Creating true workplace inclusion for people with disabilities

30 July 2021 5 min. read
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Nearly a quarter (22%) of people in the UK – and 19% of working age adults – have a disability, according to the latest Family Resources Survey. So it’s no wonder that disability is rapidly rising up the UK’s inclusion agenda. Or that 500 companies have made a public commitment to disability inclusion via The Valuable 500 – including Accenture, Deloitte, PwC and KPMG.

Professional services firms have a pressing need not only to ensure that they provide accessible advice to their clients but also to lead by example on disability inclusion. Eleanor Goichman Brett, a consultant and trainer at global diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global, shares five practical ways how professional service leaders can progress towards true inclusion for people with disabilities:

1. Be aware that not everyone identifies with the term 'disability'
As with any business activity, data and measurement are essential to planning and progression. So in order to understand how representative your firm is of disabled people, you will want to understand how many of your employees have disabilities in comparison with your regional benchmarks.

How can you create workplace inclusion for people with disabilities?

However, some companies struggle to collect this data – not just because trust still needs to be built that you really care about inclusion and accessibility but also because not everyone who has a disability in the eyes of the law identifies with the term disability.

So it can be more helpful to ask people about their accessibility needs or adjustments they need. That way, you can understand your true disability representation – and also how best to support the needs of your disabled employees.

2. Accessibility should be part of the plan, not an afterthought
Accessible design provides a better experience for everyone. An accessible website or intranet, for example, with less text and better colour contrasting will improve the experience for all users, not just those with dyslexia. So by creating a mindset of accessibility within your firm you will improve the experience for all of your employees, not just those with disabilities.

However, to truly embed accessibility into your organisational culture, processes and facilities, it needs to be part of the design process from the very start. That means considering accessible needs within your definition, research and feedback phases.

3. Employees can help you be more accessible, inside and out
If you’re wondering where to start to ensure your culture, processes and facilities are more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities, a great starting point is to ask your current employees. And, in particular, the disability employee network, if you have one. Using accessible guidelines and resources, and product testing, is important.

But to truly understand, show commitment and sustain a culture of accessibility, the best way is to work together with those who have lived experience. The likelihood is, there will be people in your firm who would be willing to help, if you just ask. So, when creating new standards, processes, facilities or even products, ask for input on accessibility (although not about people’s disabilities) up front, rather than as an afterthought.

4. Make remote and flexible working easy to access
Recent events have forced many organisations to embrace remote and flexible working and this can be even more important for people with disabilities who are at greater risk of the effects of Covid-19. By making remote and flexible working easy to access, by providing the right tools for people to be able to work safely remotely, by giving people the flexibility to work in a way that’s right for them and by treating people with trust and integrity, you can better look after all of your people.

More than half of employees globally would quit their jobs if the flexibility available during the pandemic is not extended, according to a recent EY study. So consider offering a hybrid model where everyone can feel included and able to work in a way that’s right for them.

5. Champion disability inclusion
Champion disability inclusion with your clients – not because it’s a nice thing to do but because it will help grow their businesses by leveraging the benefits of serving customers with disabilities. The spending power of disabled customers in the UK is estimated at £249 billion. Yet UK businesses lose approximately £2 billion a month by ignoring the needs of disabled people, according to The Purple Pound.

In the US, this rises to a spending power of $490 billion, with friends and families of people with disabilities adding another 3.3 billion potential consumers – consumers who are more likely to act on the perception of disability inclusion.

Disability inclusion can help your clients’ businesses not just through customer disability inclusion but by including more disabled employees. Disability inclusive organisations have higher revenue and better shareholder returns, according to research by Accenture. And people with disabilities take less sick leave and stay with organisations longer, according to a TUC report on disability and employment.

Yet a report by Global Disability Inclusion and Mercer found that disabled employees still feel less included than their colleagues.

Championing disability inclusion will not just position you as a leader in the field with your clients but also send a clear message to your people that it’s a priority for your firm.

The most important thing to remember is that people know themselves, and their abilities, best. So, rather than making assumptions, encourage your clients to work with their employees and potential customers to find solutions to create truly accessible and inclusive environments and products.