Disability inclusion in the workplace

October 2023 | Health Equity

This year, Point32Health received a score of 100% on the Disability Equality Index by Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). The Disability Equality Index is a comprehensive benchmarking tool that helps companies build a roadmap to measurable, tangible actions that can be taken to achieve disability inclusion and equality. As a result of our score, we were also named a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion, which acknowledges the work Point32Health continues to do to advance equity, disability inclusion and accessibility.

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we sat down with our lead diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility specialist of accessibility and communications at Point32Health, Sarah Pashe, to talk about the importance of an inclusive work environment and ways employers can foster disability inclusion within their organizations.

Q: Why is it meaningful to create an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities?

Sarah Pashe: I’d first like to note that the disability community is large. One in four adults in the U.S. have a disability, whether apparent or nonapparent. Many of us are connected to the disability community, either with our own lived experience with disability, through our loved ones with disabilities, and/or as an ally to the disability community. Also, most people will experience disability at some point in their lives.

In the workplace, we may not know whether the people that are working alongside us have a disability or not, so it’s beneficial to keep evolving your inclusive workplace strategy, practices and systems, so people of all abilities can fully engage and contribute. As we shared in our DEIA & Health Equity Report earlier this year, when experiences are disability-inclusive, it sparks more creativity, innovation and engagement.

Also, when you design with people with disabilities in mind, it’s often a more inclusive experience for everyone. For example, ramps and accessible entrances are essential for somebody like me who uses a wheelchair. They’re also great for people who might be rolling a suitcase behind them, have a lot in their arms, have a temporary medical need or perhaps they’re bringing their baby in a stroller to visit colleagues at the office. Similarly, captions on videos can be helpful for people who may identify as Deaf or hard of hearing, and studies have also shown that adults learn more when watching videos with captions. What’s helpful for the disability community, like captions or a ramp, is often helpful for everyone.

Q: How does including the perspectives of employees with disabilities make an organization better?

SP: In the disability community, there’s a saying, “Nothing about us without us,” which was used often during the disability rights movement and disability advocacy leading up to—and following—the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. This saying underscores the importance of centering the voices of people with disabilities whenever you’re creating something, especially if it’s related to people with disabilities. I think this approach is something that each of us can adopt. Let’s say you’re looking to revise an internal process/workflow or create a new communication and you’d like to be sure it’s inclusive to the disability community. Reaching out to your disability-focused employee resource group is one way you could gather perspectives and insights directly from your colleagues with disabilities.

In addition to creating more inclusive and accessible experiences, the perspectives of people with disabilities can also help organizations be more innovative and creative. Because people with disabilities inherently live in a world that isn’t always designed for us, we have strengths like resilience, adaptability, patience, creativity, innovation and collaboration. Like other affinities, people with disabilities aren’t a monolith: We bring our diverse skills, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences to the work we do every day. Studies also show that employees with disabilities often have higher productivity, longer tenure and lower absenteeism.

Q: What suggestions do you have for how an organization’s human resources team or its individual managers can help to make colleagues feel more comfortable requesting accommodations?

SP: For a person with a disability thinking about requesting accommodations, sometimes there can be a worry or concern with outing yourself and how that might impact how others perceive you. But really, we all need accommodations in some way, shape or form. For example, chairs are provided to accommodate the need for many employees to sit, but when I come to the Point32Health office, I don’t need that accommodation because, as a wheelchair user, I always bring my own chair.

Not all people with disabilities need accommodations. And about half of all accommodations cost nothing. But regardless of cost, when people with disabilities need assistive technology or other accommodations to do their job, it’s helpful to know your manager and/or your HR colleague are supportive. I’d recommend managers and HR colleagues familiarize themselves with your organization’s accommodations process, allay your colleague’s worries about confidentiality and others’ perceptions, and normalize the conversation about accommodations.

When we talk about accommodations more generally with everyone, it makes it a topic that anyone can talk about. For example, managers and HR colleagues can share: We have a great accommodations process here. We want everyone to have what they what they need to be most effective in their jobs. And here’s the process. That makes it easy. It serves as a reminder and it’s even more powerful if someone can share their own accommodation. If there’s a leader who happens to be a person with a disability and they say: Hey, you know what? I use this assistive technology. Here’s how I use it. And it’s an accommodation I’ve used for the last ten years. People can often learn from each other, and having those regular conversations makes it comfortable for others to speak up who may not have previously felt that way. When we’re open and authentic, then others are likely to do the same.

Q: What suggestions do you have for organizations looking to advance disability inclusion?

SP: Having an external benchmark is a good first step in understanding what is or isn’t already happening at your workplace. It’s a way to figure out what kind of foundation you have and then build on that. At Point32Health, we use the Disability Equality Index (DEI) as our benchmark and we’re a corporate partner and Inclusion Works member with Disability:IN. Receiving a score on a scale between zero and 100, the DEI offers action items to increase disability inclusion within your company. In July 2023, we were honored to receive a DEI score of 100% and we remain steadfast in continuing to advance disability inclusion.

On the DEI, each organization might have a different area of opportunity to focus on. For example, one organization might look at facility design and work on enhancing overall accessibility. Another may identify an opportunity to revise emergency evacuation procedures or increase the volume of business with disability-owned suppliers. The DEI helps you understand where you are as an organization, how you compare to the benchmark, areas of focus and potential action items.

For colleagues within an organization looking to support disability inclusion, join (or champion the development of) a disability-focused colleague resource group (CRG). Whether you’re a person with disabilities, a family member, ally, or just want to learn more about the disability community, your involvement is welcomed. You’ll connect with a network of people, learn more about the disability community and help to influence positive change within your own organization.

For more information on our diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility team and how they’re working to build a lasting community of care at Point32Health, check out our diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and health equity report:

Download the Report