The Number of People with Disabilities in the Workforce Is Rising: How to Include Them and Increase the Performance of Your Company?
The number of people with disabilities in the US is already worrying: 61 million American adults. What does our society do to be more accessible to them? If there are more and more people with disabilities, is it enough?
Because yes, the number of people with disabilities is indeed increasing, not just in the United States but in the whole world. And some of them are already active members of our society in the sense that they’re part of the labor force. What are the causes of this increase? How can we make the lives of employees with disabilities easier? In what way can they increase the performance of your company?
You’ll see that each and every one of us could be concerned about disability at some point in our lives. But having a disability can help your company grow!
What causes the number of people with disabilities in the workforce to rise?
To clarify, by workforce and labor force, we comprehend all people engaged in or available for work. This means that employees and unemployed people are part of the workforce.
Let’s first analyze what leads to disability to better assess how to enhance accessibility in a work environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic
We probably all know someone who’s had a symptom that lasted longer than 6 months after being affected by COVID-19. Apparently, this concerns about one-third of people who’ve had mild cases of COVID-19. We now talk of “long COVID”.
This means they may have experienced stroke, hypertension or fatigue symptoms. Plus, the lockdowns that took place also affected our mental health. Because of how pretty much the world stopped in 2020, including relaxation activities such as going on holidays or visiting friends and families, anxiety, depression and even PTSD thrived and have been thriving. After all, we’re still going through this pandemic and it looks like it’s becoming more and more part of our everyday lives.
Mental health issues are not to be discarded. Their impact is serious on our well-being and our functioning as individuals and as employees. Plus, they’re considered as invisible disabilities, that is to say that people may not seem like they live with a disability at first. It’s only when they’re facing a difficult or challenging situation that their disability is more obvious.
As you can see, long COVID-19 can result in having an invisible disability that can deeply affect people and their work lives. This can lead to sick leaves, to feeling more stressed at work, to having to deal with mental health issues, to having to declare to their employer they have a disability and that they need an adapted workstation…
People with vision disabilities in the next future
According to studies funded by the National Eye Institute, the number of people with vision disabilities in the U.S. will double to more than 8 million by 2050.
The same holds true for the number of legally blind Americans: it will also double to reach 2 million.
How come these figures will soon double? It’s mostly due to untreated eye problems and an aging population. A lack of glasses, contacts or surgery to help with nearsightedness or farsightedness could lead to a visual impairment in the long run. Thus, access to health is vital to avoid vision loss. Even diabetes-related eye complications may lead to vision disabilities.
That’s why it’s important for those vulnerable to have their vision regularly checked. But once again, this means accessing health. We need doctors, eye specialists, in our cities and in our rural regions, that are affordable.
Visual impairments and aging are linked since people 80 years and over are considered to be the most affected by blindness and visual disability. Due to their age, they may be more prone to eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataract and macular degeneration.
But if a blind person is provided with the adequate equipment, a Braille display or Braille terminal with an embedded Braille keyboard, they can still work and have a long and fulfilling career, just like everybody else.
An increasing elderly population
In 2030, there’ll be more people 65 years and older than children in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau projections. We already mentioned that this category of population is more likely to develop vision disabilities but that’s not all.
The elderly may also have mobility impairments which can lead to the necessity of using one or two canes or even a wheelchair or mobility scooter.
As we’re getting older, we all may at some point have to deal with some of these issues. A lot of elderly people have several impairments. For example, a person can have difficulties walking or standing up and have Alzheimer’s disease at the same time.
Depending on your year of birth, in the United States, you can have your full retirement benefits at 66 or 67 years old. But what will your health be like at that age? Will your workplace still be suitable for you and the needs you may have at a later age?
Additional facts and figures on the number of people with disabilities in the workforce
⊗ In 2021, there were 1.2 million more people with disabilities compared to 2020 (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
⊗ 496,000 of them participate in the labor force.
⊗ 65% of this additional 1.2 million employees with disabilities are under 65 years old.
⊗ Employees with disabilities with low-wages are more affected by the pandemic.
How to make workplaces accessible for people with disabilities?
Now that you know the number of people with disabilities in the workforce is indeed rising, the question that you need to ask yourself is what can I do to make their workplace suitable, accessible and friendly for them?
Removing accessibility barriers at workplaces rests on 3 key principles.
Improve the physical accessibility of your workplace
What does physical accessibility stand for? It simply means making the building itself accessible so that your employees with disabilities can easily access it and get around within it.
⊗ Parking spaces for people with reduced mobility,
⊗ Access ramps,
⊗ Audio beacon at the entrance,
⊗ Large doors and halls,
⊗ Secured stairs with handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs,
⊗ Elevators and/or escalators,
⊗ Tactile guide paths,
⊗ Audio beacons at main rooms (meeting rooms, offices, canteens, toilets…)
⊗ Accessible toilets,
⊗ Indoor navigation app…
Put yourself in a person with disabilities’ shoes and picture what they may struggle with. What are their needs? How can your workplace adapt to them? If your offices are particularly large and complex, like a business tower for example, your employees with disabilities may struggle to find their bearings.
That’s why an indoor navigation app like Evelity could be the perfect solution to suit their needs. This app adapts to every user’s profile. This means that a person using a wheelchair can set up the app so that it selects a step-free route. And a blind or visually impaired person can use it by setting it up with their smartphone’s screen reader. Thus, the app provides them with step-by-step audio instructions.
After all, 89% of blind and visually impaired people use a smartphone. It has revolutionized their mobility.
Provide your employees with disabilities with accessible equipment
Now that your building is accessible, you need to focus on the workstation of your employees with disabilities. What type of equipment or adjustment do they need to work?
⊗ Adjusted work hours,
⊗ Assistive technology (Braille display, large-print and tactile keyboards, amplified telephone equipment, audio induction loops, seating and positioning devices…),
⊗ Instant transcription apps for the deaf and hearing impaired like Ava,
⊗ Calm and quiet spaces for people with intellectual disabilities and people on the autism spectrum…
Once again, it all depends on the needs of your employees with disabilities, the type of their work and how adapted their workstation can be.
Cultivate inclusion for all to meet the needs of the number of people with disabilities working at your company
There’s no workplace more attractive than a workplace that favors and celebrates inclusion for all. Because you know that employees with various backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, skills and abilities are an asset for your company:
⊗ Cutting edge and more innovating initiatives,
⊗ Higher employee retention rates,
⊗ Higher profits…
You can read McKinsey’s analysis and report on the subject:
But how can you cultivate inclusion for all exactly? You can start by showing up for your employees with disabilities. This means that you can provide all your staff with training in dealing and communicating with people with disabilities. And participate in it yourself whether you’re the CEO of a big company or a small business owner.
We all may be afraid to say the wrong thing. Usually, we’re tempted to avoid talking to a person with disabilities because we’re not familiar enough with their needs and don’t know what to do.
If that’s your case, you can dive into this series of articles to know how to address people with disabilities:
With the proper training, ALL of your employees will feel comfortable, seen and heard. This will favor team spirit and team building.
As the number of people with disabilities in the workforce is rising, you’ll find yourself in need of implementing permanent accessibility solutions. They will bring them comfort and help them work without having to adapt or overadapt. And in the end, your company will benefit from having a diverse and inclusive workforce.
Want to know how our cities can adapt to the rise in the number of people with disabilities and new accessibility issues? Check out these articles:
Published on 22nd April, 2022
If your offices are particularly large and complex, like a business tower for example, your employees with disabilities may struggle to find their bearings.
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