October is National Disability Awareness Month. Learn about what you can do to support those living with disabilities.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and it was established to educate the general public on the issues that workers with disabilities face, as well as how employers can be more inclusive in their hiring practices. But what you may not know is that its origins stem all the way back to 1945, when Congress first enacted the Public Law 176. To read about NDEAM’s full history, check out this interesting post by National Today.
As one of the leaders of ENABLE, Progress’s Employee Resource Group emphasizing abilities and not disabilities, I believe this observance serves as an opportunity for us to remind and educate those around us on how to improve working conditions and opportunities for those living with disabilities. Here are a few simple actions that any business can take that would make a world of difference.
When someone says “disability” it is easy to immediately picture a physical disability—someone in a wheelchair or someone who is blind. But disabilities come in all shapes and forms. In addition to physical conditions, there are cognitive and learning disabilities such as speech disorders and Dyslexia, sensory disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), hidden/invisible disabilities such as epilepsy and psychological disabilities such as PTSD, Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Each comes with its own host of challenges. Here’s one resource where can learn more about the different types of disabilities and categories of disabilities.
It’s not only important to know your legal requirements when it comes to disabilities, but it’s also critical to take it a step further. One simple action you can take is to use more inclusive language. For example, in job descriptions, use “ability to complete tasks with or without reasonable accommodations,” or instead of “must have strong written and verbal communication skills” say “must be able to communicate with others effectively.” Also, have a good understanding of the questions you can and cannot ask and how to best word those questions.
If you’re unsure of what actions to take, speak with a member of your People/HR team or speak with someone from your legal team. There are also many resources available to you if you want to start to educate yourself.
While it’s important to create a culture that values inclusivity, it is equally important to train your people on what that means, talk through your policies and practices and set your expectations for how people should be treated. This training can start day one during onboarding and can continue through manager training, brown bag sessions, self-service training modules, event attendance and/or bringing in outside speakers and resources.
ERGs are a great way build a supportive community and provide employees with a “safe place” to ask questions and speak with others that may face similar challenges. An ERG should be built for those employees that are disabled, care givers as well as allies and those who want to learn more.
Starting to think about all the initiatives businesses could and should be doing to support their disabled population can be very overwhelming. The list above is a short sample of some small actions that anyone can take, and what better time to start than during National Disability Employment Awareness Month!
Erica McShane has more than 20 years of experience in high-tech public relations and corporate communications. With a focus on building awareness across the media, analyst and influencer communities, she has worked with all kinds of businesses—from startup to global tech giants—to build visibility, credibility and market awareness within the business, trade and online media. At Progress, Erica and her team are responsible for the company's global PR efforts, analyst relations, social media, content, customer programs as well as internal communications and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
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