When asked about an accessibility strategy for learning resources—or even inclusivity of people with disabilities in an overall company culture—many learning leaders, organizational leaders, and managers respond that they don’t have any employees with disabilities.
Since a fifth to a quarter of individuals are living with a significant disability—and far more have situational, temporary, or mild disabilities—it seems unlikely that your learner or employee population doesn’t include any of those individuals.
According to recent research by Boston Consulting Group, “Most organizations say their workforce includes relatively few people with disabilities: just 4% to 7%.”
Yet BCG’s global survey of nearly 28,000 employees found that a quarter of them reported having “a disability or health condition that limits a major life activity.”
US Census data shows that 13% of Americans live with a disability that limits a major life activity—ranging from 6% of people aged 18–34 to nearly half of adults over age 75.
And many more likely have less-severe disabilities or health-related limitations.
The disparity, according to BCG, is partly due to under-reporting by employees, who don’t share their disability with employers or request accommodation, “perhaps fearing stigma or a negative impact on their job security or promotion prospects.”
Understanding what ‘disability’ encompasses
Part of the disconnect may stem from inaccurate understanding of what constitutes a disability. While some disabilities are obvious—especially if a person uses a wheelchair, guide dog, or other visible equipment to mitigate the disability—many disabilities, such as extreme fatigue or mild hearing loss, are invisible.
Some disabilities are permanent; others may be:
- Temporary—A person may need to use crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair following an injury or surgery, for example.
- Situational—A person who can’t hear the audio portion of a training video in a noisy café or because construction work is taking place next door benefits from accessibility features like captions and transcripts, for example.
- Progressive—Aging employees may need to magnify text on their screens or increase contrast, may experience partial hearing loss, or may need ergonomic adjustments to their seating and desk, for example.
A disability does not have to be permanent, severe, visible, or require special accommodation to interfere with learning, productivity, or feeling of belonging at work. That's why accessibility is an essential element of an inclusive workplace. Ensuring that the office culture, learning materials, and workspaces are both accessible and inclusive benefits everyone.
People with disabilities report significantly lower feelings of inclusion at work—using BCG’s “BLISS” Index, people with disabilities feel less sense of belonging than “other employee groups that are often the focus of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts: women, the LGBTQ community, and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.”
Lower BLISS scores correlate with higher attrition.
In addition, people with disabilities are less happy at work overall, and “nearly 15 percentage points more likely to say that work negatively impacts their mental and physical well-being and their relationships with friends and family.” They are also 50% more likely to have experienced discrimination than employees with no disability or limiting health condition.
Employees who do not feel psychological safety at work are unlikely to feel comfortable disclosing a disability or health issue or requesting an accommodation. Organizational leaders—and learning leaders—can proactively address this by:
- Taking steps to improve the company’s culture, including appointing a chief diversity officer and enacting flexible work policies
- Ensuring that all corporate materials, from the website to emails and social posts to all learning materials, are inclusive and accessible
- Checking in with employees through anonymous surveys that ask about disabilities or barriers employees face
- Making the process of procuring assistive technology, ergonomic work setups, and other tools that reduce or eliminate barriers simple and routine
- Mentoring employees with disabilities
Inclusivity and accommodations pay off
BCG’s report suggests that “employee-centric” behaviors, policies, and programs such as “appointing a chief diversity officer, tracking and publicly sharing DEI metrics, and offering flexible working arrangements” can boost BLISS scores to within “approximately one point of the score for employees without disabilities in similarly inclusive environments.”
Mentorships for people with disabilities improved feelings of inclusion and sent those employees a strong, positive message—that their company believed in their abilities and saw them as people on a career path, not just someone with a job.
And offering reasonable accommodation—without stigma—boosted BLISS scores by nearly 17 points while also boosting productivity. Many accommodations are inexpensive—half of employers told JAN (the Job Accommodation Network) that accommodations cost nothing; an additional 43% entailed only a one-time cost.
Accommodating employees’ needs and promoting an inclusive culture increased retention, boosted productivity, and improved employee attendance, according to JAN.
Accessibility & Inclusion OLC
Inclusion and belonging are hot topics among learning leaders, HR and talent development professionals and organizational leaders at all levels. Accessibility is an essential component of inclusion. Boost your knowledge and your skill set so you can lead the drive to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of your learning materials and your overall culture. Register now for the Accessibility & Inclusion Online Conference, August 2–3, 2023.