By Eustacia A. English, NRWA DEI Columnist
This year, the theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is Disability: Part of the Equity Equation. This topic brings me joy on a personal and professional level. In September, I started a new role as the Senior Director, Global Recruiting & DEI for an organization whose mission is to ensure accessibility to technology for people who are disabled. As I started the mandatory company training, I thought it would be significant to share my findings and thoughts with the NRWA community.
A disability does not necessarily mean a personal health condition but rather a mismatch between a person’s abilities and their environment. I was eager to learn about different types of disabilities and how we, as an organization, can accommodate or interact with our colleagues with disabilities.
Visual disabilities: I never considered that there are different types of visual disabilities, such as long-sightedness, blindness, color blindness, and low vision. A study published by the Journal of Usability Studies found that only 28% of blind users could successfully complete an online job application due to the processes designed without accessibility in mind. When coded correctly, screen readers announce content to users with vision disabilities.
Motor/mobility disabilities: These types of disabilities go beyond the use of hands and arms to other muscular or skeletal conditions. If users cannot use a mouse, they need technology such as speech-to-text software, mouth sticks, eye trackers, and voice recognition software.
Hearing impairments/deafness: If our hearing-impaired colleagues don’t have a way to interact with audio files, they will miss out on a lot of content.
Cognitive & learning disabilities: Not all disabilities are physical. Learning and cognitive disabilities can have unique challenges in the workplace. Some standard accessibility adjustments to accommodate this group include allowing extra time to review content, presenting content in multiple formats, and enabling speech-to-text input.
Invisible disabilities: There are invisible disabilities such as reading, auditory processing, visual-spatial processing, processing speed, memory, attention, and executive functioning.
Temporary/sporadic disabilities: People can experience temporary situations that affect their mobility and work. I am an example of this when I suffer from sciatic nerve pain in my lower back and physically cannot move for a period of time.
Now, let’s discuss some tips that everyone can do to make the workplace inclusive for people with disabilities.
1. Language: How we talk about people with disabilities is subjective. It’s recommended to start with “person-first language” and say a “person with a disability” instead of “disabled person.”
2. Readability: Write in plain language with visual cues to ensure everyone can understand the message.
3. Wheelchair Users: Don’t lean or reach over someone who uses a wheelchair, and don’t touch a person’s wheelchair without asking first.
4. Vision Disabilities: Introduce yourself as you initially approach a blind person. When in a food line, don’t make it awkward. Ask them if you can help with their plate. However, if they say no, be okay with that. Not everyone is going to accept your help. At events, have digital copies of presentations available. And during presentations or meetings, describe the things you’re talking about on the slides.
5. Inclusive Outings: When planning functions with colleagues, ensure they’re inclusive of everyone. It’s important not to put any people in a position to feel excluded.
Please note, this is a short list of many recommendations. Some of these things I was aware of but some I was not. I encourage you to do additional research to learn more about what you can do to assist your colleagues with disabilities.
My biggest takeaway is to simply be polite and ask questions instead of making assumptions. Going forward, I will do my best to use the best practices I learned to support colleagues. As always, I wish you all continued peace, love, happiness, and blessings.
Eustacia English writes the Perspective column, which examines Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in resume writing and career strategy. She is a 20-year HR and talent acquisition veteran and started Resumes on Demand last year. She also writes on DEI for The Black in HR e-zine. She lives with her husband and two children in Cherry Hill, NJ. Find her online at LinkedIn.com/in/ecampbell05.