Enhancing inclusion for people with disability around the world

Mon 7 August 2017

A group of male and female employees smiling, arranging photographs on a table

Innovative practices from around the world were discussed at the Office for Disability Issues, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC)’s recent webinar, ‘Long-Term System Transformation to Enhance the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities’.

Guest speakers Kathy Martin, Vice-President (Human Resources) of Acklands-Grainger Inc and Chair and Founder of Canadian Business SenseAbility, and Susan Scott-Parker, Founder and Chief Executive of Business Disability International and Founder and Honorary Vice President of Business Disability Forum, shared information about national and international best practice approaches. They also talked about how to bring about long-term transformation in how we perceive and interact with people with disability in the workplace, our communities, and in society.

Below are some of the key insights we took away:

Change the lens

Employers should change the way they view the people in their workplace. People from different backgrounds provide a diversity of ideas and solutions to get things done. They are problem solvers and top performers.

To accommodate diversity and retain valuable employees it is important to be adaptable to changing needs. This may mean providing a simple adjustment to a person’s working arrangement, or offering flexible working hours.

The importance of leadership

The conversation about inclusion of people with disability is broader than diversity and inclusion. It is about leadership. It goes beyond legislative compliance, corporate social responsibility or hiring best practices. Good leadership is about making accommodations and adjustments for all employees every day – not just people with disability. Leaders need the ability to tap into all employees to understand what they need to be top performers and how to enable this.

To create real systemic change, there needs to be commitment from the top as well as throughout the organisation. A top down and bottom up approach are both important and help to keep it real. Involving employees and leaders with disability is key.

Digital transformation

The digital revolution and rise of social media has been lifechanging for many people with disability. Access to the web provides enhanced independence and connection to others. It is a good reason why people with disability spend more time online than those without.

When websites are inaccessible to people with disability, organisations are missing out on business opportunities.

Busting the myths

There are countless myths about hiring people with disability that get in the way of valuable opportunities for employers and candidates.

Many employers believe that hiring people with disability is too expensive, unsafe, and difficult to performance manage. Members who attended our most recent webinar, ‘Walgreens’ Secret to and Inclusive Workforce’, know that these myths are unfounded.

Research on workers with disability[1] shows they often have lower absenteeism and employee turnover and low incidence of workplace injury, which all help to create cost effective businesses.

Organisations that have built capability for inclusion will also minimise risk of injury, complaint or breach of discrimination law, making them safer. The cost of workplace adjustments is usually minimal and offering flexibility is free.

Here in Australia, the Government provides funding, for eligible persons, through the Employment Assistance Fund that is designed to cover the costs of making workplace changes. This can include buying equipment and accessing services for people with disability. Visit www.jobaccess.gov.au for more information.

Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility

Enhancing inclusion of people with disability in the workforce is not solely the responsibility of Human Resources (HR). It needs to come from every area of business, at every level.

This is becoming more commonplace in large organisations, where in addition to HR, inclusion is often a responsibility of the IT, property, communication, research and marketing departments.

Keeping the dialogue open

People with disability are the experts. To create and maintain systemic change, there must be a conversation between people with disability and employers.

The following examples are initiatives that are helping to create genuine opportunities and shift attitudes:

  • Social entrepreneurs with disability are placed within companies to advise on leadership development.
  • Work experience/internship programs designed for jobseekers with disability. AND’s Stepping Into program, an internship program for university students with disability, has been running successfully for over 10 years in Australia.
  • Project SEARCH, a nine-month internship program based in the US which helps challenge colleagues’ perspectives about people with disability while creating opportunities.
  • Employers using people with disability to test the accessibility of their services. For example, Lloyds bank in the UK and Canada have launched a Dementia-friendly Services Charter.

To quota or not to quota?

The effectiveness of hiring quotas has been widely debated by various disability employment advocates.

According to Kathy, organisations should be focusing on hiring the best person for the job, rather than being overshadowed by meeting a target, but they need to cast a wide net.

Rather than setting targets she explained that an audit is undertaken when an organisation joins SenseAbility. This gives an indication of where they are along their access and inclusion journey. From here they can identify what they need to do to improve, leading to a strategy and long-term systemic change. It is a similar approach to AND’s Access and Inclusion Index and the UK’s Disability Standard.

The full webinar can be viewed on the International Initiative for Disability Leadership’s website.

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