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As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month it's important to remember that there are many people in our workplaces and communities who require accommodation to thrive, and it's all our responsibility to create a culture of inclusion. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Starkloff Disability Employment Summit, hosted by World Wide Technology in St. Louis, Missouri. This event focused on highlighting Disabled People Thriving and how we can change the stigma around disabilities and make our places of work more accessible and inclusive to all. Among the inspirational speakers who've overcome obstacles related to their environment not being accommodating to disabilities, there was also an emphasis on practical steps forward for employers. Here are my three main takeaways from the event as a human resources professional: 

Our differences are our strength

Robert Trombley, a representative from the U.S. Department of Labor, spoke about the lack of understanding and awareness around disabilities, which leads to a perceived helplessness of people who might just need accommodations to their environment to thrive. It is important for everyone to intentionally engage with people different from them to help combat this perception. 

There's tech for that... 

Scout Merry, a Program Coordinator with Missouri Assistive Technology, led a breakout session related to assistive technology in the workplace. We discussed how even low-tech, low-cost assistive items, such as a grip for holding papers or a visual timer can help employees with disabilities succeed in their roles. 

Accommodations in the workplace can be seen as a "burden" on the company, expensive or difficult to accomplish, but the reality is there are so many devices and tools readily available now for employees who need additional help in succeeding in their positions. Accommodations and assistive technology help employees not just survive but thrive in the workplace, and it's important for employers to help even the playing field.   

Creating a workplace that provides psychological safety is absolutely crucial

In another breakout session I attended, the speakers discussed supporting neurodiversity in the workplace by creating psychological safety. Many of the speakers mentioned using "masking," which means intentionally learning neurotypical behaviors and mimicking them in social situations, such as survival skills. This can leave them exhausted by the end of the day, let alone by the end of the week. 

Providing psychological safety for an employee with a disability can provide immense relief and allow them to be more of their true self without worrying about how they might be perceived. She encouraged employers to try to better understand their new hires from the get-go by getting an idea of their preferences, such as:    

  • How do you learn best?
  • What time of communication do you like or prefer?
  • How direct do you want your feedback to be?
  • Do you want praise provided in public or private?
  • Do you like team building or large events?

Final Thoughts

At WWT, our mission is to be a "profitable growth company that's also a great place to work for all." By integrating policies and accommodations into our employee resources, continuing to partner with organizations like the Starkoff Disability Institute, and reducing the stigma around disabilities by creating a culture of inclusion, we can continue the work toward achieving our mission of being a great place to work for all.