Five ways to boost your disability inclusion journey
By Jane Hatton on 7 August 2023
There is a reason why disability often appears low down on the list of diversity priorities for many organisations. It feels complex, risky and difficult and it can be hard to know where to start.
The reality is that it doesn’t really matter where you start, as long as you do. In order to get some ideas of small (or large) changes you could make, I asked some of Evenbreak’s clients what they are doing in this space.
1. Draw from lived experience
The best starting point is to involve disabled people themselves. People with lived experience can help you learn what is working, what isn’t working so well, and what to do about the latter. Many of the companies we work with have disability-related employee resource groups.
Avanade, for example, has a pan-European Disability Inclusion Employee Network called DiversAbility, which covers the 16 European countries in which they operate. This provides a great sounding board for Inclusion & Diversity and HR teams to validate their disability inclusion strategy, and help ensure their processes are fit for purpose and meet the needs of employees with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
KPMG Canada created their Disability Inclusion Action Plan in collaboration with their Disability Inclusion Network, too.
Irwin Mitchell’s forum for disabled colleagues and allies, IM Able, feeds into their DEI Board and strategy. It seeks feedback from colleagues in IM Able, for example in relation to workplace adjustments guidance, implementing an accessibility tool to their careers page and developing Situational Judgment Testing that is inclusive and accessible to all, including those with neurodiversity.
M&G use a variety of colleague feedback mechanisms to review their policies and update if needed.
A note of caution – feedback from disabled employees is invaluable, but it’s important to ensure that they aren’t just used as unpaid consultants. This requires properly resourcing the employee network, and ensuring that if people are taking time on this, their workload is adjusted accordingly.
2. Find support partners
There are many organisations out there to support you in this journey – you aren’t alone, and it can help to tap into external resources.
Most of our UK clients are signed up to the UK government’s Disability Confident scheme. This has three levels – committed, employer and leader. The latter has to be independently assessed, whereas the first two are self-assessed. It provides a useful framework and a range of resources are on offer.
Globally, Valuable 500 is an organisation which galvanises business leaders to end disability exclusion. Its focus is on leadership, reporting and representation.
The Business Disability Forum is a membership organisation which offers many resources, including an advice line, a knowledge hub, events and self-assessment tools. And, of course, make sure you make the most of the free disabiity focussed articles and presentations offered by d&i leaders.
3. Make adjustments
Employers often assume that the cost of providing adjustments/accommodations for employees with disabilities will be prohibitive, whereas as many disabled people need no adjustments at all. The most popular adjustment request is flexible working, which most organisations provide anyway.
In many countries the government offer financial support towards providing this. In the UK, this scheme is called Access to Work.
Arts Council England implemented a new Workplace Adjustments Policy in late 2022, which goes beyond the minimum legal requirements and presents a range of ways that the organisation can support employees and their line managers.
This includes offering one-to-one support for Access to Work applications, purchasing equipment and making claims. The organisation also uses Clear Talents, a system which identifies adjustments and also acts as an adjustments passport.
DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) offers hybrid working to all staff and is accommodating of a range of working patterns including compressed hours and flexible working hours (such as longer lunch breaks, earlier starts or later finishes).
It also provides headphones for all staff members, and has dedicated quiet zones to accommodate those who prefer to work in silence or need to work quietly in order to complete a particular piece of work. They recently launched a workplace adjustments hub with guidance for all on how to request reasonable adjustments.
Having a central point (and budget) for people to access workplace adjustments is good practice. It makes it easier for employees to know where to go for information, and a central budget means hiring managers aren’t put off hiring disabled people because of the potential impact on their budget. Like the employers above, M&G brought all of its accessibility resources together in one place on their intranet to make it easy for colleagues and managers to find.
Irwin Mitchell, meanwhile, created the role of ‘Access Changemaker’; a project management role focused on auditing all business areas for accessibility
4. Look at how you hire
Some of our clients have ring-fenced specific roles, or internship or apprenticeship places for disabled applicants, which has worked well.
KPMG Canada provided $30,000 in Scholarships since 2022 to post-secondary students who are blind or have sight loss, to augment the diversity of their talent pool. They also launched an Internship for Neurodiverse Students in collaboration with Specialisterne.
With recruitment generally, increasing numbers of companies are offering guaranteed interviews to disabled candidates who meet the minimum criteria for the role. This means that disabled candidates whose CVs/resumes may not reflect their potential because of previous discrimination are not overlooked.
Some organisations, such as ITV, are relying less on CVs/resumes and interviews as shortlisting and assessment methods, as these can disadvantage disabled candidates. Work-based tasks or technical tests are a much better predictor of future performance.
In terms of attracting disabled candidates to apply, there are accessible job boards specifically aimed at this group of talent, such as Evenbreak. Candidates say that an employer advertising on such a job board is a strong demonstration of its commitment to disability inclusion.
5. Train your managers
Inclusive employers ensure that their managers are trained on disability inclusion, and many provide guides or toolkits for this.
Arts Council England has a hub with information accessible by all staff, focusing on identifying and removing disabling barriers, and an e-learning module for staff and managers which forms part of the induction process.
Irwin Mitchell hosts a series of “Let’s Talk About Disability” sessions to provide a safe space for colleagues to find out more about disability and to identify what more they can do to be disability inclusive. It has also developed of a series of training modules in collaboration with its Staff Disability Network – bitesize sessions on identifying and removing barriers for specific situations such as virtual meetings, sharing information ahead of meetings, project work, visiting external organisations and so on.
LexisNexis recently created an allyship program for disability to help colleagues deepen their understanding, education, and empathy around the disability community. Within 45 days of the program launching, it had the second highest completion rate of all the ERG allyship programs.
Some companies offer training to disabled people in the community. For example, Expedia will soon launch a disability apprenticeship pilot program in Singapore called Open Pathways to provide opportunities for people with disabilities in APAC to build the skills needed to start a new career in the travel industry.
It may be that you are doing many of these actions already. If so, celebrate that, and build on them further. I hope that looking at what other companies, from a range of sectors, are doing has given you some food for thought, and some ideas for how you could progress on your journey towards disability inclusion.
About the author
Jane Hatton MSc FCIPD FRSA is a disabled social entrepreneur, TEDx Speaker and author. She is the founder and CEO of Evenbreak, a social enterprise which provides the only global specialist disability job board run by and for disabled people.
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.