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In March 1990, over a thousand activists, supporters, and people with disabilities marched to the U.S. Capitol, demanding that Congress pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This historical protest, later known as the “Capitol Crawl,” set forth a series of changes that secured equal rights for people with disabilities.
Several months later, on July 26, 1990, the ADA was signed into law, enforcing legal protection against disability discrimination. That same year, to commemorate this significant milestone, Boston held the first Disability Pride Day, which, on its 25th anniversary, turned into the International Disability Pride Month we celebrate every July.
While these events secured legal protection, erasing centuries-old bias and stereotyping takes time and collective effort.
Today, despite being more visible, people with disabilities remain marginalized. Discrimination, unfortunately, persists in many forms, from not-so-subtle glances or insensitive comments to social exclusion and severe prejudice.
People with disabilities in the workplace, although they represent such a diverse group of ages, genders, races, or socioeconomic backgrounds, often have to deal with their disability as the defining characteristic in the eyes of employers and other employees. This can sometimes results in challenges like microaggressions and bullying to isolation and employment discrimination.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2022, the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 7.6%, against 3.5% of working-age adults without one.
So how can we reduce this gap and make the workplace more inclusive for this diverse group of workers?
To answer this, let’s explore the importance of celebrating disability pride and how it can help companies acknowledge and support employees with disabilities.
Embracing Disability Pride in the Workplace
One in four adults lives with a cognitive, physical, or emotional disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite being so prevalent, historically, disabilities were seen as a weakness and a personal issue, resulting in seclusion, stereotyping, and biases.
Even influential historical figures like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had a paralytic illness, kept it hidden from the public eye.
However, throughout his presidency, he dedicated himself to assisting those afflicted by polio and spent a decade establishing Warm Springs as a destination for polio patients seeking therapy. To address the need for more funds and keep Warm Springs open, he held the first Birthday Ball in 1934, using it as a fundraiser for donating to the facility.
The result was astounding, as the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation received one million dollars. Inspired by this success, the Birthday Balls continued supporting Warm Springs and FDR’s National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
Over time, these fundraising events evolved into the renowned March of Dimes—a campaign dedicated to raising funds for the National Foundation. This grand occasion contributed significantly to the research on combating polio every year.
Regrettably, FDR never had the chance to witness the groundbreaking development of the Salk vaccine. In the late 20th century, as a response to ongoing social injustice and shaming, the Disability Rights movement started changing the narrative.
The goal was to move away from anything that associates this group with pity or charity, replacing it with empowerment and celebration of diversity.
This is what disability pride stands for.
Although it represents different things to different people, at its core, it means taking pride in oneself, understanding the limitations of a disability, and accepting that it doesn’t define a person’s worth or potential but rather enhances their individuality and contribution to society.
Case in point, the creation of the Warm Springs and FDR’s National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the March of Dimes, and the development of a vaccine that saved countless lives.
This shift in mindset empowers individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves and strive for equal opportunities in the workplace.
However, while taking pride in disability emphasizes self-empowerment and self-advocacy, the battle for equal employment opportunities is not one they should fight alone.
Employers, too, should embrace disability acceptance to create a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace. They play a vital role in fostering this environment and unlocking the potential of all employees, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.
Celebrating Disability Pride Month is one way to show support and acknowledgment.
However, for long-term impactful change, organizations must consider implementing comprehensive strategies on diversity and inclusion. Doing so can profoundly affect the workforce’s job satisfaction and engagement, leading to many benefits for the company and its employees.
The Benefits of Workplace Inclusion & Diversity
Corporate diversity statistics show that almost 80% of employees want to work in organizations that value diversity, equity, and inclusion. More notably, over two-thirds of executives consider this an essential issue in the workplace.
Over the years, numerous studies have explored the benefits of DE&I for employers, concluding that they boost many aspects like engagement, satisfaction, and overall employee well-being.
While many advantages exist, company initiatives should extend beyond compliance with legal obligations or a desire to check all the diversity boxes. And sometimes, the difference between what process would work for the company versus the employee can be sharp.
Once employers tackle these challenges and genuinely accept disability pride as part of the workplace, they can reap the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Workers are more likely to feel valued and motivated when the employer provides them with equal opportunities and support. Their increased sense of belonging and satisfaction translates into higher productivity and engagement.
For example, one research shows that with a mere 1% increase in racial diversity, the cost of productivity increases between $729 and $1,590 per employee per year.
If we look specifically at disability inclusion, the paper “Inclusive Manufacturing: The Impact of Disability Diversity on Productivity in a Work Integration Social Enterprise” supports the claim that diversity drives productivity.
Namely, researchers proved that increasing the number of people across the disability spectrum within a team increases productivity. Moreover, team productivity also improved when there was an even distribution of employees with diverse disabilities.
Enhanced Branding & Customer Experience
Another DE&I benefit for employers is the potential to increase their reputation in front of consumers and stakeholders.
Compared to a few decades ago, today, we live in a socially conscious world that inevitably reflects on consumers.
In fact, according to the Conscious Consumer Spending Index, 2021 was a record-breaking year for socially responsible spending, with a score of 51, a 25% increase from the previous year. Although somewhat lower at 48, the score remained relatively high through 2022.
Therefore, by demonstrating their commitment to disability pride, businesses can resonate with customers who appreciate and support diversity efforts.
For example, employers with firsthand experience and empathy for disability-related challenges are well-equipped to provide exceptional customer services and tailored solutions.
As a result, a strong brand built on such practices can improve customer experience and attract loyal customers, top talent, and positive media attention.
Cognitive diversity drives innovation.
Different perspectives and experiences can enhance problem-solving skills, prompting new ideas and creative solutions in the workplace.
Therefore, by embracing disability pride and including individuals with disabilities along with other marginalized groups in the workplace, organizations can access a wealth of unique viewpoints and insights.
A BSG study exploring diversity at the management level reveals that companies with above-average leadership diversity scored an average innovation revenue of 45%, against the 26% for companies who were below average.
The report further concludes that, for better effect, instead of focusing on one aspect of diversity, companies should create teams that differ across multiple dimensions.
Strategies for Embracing Disability Pride & Inclusion
Although 25% of people live with some form of disability, a Boston Consulting Group (BSG) study indicates that, on average, most organizations report employing between 4% and 7%.
The reason behind this gap lies in employees not disclosing this information due to fear of stigma or a negative impact on job security and promotions. Moreover, according to BCG’s BLISS Index, which measures how workers feel about inclusion, the score for people with disabilities is one to two points lower than other marginalized groups.
In other words, they feel more excluded from DE&I initiatives than people of color, women, or the LGBTQ+ community.
But inclusion shouldn’t be selective.
Since there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, employers must consider what that means for all employees before enforcing diversity strategies.
Celebrating disability pride and fostering inclusion in the workplace requires a deliberate and proactive approach beyond ADA compliance or one-time-only festivities.
From employee education to reasonable accommodation, the following are some of the best strategies employers can implement to create a disability-inclusive work environment.
- Educating and Raising Awareness: Facilitate training for all employees and management levels focusing on debunking myths, promoting empathy, and fostering a culture of acceptance.
- Recognizing and Removing Accessibility Barriers: Identify physical or digital barriers that may hinder the full participation of employees with disabilities.
- Providing Reasonable Accommodations: Recognize that everyone’s needs may vary and implement a process to provide appropriate accommodations and a barrier-free environment for employees with disabilities. This includes ensuring physical accessibility with ramps, elevators, and accessible washrooms and providing assistive technology.
- Ensuring Inclusive Employment Strategies: Review and update recruitment and hiring processes to ensure they are inclusive and accessible to individuals with disabilities. This employment model may involve training recruiters and hiring managers on unbiased selection practices, utilizing accessible job postings, offering alternative interview formats, and considering disability as a part of diversity in the candidate evaluation process.
- Fostering an Inclusive Culture: Encourage open dialogue, create spaces for employees to share their experiences, and actively seek input from individuals with disabilities on policies and practices. Promote a culture of respect and a safe space where all employees feel valued, included, and empowered to contribute their best.
- Engaging in External Partnerships: Collaborate with external organizations, advocacy groups, and community partners to provide valuable insights, resources, and support to create an inclusive workplace.
Identifying the barriers and providing reasonable solutions and support are good starting points for opening the workplace to people with disabilities. However, once they enter the workforce, it’s beyond necessary to make continuous efforts for inclusion and acceptance of this group.
For example, organizations can encourage training and mentoring programs in the workplace or promote networking opportunities for people with disabilities. This can help ease their transition into a new environment and create equal career opportunities.
Investing in People with Disabilities
As Disability Pride Month approaches, companies have an opportunity to celebrate the achievements, resilience, and talents of this diverse group.
But beyond the ethical consideration, we have already glanced at the potential a diverse talent pool can have in driving innovation, productivity, and better business outcomes. As the data tells the story, investing in people with disabilities offers an untapped potential for profitability and value creation.
Research consistently shows that organizations that embrace DE&I initiatives tend to outperform their competitors by positioning themselves as an inclusive employer, brand, and a leader in the market.
- Better work morale
- Improved service for consumers who are disabled
- Increased levels of productivity with low absenteeism
- Improved business practices to accommodate people with disabilities end up benefiting all employees
However, the ILO explores multiple case studies within the publication, concluding that this is viable when companies approach the employment of workers with disabilities the right way.
Some examples of this are:
- Reasonable accommodation procedures
- Employee networks that support employees with a disability
- Effective governance structures to respond effectively to stakeholder pressure
- Disability policies endorsed by senior management
Investing in people with disabilities is an investment in the company’s growth and prosperity.
People with disabilities are the world’s largest minority. They offer so much yet remain underrepresented in the workplace.
Celebrating the upcoming Disability Pride Month is just one-way businesses can promote pride in disability at work. Still, it goes a long way in fostering a sense of belonging, creating an inclusive environment that recognizes the unique values of each employee, and paving the way for meaningful change.
Written by tamara jovanovska
Content Writer at Shortlister
- Disability Pride Toolkit and Resource Guide
- Disability Pride – Events
- Disability Pride Parade
- Celebrating Disability Pride Month
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- When the ‘Capitol Crawl’ Dramatized the Need for Americans with Disabilities Act
- Persons With a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics — 2022
- Disability Impacts All of Us, CDC
- Your Workforce Includes People with Disabilities. Does Your People Strategy?
- Inclusion Isn’t Just Nice. It’s Necessary
- How Diversity Increases Productivity
- Inclusive Manufacturing: The Impact of Disability Diversity on Productivity in a Work Integration Social Enterprise
- How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation
- Making Workplaces Inclusive of People With Disabilities
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