Inclusive Workforce

Creating Inclusive Workplaces is a Business Imperative

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by Lou Orslene, Mobile Accommodation Solution (MAS) Project Manager and Co-Director of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), Center for Disability InclusionPhoto of Lou Orslene

The World Health Organization reports globally there are more than 1 billion people with disabilities. Increasingly, chronic health conditions and disabilities are becoming more commonplace in the workplace.

This has major implications for employers large and small.

How an employer engages, develops, recognizes, and supports job applicants and employees is critical to creating a diverse pool of talent in the workplace, and, more importantly, optimizing the productivity of every worker to increase job satisfaction and business performance.

Every employee is different—from abilities to job needs, from how they consume information to how they prefer to collaborate and communicate with others. Employees with disabilities can make unique and significant contributions.

This is particularly true if organizations are smart enough to effectively accommodate employees with disabilities who might need adjustments. For many, workplace accommodations enable the best of their abilities.

Workplace Accommodations

In the U.S., workplace accommodations are defined as any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that would allow an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace. Examples of accommodations include assistive technologies (i.e., screen magnifiers, work space modifications) or accessibility services (i.e., sign language interpreting for people who are deaf).

For many organizations, the accommodation process can be disjointed, reactive, and inconsistent across divisions or lines of business. This makes it difficult to enable new employees with disabilities to perform their job tasks successfully.

It also creates challenges for aging employees with chronic health conditions who are working to remain productive. The results of poorly developed and implemented accommodation processes are lower retention rates, increased hiring and retraining costs, loss of highly qualified talent, and draining of essential institutional knowledge.

Accommodations provide equal opportunity for employees with disabilities and, if respectfully provided, create an inclusive workplace environment. A formula I always keep in mind is “Accommodations = Equal Employment = Inclusion.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and managed by the Center for Disability Inclusion at West Virginia University, we at the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) hear from tens of thousands of employers per year.

With a global reputation for being a thought leader on disability and the workplace, the JAN team knows inclusion is not without challenges, including continually educating talent acquisition managers about effective accommodation processes and practices. In addition, today’s workplaces are more mobile than ever.

Mobile Accommodation Solution

These challenges facing employers became the genesis for our Mobile Accommodation Solution (MAS), a first-generation mobile workplace accommodation case management app to help U.S. businesses create inclusive workplaces for employees with disabilities. The app is designed to provide real-time case management while guiding talent acquisition and managers through best and emerging accommodation practices.Image of the Mobile Accommodation Solution app home screen. As a user, you can click on one of three options: Employer, Service Provider or Individual.

IBM Accessibility Research, with its long history of advancing people with disabilities and creating accessible technology solutions, was the ideal partner for us at the Center for Disability Inclusion on this project. After receiving funding from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), we were on our way to creating an accessible mobile solution that would help engage employees with disabilities at all stages of the employee life cycle.

Users of the MAS app will be able to manage requests for workplace accommodation in real time from iOS and Android tablets or smartphones. The app will provide users with a suite of fillable, accessible forms and the capability to store, print, and export records that can be imported into enterprise information systems.

In addition, MAS should help eliminate process confusion, reduce redundancy, fulfill requests in a timely manner, and provide consistent support across a global enterprise. MAS helps employers to hire, retain, and advance employees with disabilities; to provide equal opportunity; and, to create inclusive workplaces all while supporting employers to meet the obligations of government regulations and keep historical accommodation records for legal and personnel purposes.

We at the Center for Disability Inclusion are very excited about working with IBM to develop and deploy MAS and look forward to helping more employers create inclusive workplaces, thereby realizing the untapped potential that everyone, including people with disabilities, can bring to the workplace.

The MAS iOS app is expected to be available at the App Store by late 2017; while the Android app is expected to be available in 2018.