Creating an inclusive workplace for people of all abilities

The workplace is a key area in which people with disabilities can and should be included.  Some business people worry that inclusion will be expensive and slow productivity, but careful studies of the workplace have shown that the vast majority of these fears are groundless.  In fact, a major study by the Walgreens Company showed that logistics center workers with disabilities were more productive, stayed on the job longer and took 40 percent fewer sick days than other workers.  Creating an inclusive environment for workers with disabilities can lead to bigger profits and better morale.

But how?

"Employers shouldn't think of creating an inclusive environment as 'complying with ADA regulations,'" said Bob Parkinson, Manager of Programs Administration at JVS Chicago, "but rather look at it as normalizing the workplace for people with disabilities.  Work areas and lunchrooms for people with disabilities should be common, not apart from other employees."

Beth Wyman, Senior Manager of Services for People with Disabilities for JVS Chicago's allied agency, Jewish Child & Family Services, said, "It's a cultural process.  The best approach often is, 'Let's figure it out together.'"

Wyman said a good first step is "to call the JVS Chicago Access number (855-INFO-JVS) and explain to the clinician what your needs are. Hiring a person with disabilities is similar to hiring anyone; it has to be a good fit."

Helene Levine, Manager of Work Place Services at JVS Chicago, stressed that creating an inclusive environment "should be practical for everyone involved, and should begin with helping the new hire to learn about your company's work environment."  Levine also recommended a mentoring program for new employees with disabilities.

"Mentorship, coaching and managers reinforcing the positives rather than criticizing the negatives seems to be a formula for success," said Levine.

When a person with a disability is hired, other workers may need basic education about disability etiquette, which is not any more complicated than any other set of manners.  It's as simple as sitting down to speak with a person in a wheelchair or offering your arm to a blind person rather than taking theirs.  Good etiquette reference material is available in print and online

Levine said that JVS Chicago also offers lunchtime training sessions on-site about how to work with someone who is deaf, blind or has another disability. 

When everyone's on board, the results are usually positive, said Levine.

"These people are highly motivated," she said.  "They want to be in an inclusive environment, and they have the skills to be part of your company." 

For more information on hiring someone with a disability, visit or call 855-INFO-JVS.

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