Creating an Inclusive Employee Experience: Key takeaways from the 2023 Disability:IN Conference

Disability:IN is on a mission to build an inclusive global economy where people with disabilities participate fully and meaningfully. And each year, thousands of employers and employees gather at the global Disability:IN conference to bring that mission to life.

Matt Ater, Vice President of Business Development at Vispero, says that hiring and supporting people with disabilities in the workforce was a common topic at this year’s conference, along with adopting assistive technology at an enterprise scale to establish and maintain an inclusive workforce.

“As a person with a disability myself, being blind, I went to a blind and low vision users’ group [at the Disability:IN conference],” Ater says. “We’re collaborating on what’s impacting us on employment, the tools we’re trying to touch. It’s more than the web and mobile experience. It’s also employment accessibility. Can people with disabilities apply? Can they onboard? Can they do the tasks? How do we focus on making the employee experience accessible?”

Although there are a growing number of resources and ideas to encourage self-identification – another topic explored in depth at Disability:IN – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to policy and workplace design. As a result, employers often rely on reactionary, one-off solutions for employees with disabilities.

There are myriad reasons people choose to not disclose a disability, like the desire to avoid labels, stigmas, or misinformation that could be perceived as masking skill and ability.

According to Ater, providing support for employees with reading disabilities, which are much more common than vision and hearing impairment, is a huge opportunity to boost productivity and morale with the right assistive technology.

“As we think about the hiring of people with disabilities, it’s so much connected to ensuring that all of their digital content is fully accessible so that they can do their job,” Ater says.

“Just think of all the steps a qualified prospective employee or new employee has to take. From applying to the job: is that experience digitally accessible? What about onboarding and training? If we don’t make that job accessible, it’s not a very rewarding experience for the employee, and they’re probably not going to survive in the job.”

The significant cost of replacing an employee isn’t a trade secret. Some studies predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. For an employee making $60,000 a year, that’s $30,000 to $45,000 in recruiting and training expenses.

Losing employees also leads to decreased productivity, which has a direct financial correlation. A recent HubSpot report found that lost productivity costs U.S. businesses a shocking $1.8 trillion every year.

Once you take recruitment costs, onboarding costs, lost productivity, and cultural impact into account, replacing an employee can cost up to $1,500 for hourly employees, one to two times an annual salary, and 100-150% for technical positions.

Using an enterprise lens versus an individualized approach is key to providing an inclusive hiring, onboarding, and employee environment on top of the significant current and future cost-savings. Adopting assistive technology as a one-off reaction to an employee disclosing a disability will have a direct impact on productivity, versus being prepared to digitally support all users from the onset.

Ater equates enterprise digital accessibility adoption to the evolution of software licensing: purchasing boxed software for individual employees was once the norm.

“Can you imagine if we still did that? Decision makers understand, now, how impossible and ineffective it would be to purchase, install, manage, and keep software up to date for every single employee,” Ater says. “Your assistive technology needs the same treatment so it’s available to every employee and up to date.”

Moving away from single licenses for assistive technology to enterprise solutions is “more cost-effective and provides a more inclusive environment overall, according to Travis Brown, TPGi’s Sales & Marketing Vice President. “Take the most widely used screen reader software, JAWS, for example. Securing an enterprise license for JAWS means businesses can scale maintain, and support all users easier than ever before.”

There has been measurable growth and areas of opportunity that speak to Disability:IN’s mission. This year, a record 485 companies participated in The Disability Equality Index (DEI), highlighting the growing importance of disability inclusion across industries and the work that still needs to be done.

This year’s Report introduces a new lens for evaluating the lifecycle of disability inclusion efforts. While there was measurable growth in the prioritization of digital accessibility strategies, the findings revealed that board-level inclusion practices have only been adopted by 7% of participating companies, mirroring the well-documented underrepresentation of people with disabilities in the workforce.

There have been steady, albeit marginal improvements in employment for people with disabilities, likely thanks in part to the growing awareness and leadership Disability:IN provides each year.

In 2022, 21.3 percent of persons with a disability were employed, up from 19.1 percent in 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The unemployment rates for persons with a disability (7.6 percent) and persons without a disability (3.5 percent) both declined in 2022.

The importance of securing executive sponsorship for enterprise-level digital accessibility solutions from the onset was a common theme at Disability:IN.

According to Ater, a lot of programs tend to go very far, and very fast, without executive-level understanding. “And companies need that from the beginning to see the real results in increased productivity and internal ROI.”

Speaking to WorkingNation during Disability:IN, Ater said, stereotypes contribute to underemployment among the community.

“One stereotype we face every day in terms of people with disabilities is – can we do the job? We live in a world of stereotypes. That’s really hard to get away from.”

Ater continues, “Part of it is the fact that the employer or the people that are doing the hiring don’t understand what the capabilities of that person are. We make automatic assumptions. I’m never going to be someone who drives a car, so they’re probably not going to hire me to drive a bus, fly an airplane, things of that nature. But if I was hired by an airline company, does it mean I can’t be a call center agent? Does it mean I can’t be a manager?”

The scale and influence of the participating companies is telling, according to Brown. “At TPGi, we work with some of the most well-known companies to make digital experiences fully accessible for employees and consumers. It’s striking to participate in live discussions about the equity of inclusion with clients of ours and other leading global and national employers all in one place, engaged in similar goals.”

On LinkedIn, Laurie Allen, an accessibility specialist at Microsoft, echoed a similar hope coming out of the conference. The opportunity to hear industry leaders share their knowledge and insights, people new to accessibility learning and bringing their learnings back to their organizations, and NextGen leaders “will carry this work forward in the future.”

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Categories: Business, Events, World of Accessibility