7 Ways to Create an Accessible & Inclusive Firmby
In honor of Disability Pride Month, now is a great time to review your onboarding policies for clients and staff alike and consider how you handle sensitive conversations with them. Whether they're seeking a new accounting professional or a new place to work, everyone wants a firm that makes them feel comfortable being themselves and safe. Here's how you can be more inclusive.
When I say accessibility, where does your mind go first? Maybe to automatic doors and open spaces. Or, if you’re in the marketing space like me, it might drift to alt text and high-contrast emails.
While these are valid examples of accessibility, it can mean much more than this and doesn’t necessarily entail redesigning an office or spending money. Remember: “disability” is defined by the ADA as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
Personally, I live each day with generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and PTSD. While work may look different for me at times, I am still fully capable of excelling in my role. Over the years, I have had plenty of positive and negative experiences around my mental disabilities that have guided me in my decision-making about who I will work for and with. In this right, I am not alone. Companies are often scrutinized for how they treat those with disabilities.
When someone enjoys an experience, they share that experience with others (and the same goes for when they don’t enjoy it). Making your workplace more accessible is not only the right thing to do, it will increase retention, satisfaction, and referrals. When your employees and clients alike feel they are accepted in full and thought of, they will tell others about it and continue to come back to you for business. It’s influencer marketing 101, and while it should not be your main reason for initiating these steps, it is a great added bonus to keep in mind as a firm owner.
So, let’s get into it. Here are seven simple steps that will help you create a more accessible practice and increase retention rates, satisfaction levels, and referrals from both your team and clients:
1. From day one of the onboarding processes, have resources ready. State in your job openings or client guidelines the accommodations you can or are willing to supply and ask in interviews and throughout the processes what accommodations your client or new staff member may need now and in the future. For employers: Offer. Remote. Work.
2. Ask questions, but do so with compassion. Ignorance is not bliss. You should always do your research. But, if you have a specific question, ask the person in a safe and private location. Explain why you are asking, and do so in a non-accusatory and compassionate way. Listen to the answer respectfully and, if you’re unsure how to accommodate it, either look it up or ask the person what their prior employer or accounting professional did to help.
3. Ensure that privacy is kept. Not everyone wants to shout about their experience from the rooftop. Privacy is crucial. US law requires you to keep any information you receive on someone’s disability private. This includes records: You must keep them in a safe location only accessible to you. It’s important that you as a firm leader are not only aware of the ADA but that you stay up to date on changes or updates in the laws.
4. Looping in the right people with consent can make a difference. Whether you are reading this as someone with a disability or as a firm leader, I’d highly recommend having an open dialogue. Being honest about my disability in the workplace has created a much more accepting environment, but it can come with risks. Never bring up someone’s disability around people without consent to do so, because they may not be comfortable or ready to tell people, especially when it is an invisible disability.
5. Watch your language and correct others. We all use slang, but some of it is offensive. Make sure it’s policy to avoid the following terms in the workplace: blind, deaf, dumb, idiot, insane, lame, nuts, psycho, wheelchair-bound, cripple, crazy, mental, handicapable, etc. in figurative or offensive phrases. These are often used negatively in sayings like “What are you, blind?” or “They’re driving me insane!” and need to leave our vocabulary.
6. Focus on output, not hours worked. We all have good days and bad days, but for some, it’s a bit different than just that. Those in the disabled community may find that they need more breaks, regular time away for self-care or shorter work hours to ensure they can function at their best. They may need to step away for medication or treatment more often. Be accommodating from the start and focus on the output, not the hours put in. After all, that is how we measure success in the workplace, isn’t it?
7. End the stigma and normalize. People with disabilities are successful, intelligent, and capable of extremely high-quality work. They are also – this is perhaps most important – present in many workplaces, both as clients and employees, without their colleagues or accountants being aware of it. Professional environments for years have pushed out or have not made space for this community, but it has always existed. We need to normalize the conversations, open the doors for those struggling to have a voice, and end the stigma around disability.
Now that wasn’t too overwhelming, was it? Hopefully, you’ve learned something and you’re feeling motivated to improve your workplace. Normalizing these experiences and actions can set a business apart from others and, as mentioned earlier, can increase retention, satisfaction, and referrals from your team and clients. My final advice before you go back to your day: Your first step before anything should always be to do your research. By reading this article, you’ve started that step. I encourage you to keep going!
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Emily is a mental health advocate and organizational whiz working as a Brand Marketing Manager at Sift for the US brand AccountingWEB. She joined the AWEB team in 2022 right before our first live event, AccountingWEB Live Summit, and was put to the test! Coming from a background in scientific marketing, while she is new to the world of...