Charles Deluvio

Disability Etiquette: Be Considerate, Be Inclusive, Take Action

As we close out the month of October, there’s been no shortage of topics to focus on in the workplace. But October has also been National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). So, for many in the workplace, this month has been all about raising consciousness and improving conditions for American workers with disabilities — and speaking out about disability etiquette.

Frankly, this is something we should all focus more on — year-round.

Given that we’ve been operating since March within the context of a pandemic, it’s even more important to understand the challenges employees with disabilities face. Also important: What leaders and managers can do to help overcome those challenges.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers provide job applicants and employees with disabilities “reasonable accommodations” that enable them to enjoy equal employment opportunities. But accommodation is not just about access — it’s also about empathy and consideration. This is especially true since disabilities may include a whole range of impairments that aren’t immediately obvious. In fact, in many situations we may not realize the extent of existing conditions. So, it is wise to not make assumptions or place individuals in stereotype buckets.

Here are some pointers for improving disability etiquette in your workplace — remote, blended, or on-site:

Mobility Impairments

It’s important not to assume the extent of mobility based on the use or lack of assistive devices, such as walking assistants or wheelchairs. After all, it’s highly possible a mobility-impaired employee may not use them. They still may need accommodations, however; for instance, they may be unable to walk long distances or stand for long periods of time.

To accommodate these needs: If you’re a remote workplace, schedule video meetings with extra time for people to get situated. If onsite, provide accessible parking and ADA-compliant accessibility. Two other simple ways to help: Clearing pathways and making sure most everything is reachable from a wheelchair. Also, ask what is in the way and what can’t be reached, then act on the answers. Particularly during social distancing, but also in general, don’t touch canes or reach out to “help” move a wheelchair or other assistive device without permission. And certainly don’t push a wheelchair or move a cane or walker to the side to “get it out of the way.”

Disability etiquette bonus: When in a conversation with someone in a wheelchair, kneel or sit down so you’re at eye level when talking.

Vision Impairments

In the physical workplace, post braille signage on the walls and doors and ensure any signage and posters are available in an alternate forms. Keep corridors and pathways clear of obstructions and make the routes of travel clear and straightforward. And make sure all new vision-impaired employees are given a detailed tour of the workplace.

Any workplace, remote or not, should provide assistive technology for in-place systems and technologies as well as any kind of new training or communication methods. Examples include scanners or magnifiers, digital recorders and dictation devices, screen reading software, refreshable braille displays, and braille embossers. Of course, depending on the individual’s preference, distributed written materials should be available in braille, large print or audio. Again, ask then act. And it should go without saying, but service animals and must be allowed in any office.

Disability etiquette bonus: Don’t pet guide dogs without permission.

Hearing Impairments

There’s an incredible range of assistive technologies for the deaf and hard of hearing. Employers must ensure their workplaces accommodate them, and the people who use them. For an employee with a hearing issue, even something as seemingly straightforward as a video meeting can become an epic frustration. So consider an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter as well as CART (communication access real-time translation). Real-time captioning is also an option.

Accommodation, for some, may be as simple as making sure those in the meeting are situated in the best possible position to read lips. Speakers can also help in this area; encourage them not to turn away and to not put their hands in front of their mouths.

Disability etiquette bonus: Please, when talking to the hearing impaired, don’t shout to be heard. And, unless asked, resist temptation to repeat yourself.

Speech Impairments

Imagine being in a Zoom meeting and dealing with aphasia or a stutter. I was recently in a video conference where an employee was clearly struggling. At times, she needed more time to carefully articulate her points. Unfortunately, the climate of the virtual room was anything but patient.

You can help in these situations by facilitating an accommodating environment. Deliberately give each contributor room to think, and time to breathe. And if you’re not clear on what someone just said, don’t gloss over it: you may be missing a critical point. Instead, ask them to repeat it, and give them the time to do so. And please be patient enough to allow them to complete their own sentences.

Disability etiquette bonus: For some, it may simply be easier to communicate in writing — a Slack channel, for instance. Provide that opportunity before each meeting, then make sure everyone has access.

Disability Etiquette for Other Impairments

There are other impairments to consider: Respiratory impairments and chemical sensitivities (which traditional office cleaning products can wreak havoc on), for example. Cognitive and psychological impairments are becoming more prevalent; each carries its own burden and challenge for the individual.

No matter the type or severity of the impairment, it’s up to the employer to provide access and opportunity. Most important, each employer and leader must provide the previously mentioned reasonable accommodation. They must also provide understanding, education, and awareness among those in your workforce. To that end, consider including issues of access and interactions in your next employee engagement survey.

For employees with disabilities, October is only one month out of a lifetime. We’ve come so far this year, and this is one more way we can evolve. A truly inclusive workplace that accommodates and welcomes everyone leads to far greater productivity. Data also shows inclusivity boosts employee morale and brings teams together in ways that supercharge creativity and innovation.

Welcoming everyone, regardless of apparent and not-so-obvious impairments, is good for everyone. And that’s good for business.



James Haworth

5 Steps to Making Compensation Transparency Work for Your Company

What is compensation transparency? And how does it help your company thrive now, and in the future?

Systemic racial injustice, social unrest and the pandemic have left business leaders in nearly every industry scrambling. Many struggle to find ways to cultivate an equitable and inclusive workplace. At the same time, recent protests have prompted organizations to reassess their purpose. Many have taken a powerful stand for what they believe in. Others have begun cultivating a culture where everyone has equal opportunity to fulfill their dreams.

Against this backdrop, employers are under heightened scrutiny from employees, customers, investors and communities. Now more than ever, they are expected to take bold action and create radical change within their organizations.

And radical change often starts with transparency.

For instance, research from PayScale discovered that the gender wage gap closed completely with increased transparency for 73% of industries and organizations. This means companies must commit to doing what’s right over what’s easy. It also means taking a hard look at their compensation structures to make salary transparency a top priority.

Yet equal pay is far from a set-it-and-forget-it policy. It requires diligent, intentional and consistent analysis. Also required: Iteration and measurement to ensure compliance with late-breaking employee expectations and legal regulations.

As an HR leader, consider these five steps to ensure that transparency remains at the center of your compensation strategy.

Identify Existing Pay Gaps and Disparities

Your company can relatively quickly eliminate pay inequities. Start by performing an audit to include analyzing salary structures and reviewing job descriptions to ensure they accurately reflect the requirements and demands of the position. Then examine and document various circumstances that may justify pay differentials.

For example, you may be able to support pay differences when employees meet the preferred qualifications for a position. Or when they’ve assumed additional responsibility or when their performance is superior.  Ultimately, the cost of identifying and correcting pay inequities will likely be outweighed by the benefits. Those benefits include increased employee morale, retention of a dynamic and diverse workforce, and much more.

Determine an Appropriate Level of Transparency

The next step is to assess your company’s level of comfort with pay transparency. For instance, publishing pay ranges for each position may be a great first start. If your company already has some transparency in place, you might be ready to make the leap to complete transparency. This involves publishing the compensation of individual employees (instead of ranges) externally, internally or both.

Whole Foods and Buffer, for example, have fully embraced the power of pay transparency by disclosing exactly how much everyone in the company makes – from the intern to the CEO. Yes, this strategy can be fraught with fear and overwhelming for many. When implemented correctly, though, the pros far outweigh the cons.

Transparency typically results in greater trust among the team, increased accountability for pay equity, and a rise in job applications from diverse applicants. Complete transparency, however, isn’t for every company. So, it’s critical to evaluate what level is appropriate for your employees, brand and business objectives.

Clarify Compensation Potential by Embracing New Technologies

Equal opportunity is timeless, but equal pay technologies are not.

To address the need for greater transparency, many companies, including Codacy, Buffer and Gitlab, have created salary calculators prospective candidates can use to determine what they’d make if they were brought onboard the organization. These calculations typically include the base salary for a specific role coupled with the minimum job requirements (as they relate to career advancement and market realities).

Other companies have invested in innovative technologies and cloud-based software to automate, simplify and streamline the equal pay process. By clearly explaining pay and pay practices—such as the relationship between pay and experience, performance, qualifications, and other data—you can build trust between employees and thereby bolster loyalty and engagement.

Encourage Feedback from Employees

In today’s unpredictable economic climate, employees may fear they’re expendable. Their focus and performance may deteriorate as a result. You can set your employees’ minds at ease by encouraging feedback regarding business objectives. Implementing pulse surveys and organizing town halls to gather input on pay equity and transparency best practices is also beneficial.

The key: Open communication that helps business leaders better understand what employees feel and experience while encouraging a diverse flow of ideas.

Coach How to Successfully Navigate Compensation Conversations

Perhaps most importantly, it’s imperative to coach managers on the art of compassionate communication as it relates to compensation – from new hires to the most senior team members.

For example, if the initial compensation is misaligned for a new hire, that inequity will perpetuate over time and tenure with a company. Additionally, if salaries are broadcasted publicly, employees may ask why they’re not making as much as someone else in a similar position. So, as part of these conversations, managers should set clear expectations and articulate the criteria for performance and pay progressions. That way, every employee understands the steps necessary to earn an increase in pay.

Ultimately, employers that change the framework for compensation conversations—and empower their teams with the direction needed to advance—are most likely to succeed.

At the end of the day, companies that create equitable workplaces retain employees who feel respected, valued, inspired, and encouraged to reach their full potential. When executed successfully, compensation transparency increases organizational diversity, productivity and profitability.

At the same time, open and equitable pay helps turn employees into brand ambassadors who deliver unparalleled performance.

Nathan Anderson

How Future Workplaces Will Work Better for People with Disabilities

Today, we feature this post, originally published in February 2019, in recognition of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month.

According to a major study by Accenture, 29 percent of all people were appropriately employed, compared with 75 percent of those who listed disability. Furthermore, that study made a direct link between a company’s overall profitability and its inclusiveness of people with disabilities. In fact, organizations that stand out for leadership in areas related to disability inclusion performed better in several key financial metrics.

The study directly addresses one of the basic drives in any business: Return on investment. It’s part of a growing body of literature that highlights the importance of a strong focus on inclusivity when it comes to hiring, continuous development, and the makeup of a company’s workforce. The ethics of inclusion programs and a push for more diversity within any organization are clear. But this study makes the case for disability inclusion’s value as a direct driver of profit.

Including people with disabilities in your company culture is not only a moral imperative. For most companies, it is a financial incentive.

Disabilities Accommodations: Bottom Line No Longer King

In business, the bottom line is often king at the expense of other considerations. As such, simply adhering to laws such as the U.K.’s Equality Act by providing reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities can sometimes be thought of as a hindrance to profits. But these attitudes have changed a lot in recent years. We’re at a stage now across industries where employers aren’t looking to work out how to dodge their responsibilities. Instead, employers are going above and beyond in providing for as many people as possible.

Here are some key considerations when it comes to making sure your place of work is catering to as broad a pool of talent as possible, whether that’s prospective employees or those with disabilities already working within your organization.

Hiring Using Algorithms Is the Future — but Be Careful

HR decision making is increasingly automated, and with the proliferation of readily available data about potential job candidates through public platforms such as LinkedIn, this trend is surely here to stay. The use of algorithms to filter out unsuitable candidates helps cut costs and contributes to a streamlined and efficient recruitment process. AI and machine learning will only further improve this kind of activity as technology continues to develop.

There are, however, limits to the powers of this process. It’s important to understand just how fallible algorithms are. No matter how complex an algorithm gets, existing biases are always embedded within. Therefore, in an ideal world, hard screening decisions should not be made solely by algorithmic processes, at least for the foreseeable future.

Algorithms are Imperfect

Does your organization filters candidate lists using AI-based processes, with human oversight coming at a later stage? Do you routinely get a high volume of applications that limits human participation?

If yes, it’s important to be aware of the fact that your algorithms are imperfect. This should naturally lead to a culture of continuous auditing, modification and improvement to your selection processes. By enlisting a member of HR staff to evaluate a random sample of applications, spot checks can be carried out on decisions made by your preferred algorithm. Do those spot checks. Then see if there’s a difference in results. When doing this, it’s important to heavily focus on potential biases on both sides — machine and human.

The ‘Reasonable’ in ‘Reasonable Adjustments’

The U.K.’s Equality Act 2010 sets out legal protections against discrimination in the workplace. It describes the “reasonable adjustments” that must be made to facilitate employees who may face obstacles in the organization. The definition of “reasonable” here is key, as well as ambiguous. And it’s this ambiguity and businesses’ attitudes toward it that are crucial.

A lot depends on how big the business is. Larger organizations will find it easier to afford the resources to make expensive adjustments for staff members.  Smaller organizations, of course, need not go bankrupt to make accommodations. For example, buying land to create closer parking spaces for employees unable to walk long distances is not a requirement.

Seek Out Partners

However, companies must understand the provisions available from the government. They should also seek to work with local schemes and charities. Primarily, this means engaging with the U.K.’s Access to Work program. Through this, staff can gain grants for equipment, aids, adaptations or support worker assistance. The program can also provide additional assistance to employees in getting to and from work.

Instead of seeing this exercise as a means to tick a box, the best employers will have HR practitioners who have a deep knowledge of and working experience with the Access to Work scheme, and will know how to present a compelling case for their staff who require or would flourish with adaptations that can be sourced through these means.

Examples of Disabilities-Friendly Practices

When it comes to welcoming a diverse workforce, there are a number of practical points most organizations can focus on. Regular feedback from employees, pulse surveys and engendering an open and honest environment can help decide where focus belongs. The state of your staff as a whole is a factor in deciding which to actually implement.

  • Make physical adaptations and remove physical barriers.
  • Provide training and information in accessible formats.
  • Offer specialist training.
  • Invite inclusion-focused guest speakers at in-work functions or meetings.
  • Encourage flexible working patterns and remote working where possible.

For profiling your staff so your organization can be proactive in determining which adaptations are required and implemented, consider using a digital tool like Clear Talents. Actively seeking out case studies in related fields is also excellent practice.

In addition, the Business Disability Forum is an excellent resource for this type of activity and can signpost important initiatives.

Make the workplace work better with people with disabilities. Starting today.