Over 1 billion people, or approximately 15% of the world’s entire population, live their lives with some form of disability. And, while they are easily represented in statistics, people with disabilities are not always represented in work and the world at large.
Diversity has been a long-running buzz word for businesses looking to improve their productivity and public image, but is often misunderstood as having a focus on minorities. In reality, the practice is meant to improve the inclusivity of all people in the workplace, and for a company’s staff to be an accurate reflection of their audience and customer base, as well as the demographics of the society in which they’re located.
A person with a disability is, on average, more likely to experience socioeconomic obstacles and adverse outcomes than a person without. And without being represented and included in employment opportunities, the difficulty for these individuals rises. That is precisely why employers should focus on what we call a “Disability Inclusive” company culture. Not only will it allow companies to connect with people with disabilities, both for hiring and for sales, but it will empower their employees to advance the company with their own professional development.
If you’re new to the concept of “Disability Inclusive”, or are looking to get a better understanding as part of building your own diversity practices, this article is for you! Let’s break down some key points to define Disability Inclusion.
What is it?
In short, Disability Inclusion is the process of hiring people with disabilities, and designing a work environment that enables growth and development for all employees.
A more in depth description needs to take a look at the many different components of a company that determine inclusivity. These can include more tangible items, such as work accommodations and assistive technology being provided, having accessible work areas and facilities, and ensuring job postings are equally accessible and distributed. But it can also include more immaterial items — namely: company culture.
Company culture, and its guiding principles such as mission statements and company values, are what spurs the decision making at every level of a business. If you want a cohesively inclusive company, then you need to make inclusivity a core component of the culture.
Aligning its motivations and actions towards a diverse audience, one which includes persons with disabilities, is how a company becomes Disability Inclusive. These practices should be conducive to the betterment of all employees, regardless of ability, and the company as a whole.
Why is it important?
Disability Inclusion is not a charitable endeavour. In fact, there are many seemingly selfish reasons why a business would make it part of their focus.
Businesses that practice inclusivity see benefits for the whole company, not just those employees with disabilities:
- A diverse team provides increased innovation, with access to more unique problem-solving perspectives.
- Inclusive companies have a higher reputation with the public, thus increasing customer loyalty and enthusiasm.
- Employees who feel included perform stronger, and are more committed to their work — meaning retention rates are high and attrition rates are low.
Recruiters who include people with disabilities in their hiring process also open themselves up to a huge and often untapped talent pool.
From the perspective of a worker with a disability, there are huge socioeconomic benefits to having more inclusive workplaces. Not only does it open up more pathways in their own professional development, but it can reduce stress from other barriers they may be experiencing.
As inclusivity becomes the norm and people with disabilities are more correctly represented in our workforce, awareness builds, and more people with invisible disabilities are willing to speak out, leading to better support systems, which in turn allows more people with disabilities to achieve their employment goals — an ongoing cycle of improvement.
What does it look like?
Disability Inclusion is not a “are you or aren’t you?” situation. It can take a lot of work, and requires honestly scrutinizing your own business’ performance to find deep-seated flaws, and make incremental changes.
But as you start to realize the mistakes, you can start to fix them and move forward. Some of the ways people identify areas of potential improvement in their company are by forming employee-led diversity committees that discuss the barriers that they see, or by performing an accessibility audit (either on your own or with outside help), or by attending disability awareness training.
The main tool of progress is getting commitment from the top. When the leaders of your company make Disability Inclusion their goal, and reinforce that with written policies and statements, the accountability will drive change at every level of the business.
Policies should focus on ensuring that the business both acknowledges and embraces the differences in their team. Ensuring that professional growth, fair compensation, and career advancement are accessible to everyone equally are key aspects of inclusion.
That said, a truly inclusive company doesn’t pander to people with disabilities — you should hold all employees to equal standards when it comes to performance. Inclusion is simply ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to perform!