While diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility have slowly made their way to the forefront of many employers’ minds, two dimensions of diversity are often overlooked in these discussions—neurodiversity and ability diversity. More than 1 billion people, 15% of the global population, live with a disability. Thus, employers must ensure that neurodiversity and employees and applicants with disabilities are properly represented in DEIA initiatives.
Neurodiversity refers to the spectrum of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits across all people. The neurodiversity movement began in the 1990s with the goal of embracing neurological differences, increasing acceptance and inclusion of all people, and viewing people’s differences as strengths rather than deficiencies. Neurodiversity is often seen as falling under the disability umbrella.
According to the World Health Organization, the term “disability” covers impairments, limitations, and restrictions on participation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (the “Act”) defines disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The Act defines what falls under “major life activities” as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working.
The ADA prevents employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in regard to job applications, hiring, training, compensation, advancement, termination, or other terms and conditions of employment. But employers must go beyond simply not discriminating. Employers must begin viewing employees’ differences as strengths and fostering work environments that allow neurodiversity and ability diversity to thrive.
Best Practice for Employers
So, what are the best practices to ensure neurodivergent and individuals with disabilities are provided equal and fair opportunities in the workplace? Here are a few places to start:
- Review and revamp your hiring practices. Ensure job postings are welcoming to neurodivergent individuals and applicants with disabilities by advertising when a position has accommodations like flexible hours or telework options. Use phrasing such as, “ability to complete tasks with or without reasonable accommodations.” Be cautious of including “lifting” requirements unless absolutely necessary. Avoid using language such as, “ability to type,” which is only one way to accomplish the task of producing written work product. For online applications, ensure that screen reader technology and other digital accessibility tools can be utilized by applicants to apply and be willing to provide a physical application if asked. Train interviewers on how verbal and non-verbal responses should be interpreted and encourage direct questions as opposed to open-ended questions.
- Review and revamp your training practices. Implement a training plan for leadership, supervisors, and regular employees that educates on the benefits of neurodiversity and ability diversity in the workplace. Provide a list of best practices for creating an inclusive environment. Leadership sets the tone for a company from the top down, so it must be trained on the benefits of a diverse workforce and buy-in to creating an inclusive environment. Supervisors must have their concerns addressed and be given the proper tools to manage and support neurodiverse employees and employees with disabilities.
- Digital Accessibility. Use subtitles for all online video content such as presentations and webinars. Offer all policies, employee handbooks, and any other necessary content in online and large print physical form. Ensure that your website, company software, and any important online content an employee may need for their job has screen reader capability.
- Physical Accessibility. Provide noise cancelling headphones and quiet spaces for those with sensory needs. Ensure all physical spaces in the office are accessible for those with physical disabilities. If you provide incentives for wellbeing and fitness challenges, make sure you accommodate employees with physical disabilities so that they can participate and earn incentives as well.
- Support and Collaboration. Create or encourage the creation of employee resource groups to support neurodivergent or disabled employees. Encourage employees to speak up if they need more support, feel like they are being treated differently, or require a different accommodation. Listen to employee concerns and then follow through with action. Regularly seek collaboration with and input from neurodivergent employees.
Finally, it is important to remember that it is not only a legal requirement to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, but that giving individuals with disabilities the tools to succeed at work will make a company better in the long run. Implementation of an inclusive work environment will require open and honest dialogue with employees that request accommodations, and it may even require some creativity on the part of the employer, but there are numerous benefits to creating such an environment. These benefits include increased employee morale and engagement, enhanced innovation and creativity, better decision making, increased productivity, and even increased retention. The workforce is incredibly diverse, and it is important the employers strive to make their company a place where diversity thrives.
For assistance with diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives while maintaining compliance with applicable regulations, please reach out to Catarina Colón, Quinn Stigers, or your Husch Blackwell attorney.