July 26th is known as Disability Independence Day, an occasion when we proudly celebrate the anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was signed into law thirty-two years ago on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The law served to protect disabled individuals from discrimination in key areas of public life, including workplaces, schools, and public transportation. Since its institution, opportunities for the millions of Americans living with disabilities have undoubtedly expanded, however, there is still a great deal of work to be done to obtain true equality and inclusion for disabled individuals, notably within the American workplace.
Anyone can be impacted by disability, regardless of age or background. In fact, the Social Security Administration has found that more than one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching retirement age. While the ADA ensures that disabled individuals cannot be denied access to jobs, just as they are also protected on the basis of race, sex, age, and religion, many employers miss the crucial opportunity to cultivate a work environment that truly positions disabled workers for success by failing to consider the mental and emotional challenges they may face when entering the workplace, in addition to physical challenges.
The ADA stipulates that employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified applicants and teammates with disabilities, but for many, the question of what this looks like in practice remains unanswered. While tangible accommodations like specialized computer equipment or large-print materials are crucial for some workers, cultivating an inclusive work environment begins before any such measures are necessary by inviting and welcoming these individuals to the team without biases or assumptions regarding their condition, and also by ensuring that all corporate policies pertaining to disability benefits and accommodations are clearly presented early on in the hiring process.
Stepping into the shoes of someone returning to work after a time of absence — or a disabled individual looking for work for the first time — empowers employers to completely transform the employee experience. The desire to make a strong first impression is universal, and those who are working with a disability may also fear being labeled as weak or uncommitted due to their health condition(s). Having to make numerous requests, no matter how simple, during one’s first days on a job could place a disabled worker in a highly stressful and uncomfortable position.
When we think about Disability Independence Day, let’s consider the heart of what it truly means to be inclusive. Next week, we will be sharing a blog post written by Charlotte Dales, Co-Founder and CEO of Inclusively, in which she will provide more data and insight on the challenges disabled individuals face at work, as well as practical, yet powerful suggestions of ways your team can begin evaluating corporate processes to make your company more inclusive and welcoming for disabled workers.