At The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement, signs of progress toward overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic are all around us, quite literally. This year, the new Tom and Ruth Harkin Center at Drake University, home of The Harkin Institute, served as a vaccine clinic where nearly 10,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine were delivered.
It is exciting to think about a time when we’ll no longer need to physically distance, wear masks, and stagger our work schedules. As we cautiously begin to return to normal, it’s important to remember that the old way of doing things didn’t work for everyone.
The coronavirus pandemic has challenged us in many ways. It has also created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-evaluate how we do business and restructure our workplaces to make them work for everyone.
During our Harkin International Disability Employment Summit in December, I heard many examples of how our adjusted workplaces had brought about unexpected opportunities for equity and inclusion. Two professionals who use wheelchairs noted that they don’t look any different than their peers across Zoom.
Amy Friedrich, president of U.S. Insurance Solutions with Principal, observed that Principal was well prepared to move employees to remote work because the practice was already common within the organization. This wasn’t the case for many companies, even though people with disabilities have been asking to telecommute for years. We could have been much better equipped would we have been as a society to shift to remote work had we listened to their requests instead of too often writing those requests off as unrealistic and unnecessary.
Accessible innovation and services can be seen everywhere in our day-to-day lives, from audio books and cruise control to electric scooters and voice-activated dictation. The technology behind each of these products was brought to market to assist people with disabilities. Their broader applicability was quickly appreciated, and the technology was adapted into products and services for mass use.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed us all to make our businesses more inclusive and accommodating for customers and employees. As you consider ways to make your workplaces more inclusive post-pandemic, consider the ABCs of Inclusion outlined by Linda Carter Batiste of the Job Accommodation Network.
If we think creatively and strategically about how to build back our workplaces, we can grow stronger businesses that work for everyone, especially those with disabilities. We have all seen a glimpse of the path to get there; I challenge you to stay the course.