Previously, I have published three short synopses—in blog post style—of chapters for the non-fiction book I’m working on, Neurodiversity at Work: A Manager’s Guide. First, I wrote a post introducing the neurodiverse workforce, and then I addressed the need to cope with the challenges of inclusion, and the possibility to capitalize on a diverse workforce. My third post concerned business rhetoric, and now I explore the legal mentality.
In the United States, there is legislation that seeks to protect the interests of workers with disabilities. In theory, these laws apply to both visible and invisible disabilities. In theory, these laws protect the interests of workers with autism and Asperger’s. In theory, these laws ensure that workers with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to perform the work should not be denied employment or excluded from consideration because of their disabilities. In theory, workers whose disabilities interfere with their performance of work they are qualified to do should be provided with reasonable accommodations. In practice, businesses’ responses to this legislation are inadequate to achieve these goals.
Compliance & The Inadequate Business Response
Ethically-managed businesses strive to comply with all applicable laws, including legislation that seeks to protect the interests of workers with disabilities. However, laws evolve as they are interpreted, tested in court, and re-interpreted. A compliance mentality leaves businesses vulnerable to the possibility that their attempts to comply will be found inadequate if their standards are challenged in court. Considering compliance standards are rarely applied to individuals with invisible disabilities and rarely address subtle prejudicial business practices, the main thing preventing a much wider application of the law is that relatively few people seek to challenge employers’ interpretations.
Between Compliance & Inclusion
Émile Durkheim, the father of modern social science, is quoted as having said: “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.” The mores concerning workers with disabilities are insufficient in this society. We can attempt to legislate equality, but we cannot enforce it; for those businesses run with insufficient mores, we are left with compliance.
Compliance, however, does not achieve the goal of inclusion, nor does it provide employers with the benefits of an inclusive working environment. Most businesses accept that hiring disabled workers is a cost of doing business. By focusing on compliance, they strive to attain the minimum necessary to meet legal standards. By focusing on inclusion, employers can be assured that they not only meet legal standards, but they will also exceed current interpretations of the laws enforcing those standards. Furthermore, they will attain the benefits only included workers can provide.