A push to open door sign showing a wheelchair icon.

Five Ways to Be More Inclusive of Associates with Disabilities


The Department of Defense expects its associated entities to recruit and retain a diverse and representative workforce.

In  fiscal year 2018, the goal was for people with targeted disabilities—those whose disabilities pose significant barriers for employment, such as deafness, blindness and traumatic brain injuries—to comprise 2 percent of these workforces.

The Exchange is one of only two DoD entities to meet that goal; the other is the Defense Technical Information Center.

The Exchange has also met the goal for inclusion of all people with disabilities—at least 12 percent of its workforce.

“That success is not just about getting people in the door,” said Valerie Wagoner, the Exchange’s associate EEODI officer. “It’s about developing talent so that all are allowed to meet their potential.”

Wagoner has been with the Exchange since 1981. She joined the EEO office in 1995, becoming the associate EEODI officer in 2015. Based on her wealth of experience, Wagoner has five recommendations for being more inclusive to associates with disabilities:

1. Be accessible for open conversations.

Open communication takes more than announcing an open-door policy. To ensure associates know their managers are available, managers must demonstrate their accessibility.

“Regularly meet with your team members one-on-one,” Wagoner said. “This will show associates that your office is a safe place to discuss their concerns and needs.”

Wagoner also advises managers to be prepared for potentially vulnerable conversations.

“Requesting accommodations can be challenging for associates with disabilities. Managers can make the conversation easier by empathizing, actively listening and providing associates with resources to get what they need.”

2. Become familiar with the accommodations process.

Associates can request reasonable accommodations to help them accomplish their job duties. Wagoner recommends all managers familiarize themselves with the process of applying for and granting accommodations.

“It’s a simple but vital process, which allows associates with disabilities to continue to contribute to the Exchange mission while also acknowledging their different needs,” Wagoner said.

Training and additional information about the accommodations process can be read here on the EEODI portal.

Valerie Wagoner

“Inclusivity is not a single training session or course. It’s cultivating and sustaining a workforce that represents the diversity of our shoppers—in every sense of the word.”

-Valerie Wagoner, associate EEODI officer


3. Approach mistakes with humility.

Well-intended comments can do real harm to associates with disabilities, such as commentary on a new mobility device or probing questions about a change in health status.

Whether a peer or manager of the person who has been hurt, Wagoner recommends beginning with an apology.

“There is no shame in admitting you misspoke,” Wagoner said. “It is important to acknowledge that wrong has been done and make a sincere effort to not make the same mistake again.”

4. Acknowledge that disabilities are not always visible.

Not all disabilities are obvious or easy to “see.” Mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, or disabilities that don’t require a mobility device, such as certain types of cancer or autoimmune diseases, are the most difficult for some to understand, Wagoner said.

“An associate with a hidden disability may need accommodations that don’t fall in line with the stereotype of disability,” Wagoner said. “It’s important for managers and teammates to question their assumptions and support that associate in having what they need to thrive in the organization.”

5. Recognize that inclusion is ongoing.

Being inclusive means staying engaged with the associates’ needs and seeking new ways to bring people into the fold, Wagoner said.

“Inclusivity is not a single training session or course,” Wagoner said. “It’s cultivating and sustaining a workforce that represents the diversity of our shoppers—in every sense of the word.”


Read more!

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