People with disabilities bring unique talents to the workplace — but only if they’re able to find and apply for jobs and are supported once they’re on board. How can companies start breaking down accessibility barriers?
Talent Experience Live explored the real-world experience of Andy Traub, CEO and founder of Winning Workplaces, in creating a value-based culture that not only recruits but retains this underserved and underutilized talent pool.
Watch the full episode below, or read on to catch the highlights!
Becoming an Ambassador for People With Disabilities
While working as an HR leader for movie theater operator AMC, Traub was tasked by the company’s CEO to begin hiring qualified candidates that were also on the autism spectrum.
Traub’s first step was to organize intensive learning sessions with 13 experts in the field of autism — most of whom became his mentors. From there, he and his team examined how to adjust processes, procedures, talent assessments, and tracking systems. AMC also partnered with area school districts to find candidates, assessing them carefully to ensure they would meet job qualifications.
Just 90 days after kicking off the project, AMC hired its first autistic employee: Kyle. Kyle ended up thriving as an employee, acing performance assessments, earning promotions, and eventually gaining the financial freedom to move out of his parents' home into his own apartment. “If you do it right, do it intentionally, do it for the right reasons, and you make sure you’re hiring qualified people, it plays out into all the business metrics that anyone could possibly want,” Traub said, referencing higher retention, engagement, and performance.
Evaluating Accessibility and Accommodations
Companies looking to hire more workers with disabilities should gain a better understanding of what they need to improve in terms of accessibility and accommodations before starting their talent search. There's often confusion on how the two words differ, Traub clarified:
When it comes to accessibility, we should take a “secret-shopper approach,” putting ourselves in the shoes of a job candidate. What barriers might a person with a disability encounter while applying, interviewing, and onboarding — and how can we avoid them? WCAG compliant career sites with out-of-the-box accessibility tools can simplify and streamline the process.
Accommodations on the other hand, are just another word for job aids. They're provided to employees to assist them in performing their jobs (e.g. a stool for someone with a back problem, or a flexible schedule for someone who can’t work a regular 9 to 5 work day.
Improving Employer Practices
In finding his career mission, Traub also gained key insights into how HR leaders can improve employment practices to be more inclusive.
Don’t hire for charity. It won’t be helpful for the company, or for the employee. They have to be qualified to do the job, Traub said, or you can’t position them to succeed. “Same job, same pay, same expectations. If you have that frame of mind when you’re talking about hiring… it doesn't matter what your disability is. If you can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation, you’re qualified for the role.”
Be intentional about the talent you're looking for. What requirements does a candidate need to be successful in a specific role? Make sure your job descriptions are accurate. As Traub pointed out, being able to lift 65 pounds used to be a requirement for accountants, but that’s no longer necessary since banker’s boxes have been replaced by technology.
Recruiting & Retaining Top Talent With Disabilities
Despite sizable measures across many organizations to improve diversity and inclusion, people with disabilities are still being overlooked too frequently. “Disability is a forgotten diversity segment that any member of [the workforce] could join at any given time,” Traub said. “You have all these individuals who are very capable, but we have to tweak our lens and how we evaluate talent.”
Today, 26% of the US population has a disability, but only 17% of them were born with it. In terms of retention, this means that a percentage of every company’s workforce will acquire some type of disability while employed. So how can organizations better prepare to support their people?
Communication is critical, and effectively accommodating individual needs should be a shared responsibility. Traditionally, it’s up to the employee to advocate for what they need. But regular check-ins with team members can help identify any job aid requirements, and managers should ensure that employees have access to the support and accommodations they need to perform their best. Providing a job aid can be as simple as jotting down a procedure on an index card to serve as a reminder, Traub said, which is exactly what one manager did to accommodate a veteran with a traumatic brain injury. “[It’s an] example of owning the performance of your people,” he said.
Traub’s final words of advice for organizations aiming for better inclusivity of workers with disabilities? Change the culture to one that truly makes employees feel supported by making it clear you want to retain them. Ask: "What can we do to make you successful?"
If you view employees' empowerment as a business necessity and do what’s right, "everything else is going to take care of itself,” he concluded.
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