Whether you're looking for a job that doesn’t pigeonhole you because of a disability, or a business trying to establish a better culture, there are many ways to make a workplace more inclusive.
Living with a disability is common: 1 in 4 adults in the United States have a disability, many of whom need workplace accommodations. Unfortunately, professional settings are often rife with disability stigmas, stereotypes, and microaggressions. Disabled people are 60% more likely to feel unwelcome or left out in the workplace than the average employee.
The good news is more organizations are recognizing the importance of disability accommodations and inclusivity training. Whether you are a job seeker looking for a role that doesn’t pigeonhole you because of a disability, or a business seeking advice on establishing a better culture, there are myriad ways to move forward and make the workplace more inclusive.
Courtney A. Munnings, an attorney and neurodiversity advocate certified in disability inclusion and advocacy, recently spoke on a panel hosted by DAE@Apex, an employee resource group at Apex. Munnings is a member of RespectAbility, a national nonprofit that fights stigmas to advance opportunities for people with disabilities.
"Disability does not mean you can’t do things. [It means] you have a different perspective and different strengths..."
Munnings opens up about her experiences as a Black, autistic, neuro-nonconforming woman in the workforce. After addressing common social stigmas surrounding disabled people, she details how she overcame personal and professional obstacles and persevered despite these challenges.
“Disability does not mean you can’t do things. [It means] you have a different perspective and different strengths,” Munnings explains. “I feel compelled to share that knowledge saved my life, because there are hundreds and thousands of people just like me, who are autistic or suicidal or disabled. They have been marginalized and unsupported or cast away and silenced. But I have a chance to speak, and so I do. We all deserve to participate, and people with disabilities deserve to be accommodated and supported in the lives that they want to live.”
Munnings and her RespectAbility colleague Jake Stimell, a Speakers' Bureau associate, offer tangible actions that businesses can take to lessen stigmas. When it comes to the hiring process, they propose that interviewers ask about an interviewee’s needs and clearly explain what the job is, including unwritten components. Other tips include:
- Share the interview questions in advance to give those with disabilities an opportunity to prepare without the increased anxiety of trying to be quick on their feet
- Consider giving someone a task to complete instead of a formal interview
- Keep an open mindset and think about the person as a whole
Munnings and Stimell also recommend the following for workplace inclusion:
- Focus on uncovering talents, strengths, and needs rather than measuring one employee against other team members
- Maintain open communication
- Listen to the disabled community instead of only referring to experts who do not have personal experience with disabilities
- Acknowledge a range of experiences – just because you met one autistic person does not mean you know and understand everyone with autism
- Ask people their preferences between person-first (ex: I am a person with autism) versus identity-first language (ex: I am an autistic person) and follow their lead as a best practice
They also list options for improving accessibility during work functions:
- Ensure meeting spaces are ADA accessible
- Make sure tables are at the right height for wheelchair users
- Limit alcohol when possible
- Utilize closed captioning or ASL interpreters for virtual events
By adopting these tips and being open to further training and education, workplaces are one step closer to creating a more inclusive, equal opportunity environment.
As Munnings says, “Employers should want to create an environment and materials that are accessible to every type of worker they can think of, and that list should grow every time someone else discloses they need an accommodation.”