Disability-Friendly Workplace

Workplace Disability Inclusion Assessment Tool

Create a disability-friendly workplace one piece at a time.

Create a disability-friendly workplace one piece at a time.

This checklist is designed to provide your business with a tool to evaluate how disability-friendly your workplace is currently and serves as a road map to enhance your disability-friendly corporate practices.

Workplace Disability Inclusion Assessment Tool
Inclusion Assessment Tool

Adapt or die

To grow your business to this point you have had to adapt to functioning in a highly competitive, global economy. You are not operating the same way you did ten years ago, or even five years ago. You know that you will need to adapt further to take your business to the next level. Developing a disability friendly workplace is one of those adaptations.

Throughout most of human history, people with disabilities were segregated from the rest of society. Initially, because the thinking at the time was that they could not contribute to society or worse, were a burden to society. In more recent times attitudes changed about how productive people with disabilities could be. Unfortunately, the change did not go far enough and the belief was that people with disabilities could only achieve a level of productivity by staying with people like themselves in a “sheltered” environment doing menial tasks.

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, breakthroughs in rehabilitation theory and practice, assistive technologies and a universal shortage of skilled workers, people with disabilities are making significant contributions in the workforce, for their employers and for society in general.

What is a Disability-Friendly Workplace?

A disability-friendly workplace is an inclusive culture that involves the full and successful integration of diverse people.  Inclusive cultures extend beyond basic or token presence of workers who have disabilities. They encompass both formal and informal policies and practices, and involve several core values:

  • Representation: The presence of people with disabilities across a range of employee roles, and leadership positions
  • Receptivity: Respect for differences in working styles, and flexibility in tailoring positions to the strengths and abilities of employees
  • Fairness: Equitable access to all resources, opportunities, networks, and decision-making processes

The Bottom line Benefits to Your Business of Creating a Disability Friendly Workplace

  •  Cash, tax credits and other incentives for hiring people with disabilities or making your business more accessible (Go here to calculate possible incentives for your company)
  • Expand your market. Customers with disabilities, their families, friends and associates represent a trillion dollar market segment. Studies indicate that many consumers (87%, in a national survey) prefer to work with or spend money in businesses that include employees with disabilities
  • Position your company as an “employer of choice” and thereby attract highly skilled, diverse job applicants.
  • Improve employee health and well-being by increasing the likelihood that employees with non-apparent disabilities will disclose them to their supervisor or HR department reducing stress.
  • Increase employee job satisfaction, engagement and productivity.
  • Reduce lost productivity due to turnover and absenteeism.
  • Reduce turnover costs: As a group, people with disabilities have higher than average retention rates, meaning fewer turnovers and less expense for your business.
  • Increase innovation and problem solving skills are highly prized. People with disabilities are innate problems solvers – they have to be – and they bring that ability with them to work.
  • Training may also be part of the deal if you are working with the Washington Division of Vocational Rehabilitation* or one of the many not-for-profit Supported Employment agencies throughout the state.
  •  Improve accessibility for employees and customers.

Key Elements of a disability friendly workplace

Universal Design

One of the most heralded concepts in disability advocacy and cultures in the last decade is the concept of “universal design.” Universal design refers to the construction of structures, spaces, services, communications and resources that are organically accessible to a range of people with and without disabilities, without further need for modification or accommodation. While accommodations procedures remain a needed function of most businesses and industries, forward-thinking approaches to disability inclusion will involve developing sites and resources that require no accommodation to be fully usable to people with disabilities.

A few examples of ways universal design practices may apply in the workplace include:

  • Routinely providing manuals, materials, and forms to all employees in a variety of digital formats that are as readily accessible to people who use adaptive computer technologies as to other employees.
  • Building work spaces accessible to people who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices,  as well as to all other employees
  • Provide employees a variety of flexible schedules and work options. This allows employees who have energy or functionality limitations to organize their time and strengths and, all employees are better able to manage time and life/work balance.

For more information, please go to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

While the goal is to create a fully inclusive workplace through universally designed structures, policy and practices; but in the meantime, our recommendations are designed to assist your company to transition in the direction of maximum inclusive, without instant or drastic change, or substantial expense.

Recruitment, Training, & Advancement Opportunities


1.       Accessible outreach and hiring practices essentially entail making sure that outreach materials, networking and recruitment sites, communications, and application processes all include a range of accessible options, or are free of barriers that might inhibit people with disabilities from participating. Wherever possible, outreach and hiring resources generally should be equally accessible to workers with and without disabilities. For example, making recruitment literature and job applications readily available in digital and large-print formats, or holding outreach events in spaces without stairs or other barriers and with accessible communications technology, helps to ensure that people with disabilities will be included in recruitment practices. Training recruiters in effective outreach to prospective employees who have disabilities is also critical.

2.       Targeted recruitment involves specific outreach to people with disabilities. Although making general recruitment practices more accessible goes a long way towards building an inclusive hiring structure, individual employers are not always able to overcome existing barriers, for instance, when recruiting via externally sponsored job fairs that are not accessible. Therefore, targeted recruitment enables employers to reach and interview qualified people with disabilities. .  In turn, having accessible recruitment practices relative to hiring, materials, and communications helps to ensure that targeted recruitment will be successful not just in identifying qualified candidates, but by making sure there are no barriers to effective outreach and eventual employment.

 For more information see the Accessible Recruitment Checklist


Training plays a dual role in the creation of inclusive workplace culture. The first consideration involves the degree to which people with disabilities have equitable access to training sites, events, and materials. The second concern relates to the training of managers, particularly middle management, and human resources staff, to work effectively with all people, including those with disabilities.
Research indicates that workers with disabilities are comparatively less likely to feel that adequate training is available to them, or that existing training resources are accessible to them.  The consequences of inadequate training are substantial, in reducing job satisfaction, with corresponding negative consequences for productivity and retention.  In turn, companies favored by employees with disability make a concerted effort to create equitable and accessible training resources.  See the  Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) Accessible Training Checklist for use in designing training programs and resources.

Many states provide funding incentives to support workforce development. Employers may use these resources generally to develop enhanced training for all employees, and specifically to support the development of accessible programs. Information on securing funding for employee training is available through our Toolkit.

The training of management staff to work effectively with people with disabilities involves several goals. First, training should focus on reducing paternalistic attitudes towards workers with disabilities. Workers with disabilities are comparatively more likely to be treated as if they are children, or less capable of autonomy, based on supposedly benevolent or protective assumptions.  In companies demonstrating inclusive practices, paternalistic treatment is less likely to be reported, with corresponding positive impact for job satisfaction.  For more information on the role management can play in promoting positive workplace cultures, see the research brief from BBI (Syracuse University): Inclusive Policies & Practices: What Do We Know?


Research demonstrates that in order to have equitable opportunities for promotion and professional development, like most employees, workers with disabilities typically require access to mentoring. As with recruitment, mentoring and coaching involves a dual dynamic, in which: a) existing mentoring programs are advertised, implemented and maintained with attention to inclusion of workers with disabilities, and b) targeted mentoring and coaching programs specifically assist employees with disabilities.

Targeted career advancement policies geared towards employees with disabilities are another benchmark of an inclusive workplace culture. These may include the creation of explicit disability affirmative action policies related to promotion, targeted professional networking opportunities, and the establishment of disability affinity networks and related supports to encourage full integration into the workplace culture.

Workplace Accommodations and Accessibility: Policy & Practice

Policy plays a critical role in generating meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities. In addition to recruitment, training and advancement, workplace policies need to carefully plan for the provision of reasonable accommodations.

Assessing the effectiveness of existing accommodations policies, employee experiences can be based on two measures of equity. The first indicator of an inclusive workplace culture is the perception of “procedural justice,” meaning that employees with disabilities believe the accommodations policy is fair, accessible, and functional. The practice of negotiating and providing accommodations is an additional opportunity for generating “interactional justice” or, the sense that the managers or colleagues are behaving fairly, reasonably, and respectfully.  

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