Every year in July, we observe and commemorate Disability Pride Month. Originating in the USA in the 1990s, Disability Pride originally started as a single day. However, as time has gone on, the celebration has changed to be a full month. Disability Pride Month is a chance to celebrate success and accomplishments of the disabled community, but also an opportunity for those who are disabled to show their pride. The roots of the awareness month lie in activism and law changes to make society more fair and inclusive for the disabled community.
As well as a wider societal celebration, Disability Pride Month is also an opportunity to reflect on best practice of inclusion within the workplace. Diversity, equity and inclusion are increasingly important on employers’ agendas and priorities, and rightly so. The current disability employment rate in the UK lies at 52.6% – this is compared to 82.5% for non-disabled people. People with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, resulting in a disability employment gap of 29%. So, it’s clear that unfortunately there is a big issue with supporting people with disabilities into work. In this article we look at steps employers can take to ensure that they’re supporting employees who have disabilities effectively.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is high on the agenda for almost every employer at the moment. With job seekers in technology having a huge amount of power due to the surplus of IT jobs, it’s important for employers to shout about how they can support their workforce and create an inclusive culture. Disability inclusion summarises the provision of the same opportunities and equal rights to people with disabilities that non-disabled people will have.
One of the most obvious ways of ensuring you’re being inclusive of disabilities is to ensure your workplace is accessible to those who are disabled. Accessibility isn’t just about installing ramps and lifts (although this is very important). Disability comes in many different forms – someone may be in a wheelchair or may have a developmental disability like Dyslexia. Supporting employees no matter their disability is key. Someone with Dyslexia for example might need assistive technology like text-to-speech or mind-mapping software to do their job more effectively. Employers should ensure that an open conversation is kept with all employees to find out how they can support them better so that they can do their job efficiently and comfortably.
Leading on from creating an accessible environment, it’s key for employers to keep an open communication stream with their employees to find out what adjustments need to be made. Managing a team of employees can be challenging as everyone has different individual ways of working. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to people with disabilities. For example, someone who is Autistic may retain information much better when it’s given to them in a written form rather than verbally. Whereas other people may prefer to pick up the phone and have a chat. Line managers and team leads won’t know each employees’ preference without having that conversation first.
It’s also key though to never assume you know how someone likes to work. For example, if you’ve had an employee before with a neurodiverse condition like Autism, don’t assume that someone else with Autism will want to work in the exact same way that the previous employee did. Making sure you have a culture of open communication where people aren’t scared or intimidated to ask for adjustments will create an inclusive workplace.
Training is key when it comes to creating a truly inclusive culture, as without the necessary information, how can you expect your employees to understand diverse employees’ points of view? By raising awareness of people with disabilities’ needs, experiences and struggles, employers can create a more understanding and inclusive culture. Effective disability awareness training is a great way of equipping your team – especially leaders – with the tools they need to be able to support all employees regardless of their disability. Efficient disability awareness training should cover the following areas:
Employee networks, also known as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are becoming increasingly common in organisations across the world. An ERG is a network set up to connect employees from a similar background. Setting up an ERG for people who have disabilities and allies is a great way to ensure every colleague has a supportive network where they feel safe to express their ideas, concerns and issues without fear of judgement. ERGs can make a big difference to organisations as they can have an impact on policies, events, awareness and training. Research has shown that only 39% of people with disabilities have disclosed them to their manager. Employee network groups can create an environment where someone can feel comfortable to discuss their disability in a confidential and judgement-free way. Disability ERGs do not have to be limited to be open to employees with disabilities either. They can extend to support parents with children with or carers of people with disabilities.
When considering how to support employees who are disabled, organisations should first consider reviewing and revising company policies to ensure that no discrimination exists against these colleagues. Policies that should be reviewed include; flexible working, sickness & absence, promotion and redundancy. It’s important to consider how a policy might alienate someone who is disabled. For example, they might need regular time off for medical reviews, so it’s important you have flexibility in this area so that the individual doesn’t feel awkward about asking for time away from the job. The Equality law states that it is the responsibility of the employer to make reasonable adjustments to ensure they are supporting employees with disabilities.
Another common pitfall is the planning of social events/gatherings. Many employers plan an away day or party in good faith, but forget that for some employees it’s less than ideal. You might have spent a long time making sure your office is accessible, but is the venue you booked for the Christmas party? Employers should ensure that every colleague is considering inclusion in everything they do.
Leading on from adjustments of policies, employers should also consider if they’re being truly inclusive when it comes to offering promotions and development opportunities. Leaders should ensure that they are providing equal access to career development tools like training, additional responsibilities and promotions. Having a diverse workforce and team provides employers with many different advantages, including innovation and retention. People who feel they are being passed over for promotions are unlikely to stay in a job, so it’s essential to consider everyone for every opportunity, regardless of things like age, gender and physical limitations.
One of the ways people with disabilities can feel excluded and discriminated against in the workplace is through other people’s language. They might not even realise they’re doing it, but using the wrong or insensitive terminology can immediately alienate someone and make them feel devalued. Some of the ways employers can make language more inclusive for people with disabilities include:
All of the seven tips we have mentioned should be constantly addressed and reviewed to ensure that employers are offering the best possible care for their employees. It’s no good just adopting something as a ‘one size fits all’ policy if new colleagues with different needs have joined the business since then. If employers can keep the conversation going and have regular reviews, they’re more likely to become truly inclusive and get a reputation as an employer who cares for all employees, regardless of their background.
Disability Pride Month offers an opportunity for us to celebrate the rich diversity and individual skills and qualities which the disabled community brings. However, it also gives time for reflection. We shouldn’t rest on our laurels for the other 11 months of the year – inclusion should happen all year round as standard. Months like Disability Pride Month are to raise awareness of issues we should be addressing without hesitation. By adopting the eight tips we’ve spoken about in this article, employers can ensure that they are being inclusive of people with disabilities.