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May 13, 2024

How to shift employee disability support into high gear

To best support employees with a disability in the workplace, businesses need to make sure requests don’t fall through the cracks.

An employee with a hearing disability regularly used adaptive software on her work computer to communicate with her colleagues. So, when she asked to have it installed on her work laptop for a client engagement, she thought it would be no problem.

Not so fast, she learned. According to the client’s corporate security protocols, that type of software was not authorized to be used. After months of negotiations and approval signoffs, the software was still not installed.

Ironically, it’s complexity—not cost—that often gets in the way of supporting employees with a disability who request an accommodation or adjustment or ask for assistance with resolving a workplace issue.

The fact is, the majority of accommodations or adjustments have zero cost to the business. For those that do require investment, the median cost is just $300, according to a Job Accommodation Network survey.

Delays, on the other hand, can run rampant for a variety of reasons:

  • Corporate or IT security concerns when adaptive software is needed
  • Layers of management approvals
  • Difficulty finding someone with the expertise to answer a question or resolve an issue
  • Requests falling through the cracks when multiple groups need to be involved, such as HR, IT, legal, etc.

Not only does business productivity suffer when delays occur, but employees themselves also end up feeling frustrated and unsupported. Delays can also pose a possible regulatory risk. In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates that accommodation requests are responded to within a reasonable timeframe.

To best support employees with a disability in the workplace, businesses need to find a way to cut through the red tape and complications and make sure requests don’t fall through the cracks.

The growing need to support employees with a disability in the workplace

At 15% of the world’s population—or an estimated one billion people, according to the International Labor Organization—people with a disability represent the world’s largest minority. Among the world’s working-age population, around 386 million have some type of disability.

In fact, the percentage of people with a disability who are employed is growing, at least in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2023 marked the highest recorded percentage of employment among people with a disability, at 22.5%.

So, it’s a problem that this group is the least likely to experience inclusion, according to Boston Consulting Group, compared with other employee groups that are often the focus of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. This lack of inclusion is also detrimental to the workforce as a whole. According to Pew Research, half of workers say it is extremely or very important to them to work somewhere that is accessible for people with physical disabilities.

This is even more reason these employees shouldn’t feel their requests for disability support are being put on a back burner.

Speeding support for employees with disabilities in the workplace

One way to streamline disability support is to establish an internal accessibility concierge service. Such a service can act as a dedicated help desk for employees with a disability to ensure requests are tracked to completion in a timely manner.

We’ve created such a system, starting with our employees in India. When employees with a disability have a request, inquiry, issue or concern, they submit their query to the accessibility concierge team via a dedicated phone line or live chat.

So, instead of requests for support going to a general queue, they go to the concierge service queue. The concierge team sets up a service ticket to ensure they see the issue through to completion. Requests from other associates are redirected to a general service team.

The team coordinates help across internal functions, including IT, HR, compensation and benefits, corporate workplace services, training and development, and outreach programs. No longer are employees put in the position of explaining the same issue to different teams handling the resolution. The team functions as a bridge between associates and the people who can resolve the issue and track the issue to closure.

The service is also a go-to place for any applications that need to be filed to fulfill a request, as well as information on assistive technology options and offerings.

Examples of workplace disability supports the service has delivered include:

  • Set up dedicated transport for a new employee with limited mobility
  • Helped an employee attain tax benefits for people with a disability
  • Arranged for an in-home drug test for a newly onboarded employee with a physical disability
  • Obtained all necessary management and security approvals to install a laptop version of text-to-speech software for an employee with a visual disability

Other common services include password resets, help with timesheets, questions on leave policies and career navigation, payroll and medical insurance support, and e-learning and training tools.

Preparing the business for an accessibility concierge service

When deploying our accessibility concierge service, we learned several things along the way:

  • Keep it local. When trying to serve a global community, data privacy concerns can arise. For example, in some countries, employees have a choice as to whether they disclose a disability to their employer. In other countries, there are fines in place when employers don’t meet disability hiring quotas.

    If the accessibility concierge service is run in a different country, it could raise concerns about where the information they provide is being stored and how it is being handled. In order to stay compliant with local regulations, best practices would dictate having an accessibility concierge team in the same country as the employees it serves.

  • It all starts with an inclusive culture. The accessibility concierge service would likely be offered to people who have a disability that’s protected under federal law, such as an intellectual, neurological, mental illness or physical disability. People need to feel comfortable disclosing this type of personal information. So, this is not just a privacy issue but also a matter of trust, which stems from an inclusive culture.

  • Don’t fly solo. Providing workplace disability support is a cross-organization endeavor. It’s essential to be the bridge between IT, the DEI team, human resources, corporate benefits and any affinity groups who support people with a disability.

Workplace disability support means inclusion for all

The use of an accessibility concierge service can turn companies into an employer of choice not only for people living with disabilities but also for those who value the inclusion of marginalized groups.

By streamlining disability support, businesses can create a place where associates feel psychologically safe enough to ask for assistance when they need it—and receive it without unnecessary delay.

Meesha Fredericks

Global Learning & Development Leader – Healthcare IOA

Meesha Fredericks

Meesha leads Global Learning & Development. Her team curates innovative learning solutions and programs for diverse business needs. She is passionate about creating conditions for everyone to thrive at the workplace and led the effort to design and develop the learning solution and framework for the Accessibility Concierge Service in partnership with cross-functional teams.

Milind Tilak

Senior Director, Healthcare IOA

Milind Tilak

Milind leads global delivery for healthcare based out of the US. Along with the cross-functional team, he was instrumental in conceptualizing, implementing and delivering the Accessibility Concierge Service desk for global associates.

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