How to create a ‘confidence culture’ around disability inclusion
By Jo Faragher on 5 August 2022
We all know that disability inclusion in the workplace is important, but not everyone that needs support always feels comfortable coming forward to ask for it.
For example, more than three-quarters (76%) of people with a disability or neurodiverse condition do not fully disclose this at work, and 43% of employees with a disability or neurodiverse condition would not feel comfortable asking for adjustments from their employer.
When asked about current D&I priorities, 95% of HR and D&I professionals surveyed in research conducted by Texthelp said they had established neurodiversity and disability inclusion best practices to support employees, but disability tended to lag behind other strands of diversity – with race and gender at the top. Only 28% of respondents said they were very confident in identifying types of conditions that are considered as neurodivergent. “It goes without saying that enabling greater diversity in the workplace requires a more open and forward-thinking company culture,” says Cathy Donnelly, chief people officer at Texthelp. “Neurodiversity often gets neglected or is given less priority over other areas, partly due to the fact that neurodiverse conditions are typically less ‘visible’, and fall under the radar. However, businesses that encourage neuro-inclusion will see increased engagement and productivity from staff.”
Confidence to ask
But as the research shows, how do we create that culture where people feel comfortable and supported if they don’t want to ask for help? The key is to create an environment where all employees are supported without having to ask. “Even with practices in place, many neurodivergent employees will unfortunately hold back from declaring their condition until they feel totally secure in the business,” she adds. “As such, the support that organisations provide must be available to every employee and candidate – avoiding the need for people to self-identify.” This could involve simple interventions such as providing speech to text tools that support reading and writing, ensuring enough time is offered for completion of tasks during the hiring process, and that onboarding considers such adjustments as well. Other practices implemented by employers include offering special keyboards or installing screen magnification or screen reading software. These tools help people with arthritis or visual impairment but can often be offered for all, removing the need to ask for adjustments.
Neil Eustice, accessibility manager in the Enterprise Wide Technology Group at consulting firm KPMG, has made Texthelp’s Read&Write available to every single colleague. He says: “We know we have many neurodivergent colleagues. We also know that it takes on average three years for a person to disclose that they have a neurodiverse condition. So really, the number of neurodivergent colleagues we have is higher than we think.” This will be the case in many organisations, so Donnelly advises an approach where they adapt internal processes so they empower employees to work in their own way. “Those with dyslexia, for example, may prefer to receive both verbal and written briefing instructions,” she says. “They also may benefit from extra time to process information, and complete writing or reading tasks. Processes that allow for these small changes will make it possible for those with neurodifferences to succeed in their roles.”
Making supportive technology available to all can overcome any discomfort around disclosure, she adds. “Going further, employers can consider implementing technology to support staff – from reading software that improves an individual’s understanding of written content or removes on-screen distraction, to writing technology to support spelling and boost confidence. Tools like these should be available to all – not only to avoid discriminating against neurodivergent employees but also to allow all staff to benefit from the efficiency gains these tools offer.” Taking an inclusive approach could also protect your business, too: employment tribunals in which employees claimed discrimination because they were neurodivergent rose by a third last year, according to law firm Fox & Partners.
Audit and plan ahead
Another practical step organisations can take towards building a ‘confidence culture’ is to do an accessibility audit, or hire an organisation that can help with one. “The audit can look at everything from your buildings to processes to understand whether it is suited to people with visible and non-visible disabilities. The audit should identify opportunities to make improvements,” advises Aisha Suleiman, founder of The Inclusive Culture. “Designing your workplace with accessibility in mind will provide advantages for all employees. For example, being able to work from home is an adjustment that would have benefited some people with disabilities. Yet, for years, many employers refused to provide this adjustment and thus excluded people who needed this adjustment.” As more and more companies redesign workspaces to accommodate new working practices, they should do so with accessibility in mind, she adds. “If you design your workplace with accessibility in mind, it will signal to employees that you are open to making adjustments to anyone regardless of their circumstances.”
Martin McKay, founder and CEO of Texthelp believes that neurodiversity should be an important element of any company’s D&I strategy, but that understanding needs to grow. He concludes: “Thankfully, awareness is increasing and more businesses are stepping up to provide the necessary support for employees with neurodifferences. Combining employee awareness with practical company processes will help ensure that all employees feel supported.”
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.