Although October has come to a close, as we move quickly into the holiday season, we may gloss over the amazing opportunity that October provides to businesses to further build on their diversity and inclusion efforts. October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month, often called NDEAM. This year’s theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” The theme works to highlight the fact that diversity and equity efforts need to include disability and access in the continuing work to increase diversity.  Disability impacts 1 in 4 Americans and is the only diverse or marginalized group that any of us can enter into or out of at any point in our lifespan. We can be born with disabilities or develop them due to an accident, injury or illness.  The spectrum of disability is also very broad, it can include individuals who are unable to work, individuals who are entry level, CEOs of companies, and everything in between, and includes people who are already working within your company. Disability can be obvious or non-obvious and gathering data about the true number of individuals within your workforce can be difficult as people with non-obvious disabilities have the legal right to not disclose their disability. Although 90% of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4% consider disability in those initiatives, according to a report from the Return On Disability Group.

Moving forward, I would challenge your teams who are focusing on diversity to include disability in the conversation. Start by understanding the barriers that people with disabilities may face when applying for your opportunities. This could be inaccessible applications or burying the information to request accommodations deep in your websites. Look at your job descriptions, do they contain language that may have individuals with disabilities self-selecting out of applying, even when they have all the skills you are looking for? When job descriptions state “valid driver license,” or “able to communicate effectively in English,” you have potentially eliminated individuals who do not drive due to their disability or individuals who are deaf and use American Sign Language, which is not English. Is driving an essential function of the job, or is it being used as a form of identification? Do your job descriptions accurately reflect the truly essential functions of the job or are they filled with marginal and peripheral duties? Provide opportunities for your team from leadership to line staff to receive training on disability and what exactly disability is. These training opportunities can increase the conversation around disability and break down barriers and beliefs that may be keeping qualified people with disabilities from opportunities at your workplace. It is necessary to address biases that may be both conscious and unconscious.  

It is also necessary to look at the accessibility of your workplaces. Do you have an accessible work site, do you have a clear procedure for requesting accommodations? I recommend having a centralized accommodation budget which can help eliminate barriers to how an accommodation would be paid for. Most accommodations cost $50 or less, but the cost of accommodations or the difficulty to access accommodations is often a roadblock to true accessibility. As you review your accessibility, consider things like remote work opportunities, part-time schedules, flexible working schedules, and various other components that would be attractive not only to individuals with disabilities but to all individuals seeking a more positive work-life balance.  

Utilizing events like National Disability Employment Awareness Month, highlighting different disability awareness months, or planning events in July for Disability Pride Month can increase the comfort of your teams in talking about disability and recognizing the fact that disability is a normal part of the life cycle. The stigma around disability and the skills and abilities of individuals with disabilities continue to create environments where people choose not to disclose or request accommodations that can help them be more successful. To build a culture of inclusion the conversations need to occur.  

In Utah, there are a variety of resources that can assist your team to develop a plan on how to build your inclusion practices around disability.  Within the Department of Workforce Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services, Utah State Office of Rehabilitation we have a team of Business Relations experts that can provide services, provide support and offer training to your teams across the state. This team provides training and support to business partners as well as events, such as the Employer Workshop on Recruiting, Hiring and Retaining Individuals with Disabilities, and the Work Ability Career Preparation and Job Fair. Reach out to the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation team to start the conversation and build a plan of action to include disability in your diversity efforts. 

If your workplace is already doing amazing work to include individuals with disabilities in your workforce consider completing a nomination for the 49th Annual Golden Key Awards that will occur in September of 2023. These awards highlight businesses’ success stories of inclusion.  The nomination for this year’s winners can be found at the Golden Key Award link.  

As your workplace develops the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access plan for 2023 bring disability into the conversation. Reach out to me or my team to have a conversation about where to start or how to improve your current efforts.  

About Leah Lobato

Leah Lobato is the Director of the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and Business Relations with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation and Division of the Department of Workforce Services.  The mission of this position is to help promote the employment and retention of individuals with disabilities in competitive employment by promoting public and private partnerships and efforts.