DEI (Diversity, equity, and inclusion) is one of the most important human resources initiatives today. Over the past year, I personally attended trainings and read countless articles about the importance of championing DEI efforts as well as the overall impact DEI has on an organization and its culture.

DEI is a critical conversation that business leaders should prioritize and approach in an authentic way to ensure that their organization is intentional about creating an inclusive workplace. Gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation are often the main subjects listed in workplace diversity discussions. Collectively, organizations have spent billions of dollars in DEI training and investing these principles in all aspects of their business.

While employees with disabilities represent the largest minority with almost 50 million people in the United States, often they are rarely discussed in coordination with DEI initiatives or training. Yet, they should be.

Barriers to Employment
One of the biggest barriers to recruiting, retaining, and developing employees with disabilities is overall societal attitudes and perceptions that are far too common and a source of misinformation in the workplace.

Many fears, biases, and myths that greatly impact attitudes—and ultimately, behavior—are related to disability employment. Those with invisible disabilities may go unnoticed or not even be disclosed at all to an organization.

There are plenty of stigmas, stereotypes, and false assumptions that cause HR professionals and business leaders to be reluctant to hire an individual with a disability. The question for any candidate is: can the individual perform the essential job functions and is reasonable accommodation needed to be able to satisfy those core responsibilities and tasks?

As business leaders review their DEI policies, it is essential that they also look to create a more disability-inclusive culture that removes barriers for both existing and future employees. In addition, job descriptions should be reviewed and written in a way that are mindful to disability employment and don’t exclude candidates who essentially can perform the job.

Partnerships: Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services
Nate Mahanes, business development manager for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, has been instrumental in my awareness, perception, and overall passion for disability employment. In 2017, I started the journey of partnering with DARS and Nate to find and recruit talented individuals to my company, Intercon. At the time, I had no idea of the vast wealth of resources, programs, and career development support that DARS provides to businesses and our community.

After a tour of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, I was fascinated to learn that this center provides vocational education to individuals with disabilities who qualify for a broad range of vocational fields and specialties.

In 2019, I was honored to receive the “Champions of Disability Employment” award on behalf of Intercon because of the success of an employee who has been a perfect fit for our organization and who received a well-deserved promotion within the last year. This is one of my proudest professional achievements and I am excited as we work on adding more of these talented employees to our team.

Pipeline of Talent
Now is the perfect time for businesses to start re-examining their DEI policies and practices regarding disability employment. The first step is to ensure the organization has an inclusive culture that will eliminate common misconceptions and promote diversity in employee training.

Recently, I was very fortunate to attend the “Windmills” training program presented by Nate Mahanes and Beth Groff with DARS. This training program is designed to change attitudinal obstacles and create new perceptions. Even though I already was passionate about disability employment, I found the training to be profound in my learning and development. This training also provided real-world scenarios and circumstances that tested my attitudes and behaviors related to disability in the workplace. I am grateful that these trainings are available with DARS at no-cost to businesses.

The unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is double those without disabilities. There is a huge labor market that is ready to work and find the right company and culture fit for their talents and aspirations. With so many businesses now struggling to find employees, and HR professionals looking for alternative recruiting methods, there has never been a better time for business leaders to learn how to tap into this often overlook talent pool.

Together, we can create and achieve more inclusive workplaces and improve our organizations for everyone to thrive and succeed.