Diversity and inclusion in the workplace has, in recent years, become a boardroom issue. There is a recognition that aside from the obvious ethical motivation, diverse organisations also perform better, according to almost all metrics and studies.

But it’s not always an easy thing to get right. It requires time, resources, sensitivity and expertise. In this series of guides, Redcat Digital explains the “how” and “why” of various different areas – each equally important – of diversity and inclusion.

This edition deals with making workplaces that are inclusive for people with disabilities. It looks at some of the UK legal requirements for employers, some of the best ways to bring about equality in the workplace for people with disabilities, and the impact of covid-19.

The why

As with all diversity and inclusion efforts, the number one motivation is that there is an inarguable moral and ethical requirement to include people in the workplace, regardless of their background. That’s why there are often legal requirements. Secondary to that, there are also numerous studies which have found that more diverse workplaces perform better.

With regards to disability equality specifically, it is clear that some of the barriers put up before the covid-19 pandemic can now be permanently removed.

One of the most common requests of employers from staff with disabilities before the pandemic was remote and flexible working. Surveys and studies showed that before the forced migration to remote working, many workplaces felt unable to accommodate those requests, fearing productivity would drop or that it would be impossible in practice.

The experience of the last year has shown that to be largely untrue. Now is the time to increase efforts towards disability equality in the workplace.

And to quote Cardiff University researchers in a January 2021 guide, written in conjunction with the Law Society, workers with disabilities are often “loyal, hard-working and experienced problem solvers”. All highly-prized characteristics for the modern employer.

The how

Some of the studies cited here refer to professional services industries, notably legal and insurance – but there is no reason why their advice cannot be adapted to any office environment. Adapted from Cardiff University research, here are five key areas to focus on to make your workplace better for people with disabilities.

Recruitment

Consider whether your recruitment processes have been designed only with a non-disabled person in mind. Have reasonable adjustments been made, or could they be made? The term “reasonable adjustments” is an important one here – employers have a legal obligation to make these adjustments where requested, and cannot refuse without good reason.

Think about whether you’ve made your recruitment process sufficiently accessible, particularly when using third-party agencies. Consider introducing recruitment drives targeted at people with disabilities, or reserving places for disabled people for training and work experience.

Take measures to tackle unconscious bias in your recruitment process, and continue to make reasonable adjustments in performance assessments and promotion decisions.

“Easy wins”

There are plenty of things you can do quickly and relatively easily, according to the Cardiff University researchers. Here are a few:

  • Monitor requests for adjustments in your HR system (an increase is good; it shows people are more comfortable with self-identifying as disabled).
  • Review your key policies with disabled people in mind – things like sick leave, performance management policies and flexible working policies.
  • Create a separate disability leave policy.
  • Ask your staff what adjustments would help them reach their full potential.
  • Make sure you and your employees are aware of Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance on common reasonable adjustments.
  • Set up or join a network for people with disabilities.
  • Identify a trained person to be a point of contact for adjustments.
  • Turn on accessibility features in your technology and software.

At the top

Consider the make-up of the senior people in your organisation. If there are any people with disabilities in senior roles, it may be beneficial for them to open up about their impairments or long-term conditions (provided they are willing to), as studies have shown this will help address concerns about stigma and fear of disclosure.

If there aren’t any people with disabilities at the top of your organisation, consider changing promotion and recruitment policies – you could do things like mentoring schemes. And, as with so many workplace issues, a crucial factor is getting board-level buy-in and support. A senior-level “champion” for disability issues will do wonders.

Covid-19

As discussed earlier, it’s now clear that remote and flexible working is possible, and often desirable. In the parlance of disability discrimination, there’s now a much stronger argument that remote working is a “reasonable adjustment”.

That being said, that doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Cardiff University researchers stress the importance of “communication and choice”. Speak to your disabled workers, see what they want and need, and accommodate. The key question is: “What do you need to perform?”. Bear that in mind, and you will find yourself moving towards the best and most equal solution.

There are many advantages of working from home for people with disabilities, but also some additional things for employers to consider. Health and safety rules still apply, for example, and there may be a need to purchase equipment or make technology accessible – the rules for the home apply as they do for the office, basically.

Specialist help

There are organisations and networks with expertise in this area, like the Business Disability Forum, Disability Rights UK and many others. Many charities deal specifically with people with impairments, such as the RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss or Hearing Link, Connevans, MS Society, National Autistic Society, Spinal Injuries Association and Tourette’s Hero.

Consider looking to the future, too. Recent thinking suggests “long-covid” – where people suffer chronic effects of covid-19 – may soon be considered a disability. Understanding of long-covid is in its infancy, and it will be necessary to look to external experts and development expertise to help afflicted workers.

Redcat Digital offers a consultancy service, leveraging its many years working with clients to find the best digital and technology talent, to help organisations become more diverse and inclusive. Find out more here.

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