Employing people with disabilities is universally recognized as a virtue – at least in theory. When it comes to implementation, it often turns out that businesses are reluctant to hire disabled employees, either because they are discouraged with potential economic setbacks or simply due to perceived communication barriers. Upon closer look, however, it turns out that disability-friendly organizations actually get a better deal, both economically and socially, making it a viable strategy in the development of a sustainable workplace.
The reduction in HR expenses is only a fraction of the economic benefits that come with disability-friendly workplaces. First, contrary to the outdated belief, people with disabilities are as productive as other employees – as long as the environment is accessible enough and does not pose unnecessary challenges.
While this condition may discourage some employers concerned with the costs of introducing disabled-friendly facilities, the advantages of productive workers easily cover the initial expenses on inventory in the long term. Next, such employees usually take fewer days off and are more responsible when it comes to workplace safety. Finally, organizations that can demonstrate their inclusivity may enjoy tax breaks and other incentives from local and state authorities. To sum up, people with disabilities are:
Promoting workplace safety
Overall, disabled-friendly organizations may look expensive initially; yet, with growing support from governments, these considerations will eventually be rendered irrelevant or even subverted completely.
Aside from direct economic advantages, employment of people with disabilities has a broader social effect. Accessible workplaces provide the opportunity for people with and without disabilities to work side-by-side. Such an inclusive environment inevitably brings to light challenges and issues disabled people deal with on a daily basis and, by extension, improves public understanding of their needs.
A recent study has confirmed that exposure is among the most effective ways to increase public acceptance of people with disabilities. In other words, by reshaping their workplace disability-friendly companies also participate in a universal effort of nudging the social perception towards sustainability.
The concept of sustainable design is steadily moving from niche novelty towards mainstream acceptance. Both the construction and manufacturing industries have already taken steps to align their philosophies with sustainability principles. However, the approach so far has been somewhat one-dimensional. Despite the popular connection to environmental activism, the term actually covers three distinct aspects:
Unfortunately, the two latter categories often get overlooked. In this light, adding things like disability-friendly bathrooms not only creates a more accessible workplace but also demonstrates the employer’s commitment to sustainability goals. While certainly not a major change, it promotes the acceptance of social sustainability in society.
Economic advantages aside, employing people with disabilities shows the readiness of businesses to do the right things. As vague as it may sound, this is actually a worthy goal, both ethically and performance-wise.
The history knows lots of examples where commitment to sustainable practices by companies strengthened customer trust and fostered brand loyalty. In fact, many customers were actually willing to “vote with their wallets” for products and services based on sustainable practices.
The opposite is also true: some organizations are losing their audience or even going out of business after being caught at ethically questionable practices. With customers becoming more and more cognizant of corporate social responsibility, brand reputation may soon become the ultimate asset, so disabled-friendly policies are something that is not to be ignored.
With more support from governments and a shift in public perception, disabled-friendly workplaces are becoming the new norm. Fortunately, this change is for the better, as it comes with numerous economic, social, and ethical benefits. So it is up to businesses to recognize this long-term opportunity and integrate it into their sustainable development strategise to achieve continuous improvement.
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