with disabilities will set a clear tone at the top of an organization, and employees will imitate the behaviors and reflect their attitudes. 

Next, establish a task force — led by executives who have successful track records in the business — that can develop strategies, policies and procedures to address the specific needs of people with disabilities and their caregivers. This foundational work not only recognizes people pre-disposed to initiating or enhancing the company’s diversity and inclusion program, but also serves to identify the dividends that such a program can bring to an organization.

Before you can begin to recruit and hire people with disabilities, you must create the appropriate infrastructure for sustained success.

This should start with a physically and digitally accessible environment and offer practical accommodations to address special needs such as no or low vision and hearing, and cognitive, mobility and dexterity impairments. 

Conducting focus groups with employees who have special needs or are caregivers can help to delve deeper into their needs. For example, do your employee benefits align with special needs planning and benefit employees in the special needs community?  Many companies have found that the benefits valued by employees in the special needs community are equally valued by all employees, such as health savings accounts, flexible spending programs, guaranteed-issue group life insurance and disability income insurance.

To fine tune your proposed programs to support people with disabilities, consider a survey of all employees. While there are some issues specific to people with disabilities, such as protecting eligibility for government benefits, there are others that are consistent with those of your broader employee population, including: 

  • Providing for the future of their loved ones
  • Saving for retirement
  • Believing that their company understands their needs 
  • Providing equal opportunity for career progression
  • Allowing flexibility in day-to-day work performance 
  • Achieving work-life balance

Once you’ve established the infrastructure based on the input you’ve received from your special needs community, it’s important to implement a consistent internal communications program to foster understanding among all employees about the special needs community and what your company is doing to support it. Your communications must consistently and over the long term underscore that disability inclusion is a part of your corporate culture and delivers real benefits. 

Look to develop training and education programs for all employees to ensure that disability inclusion becomes an inherent part of your culture. A few key elements of your training program may include online and in-person instruction by subject-matter-experts, educational resources and “how to” guides, the creation of disabilities and special needs employee affinity groups and programs and policies that encourage employees to work with the special needs community. 

You should also seek out external opportunities to enhance your disability inclusion commitment. Identify thought leaders and disability inclusion champions within your company to speak about the positive impact these efforts have on a company’s brand, reputation and business performance. Collaborating with third-party organizations that support the disabilities community, such as Special Olympics, Disability:IN, National Down Syndrome Society and others, will enhance your internal efforts and will provide your company a “halo effect” by being associated with respected organizations in the special needs community. 

Bottom Line: Disability inclusion is good for business The benefits to organizations that have strongly inclusive corporate cultures underpinned by a genuine commitment to kindness, social responsibility and disability inclusion practices are significant. A strong disability inclusion program will enhance your brand and will provide your company with yet another way to connect with firms with like-minded values, both existing and prospective clients. If done well, a disability inclusion program can deliver a significant competitive edge. 

*Based on the results of a Voya Financial survey conducted through AYTM — Ask Your Target Market online research platform between Nov. 9–10, 2020, among n=1,000 Americans age 18+, balanced by age, gender and region to reflect the U.S. population.

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