Business News Daily receives compensation from some of the companies listed on this page. Advertising Disclosure

Does Your DEI Policy Include Workers With Disabilities?

Updated Jul 05, 2023

Table of Contents

Open row
  • Federal regulations dictate that employers of a certain size must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. 
  • Reasonable accommodations are defined broadly and depend on the role and nature of a particular job. 
  • A strong diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy that includes team members with disabilities can benefit workplace culture and signal a welcoming environment to prospective employees. 
  • This article is for business owners and managers who want to learn best practices for including employees with disabilities in their DEI policies. 

Employers are required legally to follow specific guidelines for accommodating employees with disabilities. However, following the law doesn’t necessarily signal that an organization is welcoming to workers with disabilities. 

Alongside their legal duty, companies can demonstrate inclusivity by incorporating protections for people with disabilities within their diversity, equity and inclusion policies. Read ahead for a guide on how employers can go beyond their lawful obligations and create an authentically inclusive and equitable workplace for all employees. 

What regulations cover people with disabilities in the workplace?

If your organization is crafting a DEI policy, you must first be aware of your legal obligations as an employer. Below is an overview of laws that protect workers with disabilities. 

Americans with Disabilities Act

On the federal level, employees with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in 1990, this law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in a range of day-to-day realms, including public transportation and government services.

For employers, ADA regulations require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide equal employment access and reasonable accommodations for qualified workers with disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigates official charges of discrimination, enforces Title 1, the section of the ADA that addresses employment discrimination. 

“Everything from recruitment to promotion and termination falls under [the ADA’s] umbrella,” explained Brad Banias, founding partner of Banias Law. “Imagine this scenario. A person with a disability, who is perfectly qualified for a job, is passed over due to their disability. Let’s say, for example, a job applicant with mobility issues is denied a role at a small business. The reason? Their office is on the second floor without an elevator, making it inaccessible. When the employer doesn’t provide a ‘reasonable accommodation,’ like an elevator or a more accessible office, that’s a direct violation of the ADA.”


Consult your small business accountant about tax deductions and credits you may be eligible for when striving for ADA compliance. For example, you may be able to deduct costs associated with removing barriers or making other architectural alterations.

Equal Employment Opportunity laws

Another important piece of federal legislation passed to protect individuals with disabilities is Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This rule falls under the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws that the United States Department of Labor (DOL) enforces; it bars discrimination against “qualified individuals with disabilities.” This phrase encompasses people who meet the qualifications required for the job, such as relevant communications knowledge for a marketing role. 

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which the DOL oversees, enforces the Rehabilitation Act. Unlike the EEOC, the OFCCP has jurisdiction over federal contractors. 

“Instances that might draw OFCCP attention generally involve a federal contractor falling short in terms of actively recruiting, employing, promoting or retaining individuals with disabilities,” Banias said. “Let’s say a small business with a federal contract consistently picks nondisabled applicants over those with disabilities who are equally or even more qualified. That’s a breach of the Rehabilitation Act.” 

Did You Know?Did you know

When a business is EEO-compliant, it treats everyone equally in the hiring process and in other employment practices like promotions, compensation, layoffs, benefits and more.

State regulations

In addition to federal laws, most states have legislation that addresses the right to reasonable accommodations at work. The language of these statutes is often similar to the ADA, although local laws may or may not include additional protections. 

For instance, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act states that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with a physical or mental disability. This law expands the requirement to organizations with five or more employees compared to the ADA’s 15-minimum threshold. 

Employers must be informed of federal and state regulations that dictate what kind of accommodations they must provide. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

In addition to federal legislation, employers must understand local and state regulations that govern reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

How does including people with disabilities in your DEI policy affect your company culture?

Organizations should approach laws like the ADA as more than legal obligations. Prioritizing accessibility in the workplace is central to developing a positive company culture

“These laws aren’t just about warding off bad practices,” Banias noted. “They’re key to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.” 

Establishing an inclusive workplace culture starts with a robust DEI policy, which serves as an official statement of your organization’s values. A well-crafted DEI policy affirms an organization’s commitment to promoting diversity in hiring, engagement and retention practices. From attracting new customers to expanding your talent pool, a strong DEI policy affects success in numerous ways. 

“Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion allows businesses to unlock a host of benefits, from a diversity of perspectives and skills to better team performance and a solid corporate reputation,” Banias explained. “By doing so, businesses can transcend mere legal compliance and cultivate a genuinely inclusive and equitable workspace.”

Unfortunately, employees with disabilities are often left out of DEI initiatives. Organizations that want to demonstrate true inclusion should create a DEI policy incorporating accessibility at every level. For instance, in addition to providing accessible workplace tools and systems, organizations can create leadership pipelines for employees with disabilities. If you want to truly be a diverse and inclusive company, it’s important to take a holistic approach and consider all aspects of your business.


Use tech-based diversity hiring tools like anonymous resume review software and artificial intelligence-assisted job description-writing tools to counter unconscious bias in the hiring process.

What steps must you take to accommodate employees with disabilities?

Below, you’ll find an explanation of what adhering to laws like the ADA looks like in practice.  

Providing reasonable accommodations

Under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job candidates with disabilities. That said, what constitutes a reasonable accommodation is defined broadly. An accommodation consists of making a change to the way a job is performed or adjusting an employee’s environment. This way, the employee can still complete a job’s essential functions. 

However, what’s considered reasonable depends on the specific request and nature of the job. The legal test for what constitutes reasonable is described as “not creating an undue hardship” to the employer. If an employee requests an accommodation that qualifies as an undue hardship, it’s your responsibility as an employer to identify an alternative. 

“Essential function” is also not a fixed term ― it encompasses any tasks considered fundamental for the position. To determine whether something is an essential function, ask yourself: Does this role exist to perform this specific duty? For instance, answering customer inquiries is an essential function of a customer service representative position. However, if an employee is responding to phone calls or emails, it may not be essential for them to work in person. 

Examples of required accommodations

Here are some ways an employer can accommodate employees with disabilities in performing the core elements of their job:

  • Modifying job materials: You can make slight formatting or equipment alterations to assist employees with disabilities. For example, individuals with auditory processing conditions may request team training materials in writing. 
  • Environmental accommodations: An employer can implement changes that make a business’s physical space more accessible. This can include changes to an employee’s work area, reserving accessible parking and granting accommodations for employees with service animals. 
  • Schedule flexibility: Employees can request flexible workplace options and adjusted hours based on their disability-related needs. This can include incorporating a remote or hybrid schedule. 
  • Changes to job task format: Reasonable accommodations can also include shifting how essential job functions are performed. For instance, a cashier who can only stand for limited periods could be provided with seating.  

Create a DEI training program in your workplace to help team members learn to positively address biases and increase empathy and understanding across the organization.

What additional steps should you take to accommodate employees with disabilities?

A commitment to inclusion goes beyond the bare minimum. Here are some ways companies can ensure team members with disabilities get an equal seat at the table. 

Design an accessible workspace.

Accessibility and accommodations shouldn’t be afterthoughts when planning your office layout. Many features of a highly accommodating workspace can benefit the entire team. For example, proactively providing ergonomic furniture is good for every team member’s health. 

Prioritize the voices of employees with disabilities, but don’t burden them.

It’s important to create space at the table for those with actual lived experiences when creating policies that affect them. Respecting employees’ boundaries when they prefer to step back is equally important. Some employees with disabilities may be comfortable speaking openly about their experiences while others may prefer privacy. You want to elevate the voices of those with disabilities, not force the mic on them. 

If you demonstrate a genuine commitment to accessibility, that itself can create room for individuals with disabilities to develop an interest in DEI-related leadership. But it’s important to recognize that DEI leadership is still labor and shouldn’t be expected for free.

Educate yourself and be open to confronting biases.

Our society still has a long way to go with acknowledging the ableism that’s woven into our daily lives. It often appears subtly, such as using outdated language or making false assumptions about team members who request accommodations for disabilities that aren’t visible. Creating an inclusive workspace starts with taking accountability for your internal biases. Organizations should prioritize education and training that addresses harmful behaviors and attitudes toward team members with disabilities, whether intentional or not. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

To encourage employees with disabilities to engage with DEI initiatives, focus on creating a welcoming environment and prioritize education and accountability.

Prioritizing accessibility is key to a successful business

Employees with disabilities are too often overlooked in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, so ensuring their inclusion in your company policies is important. However, writing a comprehensive DEI policy is just the first step to creating an inclusive workspace. It’s essential to continue elevating the voices of team members with disabilities and recognize that inclusion isn’t a one-time action ― it takes an everyday commitment. 

Natalie Hamingson
Natalie Hamingson
Contributing Writer at
Natalie Hamingson is a New York-based writer with extensive experience creating a range of content, including blogs, feature interviews, and more. She has covered subjects that include entertainment, lifestyle, technology, and business. In addition to her journalistic experience, she has also written a significant amount of marketing content for small businesses, including social media and email campaigns.
Back to top
Desktop background imageMobile background image
In partnership with BDCBND presents the b. newsletter:

Building Better Businesses

Insights on business strategy and culture, right to your inbox.
Part of the network.