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Research Report

8 ways to ensure your higher-ed institution is advocating for staff with disabilities

March 30, 2022 , By Sarah Woll, Research Analyst

According to the CDC, one in four adults in the United States have some kind of disability. With approximately 61 million adults living with a disability, it is critical for higher education institutions to be accessible towards all staff, regardless of accommodation needs.
 
A well-written Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) statement is a key first step in building an inclusive and welcoming campus for employees of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, disabilities are often overlooked in DEI statements and initiatives. Follow these eight imperatives to ensure your institution is supporting staff with disabilities, from recruitment to advancement.

1. Create an accessible website and career page

  • Ensure your website has a dedicated space for sharing your institution’s commitment to attracting, hiring, and retaining individuals with disabilities, like this example from Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • Add an easy to locate “contact us” link to ensure prospective employees can ask any questions not answered on the website.
  • Add alternative text to describe images and provide closed captioning for all videos and media content to improve accessibility for candidates who are deaf or blind.

2. Write an inclusive job description

  • Create inclusive job descriptions by describing the work environment, promoting options for flexible work, and including explicit statements about the value of inclusion and diversity at your institution. According to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), “the words used to describe job functions can be the difference between whether or not a person with a disability chooses to apply.”
  • Include a link, email address, and phone number to your HR’s Accommodations office so potential candidates know where to go for further questions or to request accommodations for the application and hiring process.

3. Make the interview process accessible

  • Ask the candidate for their communication preferences and inquire about any accommodations they may need.
  • Inform the candidate exactly what is involved in the interview process ahead of time.
  • Always focus on the requirements of the job and what the applicant can do, not on the disability or what the employee cannot do.

4. Plan for an inclusive hiring and onboarding process

  • Offer training and onboarding materials in multiple formats—such as written, visual, and auditory—to meet the diverse needs of new employees.
  • Pair new hires with a mentor who is available to answer questions and support the employee throughout the transition.

5. Provide university-wide resources to support an easy accommodations process

  • Train managers and supervisors to refer any employee requesting accommodations to the designated HR representative able to properly provide the necessary support and resources.
  • Educate managers on accommodations processes and costs. There is a common misconception that accommodations are expensive and will negatively affect a budget. However, more than half of employee workplace accommodations are free to implement.

6. Make accommodations available for professional development opportunities

  • Always include staff with disabilities in professional development opportunities along with the necessary accommodations that will allow them to fully participate. Employees with disabilities often stay in the same positions longer than their non-disabled peers due to a lack of training, development, and therefore career advancement opportunities.

7. Provide consistent performance management and reviews

  • Ensure staff receive consistent feedback and equitable performance reviews. EAB’s white paper, Shift from Annual Performance Management to Continuous Feedback, provides a framework for equitable performance reviews.
  • Performance reviews are essential for personal and professional growth; all employees—including those who have disabilities—deserve the chance to receive unbiased performance reviews so they have the opportunity to improve their performance and advance in their careers.

8. Create an inclusive workplace for staff with disabilities

  • Start a Disability Employee Resource Group (ERG) to create a safe and empathetic space where people with disabilities and allies can openly share and support one another. ERGs are a great way for institutions to gather information about how well they are supporting diverse groups and if there are university-wide issues to address.
  • Encourage employees with disabilities to identify barriers and concerns in an anonymous or confidential way without fear of retribution, such as an anonymous survey or online employee suggestion box.
  • Provide managers with professional development and training on disability inclusion. The Society for Human Resource Management’s Employing Abilities @Work initiative offers free online training designed for HR professionals and managers who want to educate themselves on issues of access and accommodation.

For DEIJ missions and goals to be truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive, institutions of higher education must include disabilities in the conversation and ensure these staff members are supported.

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