The Foundation for Inclusion: The Interactive Process
By Guest Blogger Lou Orslene, Co-director, Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
I’ll start at the beginning. The foundation for an inclusive workplace is the reasonable accommodation process. Reasonable accommodation is a change in the workplace because of applicant or employee’s long standing disability, a new or progressive chronic health condition, a recent injury at work or off the job, a challenging pregnancy, or medical impairment. The essential underpinning for a successful accommodation is a robust interactive process. In order to build a structure, e.g. an inclusive workplace, you must have a blueprint. Follow me here – the blueprint provides an expeditious, consistent, and defensible model for everyone in their various roles to follow. This blueprint or model is also transparent to all, and, in light of the various risks, tolerates few deviations from the plan.
In my JAN experience now of almost 20 years, I find that far too many reasonable accommodation policies lack a blueprint. Hence, they are not actionable. Most provide the goal of equal opportunity for people with disability; many offer accommodations to applicants, new hires, and employees and provide an email address or an 800 number for people to call. But, few offer a comprehensive blueprint including a practical process containing all of the elements necessary for recruiters, hiring managers, supervisors, and human resource partners to know “what and when” to do when someone needs an accommodation or adjustment at work.
So let’s think of your accommodation policy and process as a blueprint. This blueprint provides the big picture as well as diagrams providing the detail necessary for people in various roles to reach that big picture goal – workplace inclusion. I suggest your blueprint include three primary diagrams representing three points in the employee life cycle. One would be for recruiters; one for hiring managers; and one for supervisors, HR partners, the Disability Coordinator, return-to-work specialist, workers compensation specialist, facilities manager (well you get the idea) and anyone else who you have found employees go to in order to request an accommodation.
Think of these diagrams or pages within the blueprint not only representing the different stages of the employee life cycle, but also as entry points for the accommodation process. While the processes may vary a little depending upon the entry point, they do have similar elements when it comes to the provision of the accommodation. And successful implementation of the overall goal – inclusion – depends on the successful execution of the work represented by the three diagrams. Much like a construction project, there must be a logical and consistent process for the prospective employee or the employee with a disability as well as the company representative to navigate the application process, the on-boarding process, and general employment processes.
Within the blueprint, I also suggest distinct steps for building the inclusive workplace. These would be your policy and process. Your policy provides the goal of workplace inclusion and legitimizes the entire inclusion effort. And while a good inspirational policy is important, in my experience it is the elements of the process that determine whether the effort is a success or a failure. The optimal process or blueprint should contain the following fundamental elements:
- A step by step process
- Key partners, including expectations for their roles and points where they interface with other partners
- Timeline for various processes
- Touchpoints for communication throughout the process
- An appeal process
With the blueprint for the accommodations program in hand, you then need to move forward with a couple of other tasks. First, you need to market the building – stick with me here – to inform everyone internally as well as externally that the building is being built. Internally, the key partners need to be identified, educated to why the project is necessary and who legitimizes the effort, and then informed about their roles and the roles of other partners. It is vitally important to insure the partners are vested in the project. Internally, too, you will need to identify and communicate with an executive sponsor or champion to reduce the political, cultural, and financial barriers to implementation. They serve as your general contractor to keep you on time and on budget.
Other external partners are also crucial for the success of the program. Now let’s turn to the contractors who can support the construction of this inclusive workplace.
Continuing on with this analogy, you will want to identify national, trusted contractors like the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for one-on-one accommodation consultation; the the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) for inclusion best practices; and thePartnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT)on issues of workplace accessibility to help you to build your structure. Other contractors may come into play as well, and you may need to find specialists to assist with worksite and electronic accessibility. JAN can help you identify many of these resources. And, in order to be connected with and benchmark against other such organizations, you will want to be part of the U.S. Business Leadership Network.
And then there are the subcontractors – to help with the highly specialized parts of your structure. These may include local resources for finding a job coach, an interpreter, a captioning service, a rehabilitation engineer, or a local association for the blind to help with a new employee who is blind and needs oriented to your office space. Local subcontractors, too, can be a great resource for identifying the talent necessary to sustain your inclusive workplace once it is built.
Building a home is a challenging project – none of us who have been through this process would say it was easy and that it didn’t require considerable planning and effort. But, I would be very challenged to find someone who would say it – the effort – was not worth it. The challenge of building an inclusive workplace like, building your own home, pays back ten-fold. And, while you may have some regrets in terms of some of the smaller decisions, you never regret embarking on and developing the larger effort.
About the Guest Blogger
With more than 25 years in the field of disability employment, Lou Orslene provides leadership at the Job Accommodation Network, the premier national resource for free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment. As a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), JAN’s professional consultants manage more than 50,000 inquiries and conduct more than 90 trainings annually. Lou has earned Master’s degrees in both Public and International Affairs and Social Work, an undergraduate degree in Human Resource Management and a Certification in Disability Management. Lou’s work is informed through collaborations with JAN customers as well as groups such as the US Business Leadership Network, Disability Management Employers Coalition, Assistive Technology Industry Association, and the American Association of People with Disabilities among others.