Skip Navigation

Disability Inclusion Toolkit

Disability Inclusion Toolkit A HERC Member Resource logo
In all employment settings, including higher education, a diverse workforce means more perspectives on how to confront challenges and achieve organizational success. Although the term “diversity” is typically used in reference to differences in race or ethnicity, it actually encompasses an infinite range of experiences—including disability.

When it comes to ensuring a workplace inclusive of the skills and talents of people with disabilities, however, not all HERC members may know where to start. The HERC Disability Inclusion Toolkit provides a path, addressing 8 important topics and outlining a range of effective strategies higher education institutions can use to effectively employ qualified people with disabilities and foster a disability-inclusive work culture across the organization.

The information in this toolkit will be updated periodically, and HERC members are highly encouraged to suggest additional resources to add, especially as they relate to disability inclusive policies and practices in action at their own institutions.  

To get started, choose a topic:

The HERC Disability Inclusion Toolkit is an outcome of HERC’s Alliance with the U. S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)6.10.16. Through this Alliance, HERC works closely with ODEP to promote the recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement of individuals with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, in higher education through outreach, education and technical assistance activities.  

The material and information contained in this toolkit is for general information purposes only and is not designed to take the place of HERC member legal counsel or guidance.

Federal Disability Laws

Although the value of fostering a disability inclusive culture is about more than compliance, it is important for higher education human resource professionals to be familiar with various federal disability nondiscrimination laws that may apply to their institutions. These include:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), one of the nation’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, the ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990.  It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life, with each of five titles addressing different aspects.  Title I focuses on employment.  In addition to prohibiting discrimination, Title I requires covered employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified job applicants and employees with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is defined as any change or adjustment to a job, work environment, or the way things are usually done that would allow an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other employees.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, which became effective on January 1, 2009, and its implementing regulations made a number of significant changes to the ADA.  Among these is a requirement that courts interpreting the ADA and related laws focus on whether the covered entity has discriminated, as opposed to whether the individual seeking protection has an impairment that meets the technical definition of the term "disability."  The ADAAA retains the basic definition of "disability" as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment; however, it changes the way that the statutory terms should be interpreted.
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under this law are the same as those used in Title I of the ADA.  Of particular interest to higher education institutions may be Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which cover entities receiving federal contracts or financial assistance, respectively. 
    • Section 503 prohibits employers with federal contracts (or subcontracts) that exceed $15,000 from discriminating against applicants and employees with disabilities and take affirmative steps to hire, retain and promote qualified individuals with disabilities.  In 2014, updates to Section 503 strengthened these affirmative action requirements, creating, for the first time ever, measurable goals.  They also set a requirement that covered employers invite applicants and employees to self-identify as people with disabilities. 
    • Section 504 prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or by any program or activity conducted by a federal executive agency or the U.S. Postal Service. For programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance, there is no minimum threshold for coverage.  Furthermore, there is no requirement that recipients or executive agencies have a certain number of employees.  Section 504 protects not only qualified individuals with disabilities who apply to and participate in such programs, but also job applicants and employees of the organizations that provide them.  
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers private-sector employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer.  It provides eligible employees of these covered employers up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons, among them the employee’s own serious health condition. 
  • The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) requires employers with federal contracts or subcontracts that exceed $150,000 to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment specified categories of veterans and prohibits discrimination against such veterans.  These categories include disabled veterans (in addition to recently separated veterans, Armed Forces Service Medal veterans, and Active Duty Wartime or Campaign Badge veterans).


  • The ADA National Network provides information, guidance, technical assistance and training on all titles of the ADA, including Title I (Employment).  Services are tailored to meet the needs of business, government and individuals at local, regional and national levels.
  • The Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor helps employers determine which federal disability nondiscrimination laws apply to their business or organization and learn their responsibilities under them. 
  • has information, resources and technical assistance materials on all aspects of the ADA and ADAAA, with links to the various agencies that have enforcement responsibilities.

back to top

Disability Training & Technical Assistance

Higher education employers can tap a wide range of training and technical assistance materials to educate institutional leadership and employees about the importance of and strategies for fostering a disability-inclusive work culture. These include:

  • The Campaign for Disability Employment is a multi-faceted outreach initiative that provides a range of materials employers can use for workplace-based training activities, including public service announcements with accompanying discussion guides and posters.
  • National Disability Employment Awareness Month, held each October, offers an opportune time to educate about an institution’s commitment to disability inclusion and celebrate the many contributions of its employees with disabilities.
  • Building an Inclusive Workforce: A Four-Step Reference Guide to recruiting, hiring and retaining employees with disabilities outlines four simple steps to increase workforce inclusion, complete with web links to resources available to help organizations benefit from the talents of individuals with disabilities.
  • A Disability Video created by the DC Government shows people with and without disabilities in work-related and social settings and provides tips on how to interact.
  • Disability Etiquette from the University of Northern Iowa’s Office of Compliance and Equity Management’s Disability Etiquette guidelines.  is an archived webcast with practical tips for making your workplace more inclusive of individuals with disabilities.
  • The Employer Toolkit from the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University helps employers with inclusive culture, policies, practices, management, hiring, retention, accommodation and advancement of individuals with disabilities. (HERC Member Institution)
  • The National Study of Employers, published on October 1, 2014, by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers key disability employment policy recommendations for employers.
  • Resource helps faculty with mental health

    A new, free resource guide is available for college and university leaders that offers recommendations for helping faculty with mental-health issues. In this Q&A, guide co-author and Ohio State University professor Margaret Price says shared accountability and access are needed for the strategies to succeed.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education (free content)

back to top


Clearly, a disability-inclusive workplace is an accessible workplace. This applies to not only physical accessibility, such as wheelchair ramps, braille signage and accessible restrooms, but also digital accessibility, where information and communication technology is accessible to all and/or compatible with assistive technology devices. The key is to ensure doors are open, whether literally or virtually. Resources include:

Digital Accessibility

  • The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) is a multi-faceted initiative to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. It offers a range of resources to assist employers, including:
    • TechCheck, which helps employers self-assess their current technology accessibility practices and identify ways to strengthen them.
    • TalentWorks, which helps employers and human resource ensure their eRecruiting technologies accessible to all job seekers—including those with disabilities.
  • Web Accessibility from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides many web accessibility tools, including web accessibility assessment and accessible online job application assistance.
  • WebAIM’s WAVE 3.0 is a tool to help determine whether or not your site or multimedia products are accessible (and to what extent). 

Physical Accessibility

back to top

Internships & Mentoring

Many colleges and universities use internships to fill short-term staffing needs and evaluate potential future staff—especially people who may be new to the workforce. Internships can also help increase disability diversity. In fact, research shows that employers who have interns with disabilities are 4.5 times more likely to hire a person with a disability. A related practice is mentoring, which can also support disability inclusion as well as improve employees’ supervisory skills. Resources include:

  • The Inclusive Internship Guide assists public and private employers of all sizes to learn about the benefits and logistics of facilitating internship programs that attract all young adults, including those with disabilities. 
  • Entry Point, an internship program with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, identifies and recruits students with apparent and non-apparent disabilities studying science, engineering, mathematics, computer science and business for internships and co-op opportunities.
  • Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) is a resource through which private businesses and federal agencies nationwide can identify qualified interns as well as summer and full-time candidates from a wide range of professional fields. Applicants are highly motivated postsecondary students and recent graduates with disabilities.
  • Disability Mentoring Day is a national effort coordinated by the American Association of People with Disabilities the third Wednesday of October every year to promote career development for students and job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration and ongoing mentoring relationships.
  • Tips for Mentoring a Student Intern Who Has a Disability is a fact sheet that provides guidance on mentoring interns with disabilities.

back to top

Community Outreach

Partnering with local disability and workforce development service providers is a key strategy for increasing disability inclusion. In many cases, such organizations can connect institutions with job seekers with disabilities directly or provide access to candidate databases. They may also provide ongoing supports that can assist in effectively bringing people with disabilities on board—and ensuring their success for years to come. Resources for identifying potential partners include:

  • The Disability and Veterans Community Resources Directory, maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), the Disability and Veterans Community Resources Directory is a non-exhaustive index of organizations available to assist with training, recruiting and hiring people with disabilities and veterans.  Although developed to assist federal contractors in meeting their requirements, it can be used by any employer seeking to form partnerships to increase disability inclusion.
  • American Job Centers (AJCs) centralize local employment and training services under one roof to help people both with and without disabilities prepare for and obtain employment.  Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration and overseen by regional Workforce Investment Boards, AJCs also help businesses recruit job candidates and can be valuable partners to employer interested in diversifying their workforce with qualified people with disabilities. 
  • The Centers for Independent Living (CIL) Directory allows employers and other to locate CILs in their communities. CILs, community‑based, cross‑disability nonprofit agencies operated by people with disabilities for people with disabilities, provide an array of services, including related to employment. As such, they can be effective partners to employers seeking to recruit people with disabilities. CILs can also advise on employment supports, such as transportation and technology, that may impact an employer’s ability to hire, retain and advance people with disabilities. 
  • Employment Networks are private organizations or public agencies that have agreed to provide employment services, vocational rehabilitation services, and other types of support to beneficiaries with disabilities under the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program. Employers can contact one or more Employment Networks in their area to let them know they are interested in employing people with disabilities and discuss the skills they need.
  • The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation/National Employment Team is a nationwide network of business consultants that serve as employers’ points of contact for vocational rehabilitation (VR), the primary system of services and resources that specifically addresses the employment needs of individuals with disabilities.  The NET specializes in serving VR agencies’ business customers, working to ensure their workforce needs and expectations are understood and met. 
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service helps employers across the country fill workforce needs with trained, educated and experienced disabled veterans.  It provides recruitment assistance based on employers’ specific qualification requirements, and candidates are skilled and pre-screened. Through the service, employers also gain access to resources to assist with recruitment, retention and succession-planning strategies. 

back to top

Inclusion across the Lifecycle

Disability inclusion is about more than hiring people with disabilities; it is also about retention and advancement including strategies to retain workers who acquire age-related disabilities. Below are resources to assist with fostering inclusion throughout the employment lifecycle:


  • TalentWorks is a tool from the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) that assists employers and human resources (HR) professionals make their eRecruiting technologies accessible to all job seekers, including those with disabilities.
  • Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) is a resource through which private businesses and federal agencies nationwide can identify qualified interns as well as summer and full-time candidates from a wide range of professional fields. Applicants are highly motivated postsecondary students and recent graduates with disabilities including veterans.
  • Project SEARCH High School Transition Program is a unique, business-led, one-year, school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace, combining classroom instruction, career exploration and hands-on training.
  • Incorporating Disability into Diversity Plans provides information on how to integrate disability into larger diversity and inclusion initiatives, including a policy statement example, and outlines employer best practices related to diversity and inclusion.
  • Do Ask, Do Tell is a report developed by The Conference Board with support from the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN). It explores research related to disability disclosure in the workplace and identifies strategies for encouraging it in the context of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.
  • The Disability Inclusion Starts with You Video, developed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), explains why federal contractors ask job applicants and employees to voluntarily self-identify as a person with a disability and the important role doing so plays in ensuring equal employment opportunity.  
  • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit available to employers that hire individuals from certain target groups (including individuals with disabilities).  Other Tax Deductions and Incentives may also be available to private employers that make structural adaptations or other accommodations for employees or customers with disabilities. 


  • The Return-to-Work Toolkit helps both employers and employees understand the return-to-work process and provides resources to assist getting employees back on the job quickly and smoothly.
  • Retaining Talent and Advancing Careers is a resource from the University of Massachusetts Medical School (HERC Member) that promotes and maintains the health, efficiency and growth of all highly skilled employees, including those with disabilities.
  • Resources on Aging from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) can assist in developing strategies for retaining the talents of older workers who may develop disabilities as they age.

back to top


All employees need the right tools to perform their jobs. Similarly, people with disabilities may need workplace adjustments, or accommodations, to maximize their productivity. Such accommodations may be tangible, such as certain technologies or special chairs or desks, or non-tangible, such as a flexible schedule or option to telecommute. Regardless, most are no or low cost, while yielding considerable benefits through increased retention and productivity. Resources include:

back to top

Accountability & Assessment

The adoption of disability inclusive policies and procedures is essential, but ultimately, a higher education institution must take steps to ensure their effective implementation.  Several self-assessment tools are available that colleges and universities can leverage to benchmark their efforts and measure progress overtime. In addition to providing valuable information about areas for improvement, participation in these tools can help demonstrate a good faith effort to achieve disability inclusion goals.

  • The Section 503 Self-Evaluation Compliance Tool is an online, confidential tool developed by the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) that allows federal contractors to conduct an initial baseline assessment and then track progress over time.
  • The Disability Employment Tracker, sponsored by the National Organization on Disability, helps employers, including but not limited to federal contractors, confidentially assess their disability hiring efforts across six key areas.
  • The Disability Employment Index is a benchmarking tool jointly sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities and U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) that offers employers the opportunity to receive an objective score on their disability inclusion policies and practices.
  • Monitoring Reasonable Accommodations from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers tips for employers to follow to monitor the effectiveness of workplace accommodations and provides a sample form to assist in doing so.
  • TechCheck is a tool from the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) that helps employers self-assess their current technology accessibility practices and identify ways to strengthen them.

back to top


All Employers

Featured Partner logo