“We’re at the very beginning of our journey, and
really aren’t very inclusive at all”
This is what many employers say to me. It may be how you feel too. Perhaps you are new to diversity as a whole, or have previously focused mainly on race, gender and/or LGBTQ+. The idea of addressing disability equality may feel overwhelming, and quite daunting.
However, you are almost certainly already doing much in this space. Just reading this blog shows that you have an interest in disability inclusion – which already puts you ahead of many in your sector. Most organisations, if they are considering diversity at all, aren’t including disability within that mix.
The reality is that you are probably already employing more disabled people than you think you are. Many disabled employees don’t mention their disability at work, and many people who fit the legal description don’t identify as being disabled. For example, some people with dyslexia, or diabetes.
Inclusion, of course, includes everybody – disabled people too! And what we have found is that activities aimed at including one group of under-represented people often help others too.
If, for example, you have introduced flexible working patterns, these may have initially been created for mothers of young children. Fathers of young children benefit too. And carers of elderly or disabled relatives. And people who have activities outside of work. And, of course, disabled employees. In fact, flexible working is one of the most important factors to disabled people in work. So if you offer flexible working patterns, you already meet the needs of most disabled employees.
You may be worried that disability is so broad – how could you possibly begin to know everything there is to know about it? The truth is that you never will. No-one does. And you aren’t expected to. Disabled people are the experts in their own access needs. All you need to do is ask them in a way that makes them feel safe to tell you. If you are prepared to do that, then you’ve cracked it!
Bear in mind, also, that there is a lot of support out there. You aren’t on your own. Access to Work will help with identifying (and paying towards) what might be helpful (e.g. assistive technology, support workers, help with transport, etc). Our own best practice portal offers hundreds of practical online resources to support you too.
You may worry that your buildings aren’t accessible enough. There are many simple things you can do. If the building can’t be adapted, perhaps some employees could work remotely, negating the need for an accessible building at all. And if that isn’t possible, and your building isn’t, for example, wheelchair accessible, you can still successfully employ many disabled people (less than 8% of disabled people use wheelchairs).
You may be so keen to ensure everything is in place that you want to review everything before starting to recruit disabled people. Whilst an admirable sentiment, it’s preferable to have disabled employees help you on this journey. Hearing feedback from disabled people who have gone through your recruitment process, induction process and so on will help you to improve accessibility and inclusion much more quickly and effectively.
We suggest to employers that you focus and build on what disabled employees can already do, and we suggest you do the same with yourselves! Look at what you are already doing, celebrate it, and then build on it, letting disabled candidates and employees and us support you on that journey.
You aren’t starting from scratch – you have much to build on. And you aren’t alone – there’s a load of support out there.
Talk to us about making some quick wins on your journey!