Opinion: Guide to Creating a Workplace that is Inclusive to Those Who are Differently Abled

Dr. Colleen Batchelder

Women in mask because of Covid Pandemic(Önder Örtel/Unsplash)

Ableism is killing the economy and forcing millions of high-risk employees out the doors.

The majority of employees are looking for loopholes, busting open their doors, and forcing their employees to return to normal. But, is that even possible?

Not every company has lost its mind. Actually, over twenty-one, major companies have created space for employees to choose long-term remote options. And countless other businesses have pushed their in-person return date until next year. For example, Lyft CEO Logan Green isn’t opening his offices until February 2, 2022.

It’s nice to see some executives using their brains and their hearts at the same time. However, not everyone is of the same mindset.

Right now, many corporations are pushing for work to resume as normal and employees to be back at their desks. But this demand is driven by ableism.

Now, it’s essential to understand that remote work is not a preference, and employees are not fighting to stay in their sweatpants all day.

Remote work benefits all employees––especially those who are high-risk. This is why it’s a human rights issue.

Companies that demand that all employees come back to work without considering personal implications need to consider their own ableist biases.

Covid-19 has changed the way we do business. And it’s also changed the way that high-risk individuals conduct their lives.

Now, you might be wondering why I connect ableism to in-person office work. But before I bridge that connection, let’s start off with the definition.

What is ableism?

Ableism is discrimination or prejudice against those who identify as having a disability. Many able-bodied people support ableism without realizing it, including those making decisions to reopen office spaces.

In ableism, able-bodied people feel entitled to power and prioritize ableist values. And they see the world from their perspective without stepping into another person’s shoes. This blinds them to detecting failures within their business and blocks them from creating safe spaces for differently-abled team members.

How is ableism tied to Covid-19?

Ableism has never been more relevant than with the Covid pandemic.

It is ableist to expect all employees to work in person. It’s also discriminatory to expect those who cannot accommodate the mandatory regulations to validate their reasonings.

If businesses want to thrive during Covid, they need to support all their employees––including those who require hybrid/remote options.

How can you address ableism in the workplace?

Education is the beginning step toward a long journey.

Able-bodied people on your team must understand able-ism. If they don’t see the privileges they experience, they’ll never be a part of the change.

Have conversations with able-bodied co-workers and managers. Talk about ableism in the workplace, how it affects employees, and why remote work is essential for high-risk people.

How can I support my high-risk employees?

People with compromised immune systems or chronic illness may not come into the office due to Covid-19. To ask someone to compromise their health when they are high-risk is unethical and unproductive. It’s not right to demand your employee to work without glasses, and the same is true for those who are high-risk.

Companies don’t have the right to make the last decision for someone if you are an ableist. People should be the ones in charge of their work environment.

This is why remote work makes the most sense. It not only protects your employees, but it will also ensure the productivity of your company. When you allow your team to secure their health, you increase their feeling of trust and loyalty.

This is a good option for everyone, not just high-risk individuals.

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Dr. Colleen Batchelder is a leadership strategist and diversity and inclusion consultant. She has been featured in Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur Mexico, Ladders, She Owns It, MSN, Chief Learning Officer, and Talent Management. In addition to being a sought-after writer on leadership and DEI, she is also the author of an upcoming anti-racism book through Quoir Publishing (coming out in 2022).

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