5 Tips To Building A Disability-Inclusive Workforce

By Patrick Bardsley, co-founder and CEO of Spectrum Designs Foundation, an enterprise of businesses employing people on the autism spectrum.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the far-reaching benefits that a disability-inclusive workforce can bring. At a time when recruitment and retention challenges are being felt across all sectors and business sizes, the best companies can gain an advantage by being disability inclusive. In fact, companies that have begun proactively onboarding neurodiverse workers, for example, have found retention rates of 90-100%, according to an article published by the Connecticut Manufacturers Resource Group.

In this article, I’m sharing five tips on how you can successfully incorporate neurodiverse employees into your organization and create a culture that is inclusive of those with different abilities.

1. Presume Competence

When hiring any employee, it is important to focus on strengths rather than perceived challenges. In our experience, we have found that even though some may struggle with certain tasks, many perform other tasks better than anyone else possibly could and are extremely consistent once taught.

Rather than think about what potential applicants can’t do, focus on what they can, without limitation, and watch people surprise you. By presuming competence, your employee can feel your confidence in them and everyone can be set up for success. This guiding principle should be kept at the forefront of everything going forward.


2. The Interview Process

Traditional job interviews simultaneously miss the opportunity to showcase multidimensional talent and are heavily weighted toward extroverted applicants. Many people on the autism spectrum are being assessed based on factors that are frequently out of their control, according to Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Traits such as lack of eye contact or difficulty identifying nonverbal social cues are traits that job interviewers often perceive negatively.

Instead, shift toward a practical assessment of skills and capabilities. Bring people in for trials, create on-the-job assessments, ask to see their work and let them show you what they can do. Not only are you leveling the playing field and being more inclusive, but you’re also creating the competitive advantage of having a truer assessment of skills and hiring the best people for the job the first time around.

3. Get Help From An Agency

There is no need for disability-inclusive hiring to be a daunting experience. There are programs and services whose sole mission and purpose are to help you.

Local or state-level human service agencies can provide curated candidates, job coaching (at no cost to you) and ongoing resources to make sure your neurodiverse employees are set up for success in your company.

The benefits of utilizing these programs cannot be understated. The Arc, one of the largest intellectual and developmental disabilities advocacy organizations in the United States, has found that companies that use their services have seen an overall productivity increase of 100% and a 98% retention rate for neurodiverse employees that they place.

In New York state, Acces-VR provides job placement opportunities for neurodiverse workers in every field. Their program provides the necessary training to job seekers and then matches them with employers. They will also cover the salary of a new employee for a period of time to allow for any extra training or acclimation within the company. These state agencies exist nationwide and are ready to help open your company’s doors to the world of disability-inclusive hiring.

4. Secure Manager Buy-In

As crucial as presuming competence, your chances of success increase dramatically with authentic and enthusiastic manager buy-in.

Creating a plan related to what training process a new hire will undergo, what supervision they might need and what company perks/accommodations might help them to succeed can make a world of difference for new employees.

According to Mandy Caruso, a writer for ClickUp, which focuses on neurodiversity in the workplace, one of the most helpful things you can do for new hires is to create a schedule for their first days. Schedules can help alleviate some of the stress that all employees face coming into a new work environment. A schedule helps new hires digest their new responsibilities and become prepared for their new role. It also allows for pre-planned manager/supervisor check-ins and collaboration.

5. Communicate Well And Often

It might be time to rethink the traditional broad and generic corporate communication style of trickle-down mass emails or big team meetings. One executive was surprised to find that the efforts they took to make their company’s communication methods more direct and clear improved communication across the board, according to an article that appeared in Harvard Business Review.

A change in communication style should be consistent throughout the company and apply to everyone from lower-level managers to executives. This may include video communication, verbal and written communication, visual demonstrations, training videos, etc.

A study in MIS Quarterly Executive observed a firm that had begun instructing their managers to give recaps at the end of team meetings and make adjustments to the way they provide feedback in order to accommodate neurodiverse team members. They found that this resulted in improved communication across entire departments, benefiting everyone.

Start Now

Regardless of the goods or services a company provides, with a little bit of company reflection, disability-inclusive hiring can and should be incorporated into any business or organization that wants to thrive in the 21st century. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or NDEAM. When is better to start than now?

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