The accounting industry is facing an identity crisis. According to the Wall Street Journal, late-career accountants are retiring, mid-career accountants are leaving the profession and fewer students are entering the field to fill those gaps.
How do firms ensure success with a shrinking talent pool? If creating an accessible workplace is not part of your business strategy, you may be losing top talent.
Beyond accounting even, accessibility affects all businesses, even the ones who may not realize they have disabled employees. According to the CDC, one in four U.S. adults has at least one disability, though not all disabilities are visible or disclosed to employers. By incorporating accessibility into a business model, one can not only open their company up to untapped talent pools, but they can also set themselves up for success by creating diversity of thought, bringing in unique skillsets and more. Backing this up, research
performed by Accenture, the American Association of People with Disabilities
and Disability: In discovered that companies that make accessibility a top priority saw a remarkable 28-percent increase in their revenue.
As a person living with multiple invisible disabilities, I have seen firsthand how companies that prioritize accessibility can unlock the potential of their employees and drive success. I am happy to work with people who understand that the way I work may differ from how they work, and as a leader, I aim to reinforce a culture where all employees are given the tools to succeed on their own terms.
Embracing accessibility is not just a matter of corporate responsibility, it is the hallmark of forward-thinking businesses. In an era where the demand for talent is increasingly competitive, organizations that prioritize accessibility send a powerful message to employees and candidates.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which celebrates the invaluable contributions of workers with disabilities and reaffirms a national commitment to giving employees equal access to work. This is the perfect time to assess one’s own business practices and see how you can create or update your own accessibility strategy to stand out from the competition and benefit from this unique group of talented individuals.
DRIVING INNOVATION THROUGH INCLUSION
To stand out in a crowded marketplace and attract the best talent, businesses must nurture a culture of innovation. Innovation enables companies to adapt to shifting consumer preferences, emerging technologies and ever-changing market dynamics.
When people with different backgrounds and perspectives come together, innovation thrives. A leadership team with opposing viewpoints will come with conflict, but this is where the magic happens: a team that engages in healthy debate will produce well-rounded solutions that are more likely to withstand scrutiny and adapt to an evolving marketplace.
When choosing the right people for a leadership team, consider how their unique viewpoints would help drive innovation.
There are so many stories about how people develop new strengths through their differences. My success was not achieved in spite of my disabilities, it was driven by the gifts I have developed because of them. I am able to read lips because I have had a hearing impairment my entire life, and this skill has made me a more active and observant listener.
Neurodiversity in the workplace can lead to more innovation. People on the autism spectrum have been shown to be faster and more creative problem solvers. People with dyslexia have been found to have enhanced abilities in discovery, invention and creativity.
Inviting people of all backgrounds to share their perspectives helps businesses stay innovative.
BUILDING THE MOST QUALIFIED TEAM
Prioritizing accessibility requires business leaders to think strategically about how they serve their teams and how they can create an environment where everyone has the tools to succeed. By creating a workspace that accommodates all people, businesses can reach the widest talent pool possible, allowing them to identify the candidate who does the best work instead of the candidate who does the best work under specific conditions.
This strategic shift has become more critical as the workforce undergoes transformation. Between February 2020 and August 2023, the percentage of people with disabilities participating in the U.S. labor force increased from 33.8 percent to 41.2 percent.
This growth coincided with the adoption of flexible and remote work models, which provided an alternative to the traditional office setting. Fast Company notes that physical offices can present barriers for people with disabilities, including inaccessible commutes, standardized (and uncomfortable) office furniture and the unnecessarily stressful social cues that arise in break rooms and other common areas.
This shift in thinking applies to both physical and figurative barriers. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that prompted a reevaluation of how I approached the workday. I reshaped my schedule based on when I would have peak physical and mental abilities. I still worked a full workweek, though the times of day I was working might differ from many of my colleagues.
By thinking beyond a model where employees work in an office from 9 to 5, businesses are able to attract a wider pool of candidates. This allows them to focus on finding the best candidates, regardless of where they are located or how they navigate around a crowded office.
DECIDING WHERE TO START
There are many ways to improve accessibility in a company, but every step forward is an achievement. When deciding where to start, the easiest solution is to ask employees. But first, build a culture that empowers employees to speak up and ask for help.
Create channels (like employee resource groups) that invite employees to connect and seek support outside of their regular teams. Building employees’ trust takes time; if this trust has not yet been earned, technology can help fill gaps. There are platforms that allow employees to anonymously report any workplace issues.
Embracing a variety of perspectives can drive new ideas, but those ideas must be nurtured and valued to reinforce a culture of appreciation and inclusion. To drive innovation and foster strong teams, business leaders must prioritize accessibility.
Accessibility does not just accommodate employees with disabilities, it attracts them. It showcases a commitment to harnessing the full spectrum of talent, regardless of physical or cognitive diversity. Overall, normalizing accessibility in the workplace helps open doors to employee engagement and increases the likelihood of attracting great talent. Accessibility is not just a moral imperative, it is a strategic move that leads to stronger, more productive teams.
In a marketplace where differentiation is key, organizations that prioritize accessibility stand out as frontrunners in the race to secure the best employees available. They understand that prioritizing accessibility is not just a choice; it is a compelling advantage in a fiercely competitive landscape.