Nearly one in five adult Americans has some kind of disability according to the U.S. Census Bureau — which means your workplace likely has a percentage of employees with physical, mental, or sensory limitations. And since more workers are retiring later, you should expect an increase in employees on the job with age-related disabilities. These employees may be eager to participate in your wellness program, but don’t know if there’s a place for them.
“Including people with disabilities in these activities begins with identifying and eliminating barriers to their participation,” says the Centers for Disease Control. To design an inclusive wellness program, the first step is to assess workplace readiness. For example, check to see if any disabled employees are taking part in wellness steering or planning committees. This short PDF worksheet from Work Well NC offers ideas for taking a high-level look at your current wellness program.
Communication can also be a barrier to participation. If wellness content is only available in printed form (like online or through workplace posters) or through meetings, employees with vision disabilities might need larger-print content — or employees with hearing disabilities might need a recording. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) has a handy Health Communications Scorecard to help determine the inclusivity of your outreach regarding wellness.
Making small changes to the ways you talk about your wellness activities can have big impact for disabled employees. For example, doing a 5K run may sound daunting to employees with mobility challenges. But a 5K “roll, walk, run” event tells employees that everyone is welcome, including wheelchair users.
Once you’ve refined your communications, you can create accommodations for specific activities. The Impact newsletter, which offers practical information on helping people with disabilities, has several useful examples on adapting wellness programs to include disabled employees. For example, when an employee with cerebral palsy had trouble using a company-provided pedometer to track his steps in a walking program due to poor motor skills, his employer found a pedometer with large buttons.
By adapting wellness programs to meet employee needs, you may find that you open the door to well-being for a broader group of employees, like those with short-term injuries or chronic health conditions. The first episode of our new Grokker podcast, GrokTalk, offers ideas on addressing movement limitations when exercising, such as gentle tai chi movements that don’t put stress on the body. Listen below!