Many employers want to establish diverse workforces that include people with disabilities, but don’t know how to do so. As an organisation that has a team consisting of 86% disabled people, Direct Access believes that exemplary practices in disability employment can offer many benefits. In light of this, we felt compelled to piece together an article together listing some of the key strategies to achieving disability inclusion in the workplace, including everything from our recommended recruitment practices to workplace accessibility. The latter of which is, of course, both our specialty and our passion.
Be ahead of the curve
One of the founding philosophies that we believe has led to the success of Direct Access within our market is our lived experience of disability. Indeed, there are many organisations that offer accessibility audits and products comparable to our own, but what has both set us apart ultimately and informed the quality of our service overall is our inclusive business culture. Making equal opportunity employment a goal from the start has led to our establishment of a team that supports disability recruitment and the advancements of the careers of those with disabilities. Ultimately, the first step is not only recognising that disabled people are not all fragile and incapable, but making the effort to prove this to current employees and potential employees. This is achievable, for instance, by surveying whether your work environment is inclusive and meets best practice standards of accessibility. Gathering information on this can be done initially via asking staff and then hiring an organisation to carry out an accessibility audit.
Build your bridges
Proactive recruitment of disabled people is the core of successful workplace inclusion, therefore you need to know where to find such applicants. Identification of the various schemes, networking groups, and career fairs are some examples of places to find disabled people ready for work, although there are many others. For Direct Access, we found and hired two employees through a government “Kickstart” scheme, funded by the Welsh Government with the aim of encouraging young disabled people to find work. We interviewed these applicants to determine their skill, what their personal requirements were in regard to their disabilities, and facilitated these needs accordingly. See if your organisation can somehow provide inclusive mentoring or similar disabled internship opportunities.
Make adjustments to ensure productivity
All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively do their jobs. For disabled people, these two elements will naturally be more niche and the workplace and tools used will need adjustments or accommodations to suit them. Examples of accessibility that Direct Access has incorporated into our workspaces include sign language interpreters, flexible work schedules, multi-lingual safety notices in our premises (including BSL), a noise-free work environment where possible, braille documents, and even catering the ability to work from home. The methods all depend on the requirements of the employee in question, but whatever form it takes, you will find that accommodating the individual requirements of disabled staff members will nurture their productivity and creativity, while also boosting the public image of your organisation as inclusive and a great place to work.
Communication and Marketing
Attracting potential disabled staff members requires not only clear communication on a one-to-one level but also communication externally about disability inclusion at your organisation. One of the ways Direct Access has achieved this is through our marketing strategies and communication of our team’s commitment to disability inclusion, via pipelines such as our social media posts, disability-inclusive marketing, and an honest depiction of our commitments to issues related to accessibility and disabled people. For example, we have since our inception included disability-related imagery in our marketing materials and built relationships with disability-related organisations, and offered our support to local communities. Since 2019 we have been the sponsor of the vision impaired football team in our hometown of Nantwich.
Even if your organisation is not focused on issues related to disabled people like Direct Access, these recommendations are still applicable and you are much more likely to guarantee interest from potential disabled employees by considering them. Furthermore, though many still like to think disabled people have few employment options in the current climate, the organisations and businesses who lead the curve will have the first choice of an underestimated and equally capable workforce who will ultimately have little interest in working for those who avoid considering their needs and issues.
As technology continues to develop, so does the concept of accessibility. Having a wheelchair-accessible ramp or a hearing loop on site might still be useful, but the ways in which people work are also changing, and it is up to businesses to adapt. Consider, for instance, doing job interviews remotely so that disabled people can apply and be interviewed easier. And if the nature of the work they would be carrying out is digital, consider using accessible online recruiting platforms, adopting a formalised ICT policy and establishing clear policies related to digital accessibility. Offer sign language videos explaining company procedures if needed.
Hire and keep the best on the team
Building a disability-inclusive organisation means not only attracting and recruiting qualified individuals with disabilities but also ensuring your company can support their advancement. This is achievable by including disability awareness training for non-disabled staff members and having effective policies in place for the career development of disabled staff members.
Opportunities for advancement often come alongside businesses creating internal diversity goals and identification of disability in their employees. Perhaps an employee has a specific skill that they could take further, and in this scenario, the business can determine what added responsibilities might best suit them. Finally, if your business can effectively secure employees with disabilities, working out further paths to success within your organisation will be the natural next step in nurturing disability inclusion in your workplace that staff, other businesses, and crucially, your customers, will admire. Because equality and accessibility are not only the right thing to do but also great additions to your brand.