This week marks the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation designed to protect the civil rights of people who have physical and mental disabilities. However, Americans with disabilities remain the largest underemployed and underrepresented group in the country. It's estimated that 1 in 4 adult Americans -- 61 million people -- live with a disability, and experience unemployment rates nearly double the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Employers can do something about this discrepancy and in turn, create a more inclusive workplace for all. Here's how.
Place job listings in front of disabled communities.
Employers should actively engage with disabled communities. Nicholas Wyman, who is 54 years old and the president of the Institute for Workplace, Skills & Innovation America in California, suggests that businesses can partner with regional or local university programs. The benefit here is you'll be meeting them early, which can help in terms of training and overall career-readiness.
Highlight accommodation policies in job postings.
While it's true that people with disabilities may require accommodations, you should always highlight and explain the availability of accommodations policy in job postings and during all stages of interviews, suggests 27-year-old Nora Genster, the Employment Transformation Collective director at Northwest Center, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle that serves people with disabilities.
"Too often, the burden of transforming inaccessible workplaces falls to the disabled employees, so managers should be well versed and confident in their ability to navigate discussions around accommodations or adjustments," says Genster.
Encourage disabled employees to join leadership positions.
Ableism, prejudice, and discrimination against disabled individuals, and the fear of "appearing to be disabled," has shaped the American employment landscape for centuries. Besides launching training programs for helping disabled employees to thrive, business leaders should empower current disabled employees to take on leadership roles in any initiative, Genster suggests.
And those initiatives shouldn't just be devoted to disabled employees. Business leaders need to include disabled employees beyond the disability-focused programs if they want to help build trust within disabled communities, says Keely Cat-Wells, the 26-year-old founder and president of C Talent at Whalar, a disabled-led talent management and consultancy in Los Angeles. "You have to not only include us in disability focused initiatives, but in all areas of the company -- funding, paying and valuing lived experience," Cat-Wells adds.
Ensure people with disabilities can access all of your content.
It's crucial to remove any communication and attitudinal barriers faced by disabled people in any physical and digital spaces. "Ensure your website, social media and all other digital communications have a beyond compliant access approach to create equitable access for deaf and disabled audiences," Cat-Wells suggests.
In addition, Cat-Wells says that people with disabilities should not only have access to all products and services, but also know about them. She suggests hiring deaf and disabled people to create marketing campaigns, so they can offer a more user-friendly interface.
Provide long-term opportunities for employees with disabilities.
Businesses that want to encourage more hiring among this community should consult with disabled employees and professional organizations, to design specialized programs and initiatives that cater to employees with disabilities, says Wyman.
Wyman encourages business leaders use the Job Accommodation Network under the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, a government agency in Washington, D.C. that creates policies to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated in the workforce, and that companies can access free expert advice and guidance on complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The website provides suggested accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace, and offers a host of resources on workplace accommodations for both employers and employees.