Coming up next Friday is Veteran’s Day here in the US, it’s a day to remember and honor the men and women who put it all on the line for us and country. Today I want to talk a bit about how you can better support the veterans you may have in your employ, how to better employ and support veterans and open the conversation up to include those who have all kinds of disabilities as well, not just those who have some type of disability as a result of their time in the service.
First and foremost, I believe that it’s important for veterans to feel welcome back into the workforce, even if they don’t feel like they completely fit after seeing what they saw and doing the work they’ve done. I believe that veterans and those with disabilities have valuable skills that can benefit our businesses greatly. But this is one of the areas that we’re shortsighted in and aren’t willing to see that a few changes and accommodations now can lead to great things for all of us.
It’s not easy to accept that people change in general, and war is one of the most forceful methods of change. So expecting someone to come back and fit in exactly where they used to isn’t reality for most people. One of the challenges that businesses have to consider with regards to veterans or those with disabilities is whether or not they’re willing to make the accommodations necessary to serve them, whether as customers or employees. While organizations like the ADA have helped bring things leaps and bounds forwards in recent years we still have a long way to go. Yes, for some it’s a huge expense to consider making the changes necessary to really work with veterans or those with disabilities, but I believe that most businesses can and should at least make an effort to do so. (Accommodation in general is a whole ‘nother conversation, and important for businesses to consider as well.)
One of the simplest things that businesses can do is be considerate of physical challenges and what would make them easier to deal with. Those who are dealing with cancer, MS, Parkinsons or lost limbs benefit from simple access details, like not putting their desk all the way at the end of the hall on the top floor of the building farthest from the elevator or stairs, not making them walk all the way to the back of the store to talk with customer service, or more flexibility in either hours to work and/or the ability to work from home. No, not every job can allow you to work from home, but just about every business can benefit from an employee whose schedule is a little more flexible and able to cover as needed or provide extra support (as a full time or part time employee).
I was reading an article recently that reminded me of one of the simplest things we can do as business owners for our employees and customers: ask them how you can best support them. Maybe this means sitting down with a group of potential customers who are veterans or those with disabilities and asking them what changes would make it easier for them to shop there. Maybe they want the option to have bigger font on the website, later hours one night a week so they could avoid crowds, or bigger aisles to walk/ride down. While not all accommodations can be made reasonably (an elevator for example), there are tons of little things that can be done to help them.
For employees or those who need jobs, one of the best things you can do is give them the opportunity to gain skills and tools to become a more employable person and maybe even apply some of the skills they’ve learned while in the service. Maybe that means covering part of the cost for classes or hiring them part time to give them the opportunity to learn skills that will help them get a full time job. Maybe that means offering a discount or special payment program for veterans only (even if you don’t offer any other discounts).
Most of us can’t do everything and anything for veterans or those with disabilities, but if we all did a little more I believe our country would be stronger economically, more confident personally and it would be a small way for us to give back to the veterans who have given so much for their country.