Bona Fide Conglomerate Inc.

Two men sit at desk, one in wheelchair. | October is Disability Employment Awareness Month

DEI Cuts Underscore Need for Workplace Advocates

Despite recent positive Disability Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies across big business, accommodating workplaces are trending downward.  NBC News reported a concerning trend for this year: DEI role cutbacks will continue in 2023. A wave of change that seemed to point to a new standard of inclusion in 2020 has taken a significant tumble.  The attrition rate for DEI roles was 33% at the end of 2022, eroding a 55% jump in these roles two years earlier.

During Disability Employment Awareness month, individuals with disabilities may find themselves navigating a work landscape suddenly lacking this crucial pillar of support. However, this challenge presents a leadership opportunity in the workplace.  Resourceful employers and colleagues have a priceless opportunity to fill the gap.

Stepping Up to the Challenge?

While these unfortunate cutbacks will lead to a reduction in opportunities for many working with disabilities, an upsurge in inclusive advocacy could reveal itself among coworkers. With the recent wave of inclusion support came new workers with different needs. This provides everyone an opportunity to reevaluate and innovate workplace practices for the sake of their new colleagues.

One advocate who echoes this belief is Bona Fide’s own disability rights advocate, Tina Tyko. Although formal DEI roles are receding, meaningful change can arise from each individual’s commitment to fostering an inclusive culture. Tina notes, “Culture is created by the words and actions embraced by a group,” emphasizing that an inclusive company culture is really in the hands of each individual and what they choose to embrace collectively.

This is especially important when a person working with a disability needs help but fears asking for it.  Historically, people working with disabilities have faced significant discrimination.  Many will choose to quietly work in discomfort or outright pain to avoid being considered a burden to their employers.  But empathetic and supportive coworkers can take the initiative to reach out and speak up for people working in often unintentionally difficult workplaces.

Creativity in an Inclusive Workplace

With the diverse spectrum of disabilities, accommodations must be versatile.  But that doesn’t always mean large-scale changes like wheelchair ramps or spacious cubicles. Often, the needs of the individual coupled with the unique characteristics of a workplace demand smaller and creative solutions.

Attentive managers and supervisors can demonstrate their interest in the well-being of their staff by taking the time to speak with them and ascertain if their needs are being met.  If they’re not, discovering solutions by working together can build loyalty and a sense of care by the employer.  This investment can lead to increases in the productivity and happiness of their staff.

And often, most accommodations are much easier than people would expect.  Tina recommends simpler, smaller modifications that can enhance functional navigation for people with disabilities. For instance, adopting braille keyboards and standardizing layouts across office spaces can significantly ease navigation for visually impaired employees.  Swapping florescent lightbulbs with LED’s can reduce the suffering of people prone to migraines or vision problems.

Similarly, standardizing cubicle layouts to accommodate wheelchairs, or shifting work hours to align with public transportation schedules can improve accessibility and work-life balance for employees. “Having alternate hours has been proven to increase productivity since it relieves the stress of those needing to use public transportation,” Tina points out.

In the age of digitization, technology can also play a potent role in accommodating different needs. For those with intellectual disabilities, Tina suggests recording video tutorials or creating photographic guides to provide step-by-step assistance. Such relatively simple measures can vastly boost the confidence and independence of these employees.

DEI Cuts Eliminate a Role, Not a Need

Ultimately, while DEI cutbacks may eliminate a role, it doesn’t eliminate the need.  Innovation and ingenuity motivated by kind consideration of the needs of others is the spirit of inclusive practice. Organizations and employers that embrace that spirit by crafting better accommodations create a more enjoyable workplace culture for everyone.

Underlying these changes is the recognition that disability advocacy isn’t isolated to a single role or department, but can and should be incorporated into the fabric of the workplace. And despite the changing tides, an unwavering pursuit of equality and inclusion can continue.

Bona Fide Conglomerate is an AbilityOne contractor employing people with severe disabilities.