Forces for change – 7 ways to build a more accessible and inclusive workplace

Thu 22 August 2019

Panellists on stage at AND Conference, led by Kurt Fearnley. An image of Kurt holding the Australian flag shows on screen behind them.

Image: Kurt Fearnley AO leads a panel on Personal Leadership at the Australian Network on Disability Conference 2019. 

More than 250 professionals from 120 leading organisations came together for the Australian Network on Disability Conference to discuss the forces that are driving organisations to be more accessible and inclusive. Seven key forces were highlighted as contributing to positive change and sustainable progress.

Force 1: Leadership from Disability Champions

“Find, within your organisation and outside, executives who will open doors to you, to create visibility around disability.” (Yves Veulliet at AND’s National Conference 2019, Global Disability & Inclusion Leader at IBM, Chair of the International Labour Organization Global Business and Disability Network)

Leaders play such a powerful role in their organisations. By boldly supporting inclusion of people with disability, Disability Champions are building unprecedented momentum. Read about the Disability Inclusion Revolution and why business leaders across the globe are making themselves accountable for inclusion of people with disability at work.

Force 2: Barriers removed from the physical environment

“Let's imagine that I am in the room that is not accessible – no ramp, narrow doors, no elevators. I can't move around or have any easy conversation with you. And so, if you are a hiring manager that believes the problem of my disability is located with myself, you will not get me a job. You will think, ‘He is not productive. Look, he can't move around, I won't hire him’. But if you think that the problem is related to the environment in which I work…that is a complete change in perception.” (Yves Veulliet at AND’s National Conference 2019)

An essential part of being a Disability Confident organisation is ensuring your employees, customers and stakeholders are able to access your premises, products and services in a safe, equitable and dignified way. For expert guidance on how to improve the accessibility of your premises beyond compliance, take a look at our Design for Dignity publications.

Force 3: An effective employee network or resource group

“Organisations that deliberately choose to learn from their own people, particularly through the encouragement and fostering of networks, make progress.” (Kate Nash OBE at AND’s National Conference 2018, CEO and Creator of PurpleSpace)

An effective employee network or resource group is a vehicle that drives substantive and systemic change. Effective employee networks facilitate critical conversations between senior business leaders, diversity and inclusion practitioners and employees with disability. They provide a safe place for employees with disability to share their experiences and advocate for inclusive policies and practices. Discover top tips for creating and maintaining a successful network in PurpleSpace’s publication, In The Chair.

Force 4: Participation in the Access and Inclusion Index

“I think, for us, the Access and Inclusion Index has really helped us take an all-of-enterprise approach. You can spend a lot of effort working solo, having individualised approaches or relying on personal advocacy of people in the organisation. The Index cut through that and created a strategic framework for us to work towards.” (Amy Love at AND’s National Conference 2019, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, RMIT)

The Access and Inclusion Index is Australia’s foremost benchmarking tool for inclusion of people with disability. Designed to connect and engage multiple business teams, the Index facilitates a collaborative approach to evaluating access and inclusion across ten key areas of your business. Since its launch in 2016, more than 100 organisations have used the Index to build understanding, highlight areas of success, identify gaps and develop their roadmap for progress.

An Accenture study called Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage revealed that companies that excelled in the American equivalent of the Access and Inclusion Index were twice as likely to outperform their peers in terms of total shareholder returns.

To find out more, or to participate in the 2020 Access and Inclusion Index, contact the Australian Network on Disability on 1300 363 645 or email

Force 5: A strategic, formalised approach to access and inclusion

“Having a plan and holding ourselves accountable to achieving that plan are key steps in making meaningful progress towards becoming Disability Confident.” (Cameron Gifford at AND’s National Conference 2019, First Assistant Secretary, Families and Legal System Division, Celebrating Ability Co-Champion, Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department)

A robust Accessibility Action Plan, or Disability Action Plan, is a clear demonstration of your organisation’s commitment to access and inclusion for employees, customers and stakeholders with disability. By aligning your access and inclusion activities to your organisation’s wider business goals, you heighten accountability, measurability and transparency at each step of your journey to Disability Confidence.

Take a look at some best-practice examples of Accessibility Action Plans.

Force 6: A culture of inclusion

“There was a point in time when I was developing as an athlete where I was told, ‘Don't talk about disability’. And in the lead-in to Athens, it was through the marketing of Channel 4, they started to proudly sing disability. And it changed the way that we saw ourselves. That actually gave us a fresh platform. And the response we received when we were able to speak about that openly was a lot more real than the response that you received when you were trying not to point at who you were.” (Kurt Fearnley AO at AND’s National Conference 2019, Paralympian, NSW Australian of the Year)

Think about authentic and creative ways to show employees, customers and stakeholders that you’re committed to access and inclusion. Make the most of opportunities to inspire understanding, spark conversations and bring this agenda to life through storytelling and creative campaigns. Build a culture of inclusion and trust that makes your employees feel safe to share their disability status.

Force 7: Employment of people with disability

“We not only had a better outcome for the project, we can also see a very positive difference within our wider unit and division. We communicate more frequently and clearer with each other. Our processes are better documented and thought through. And I think overall, we take care of each other.” (Chris Hofmann speaking about the Rise at DHHS employment program at AND’s National Conference 2019)

The benefits of employing people with disability are immediate and measurable. A source of innovation and creativity, people with disability bring new and diverse perspectives to workplaces and contribute to enhanced products and services and higher revenues. Diverse and inclusive workplaces help to differentiate your brand, build customer loyalty, boost retention rates and positively impact your employees’ experiences, skills and attitudes.

Watch our video series about how we’ve connected people with disability to business to find out more about the wider benefits that come from inclusion of people with disability at work.

About us

The Australian Network on Disability (AND) is a member-based national powerhouse of more than 250 private, public and for-purpose organisations actively committed to inclusion of people with disability in business. Our services, programs and tools make it easier for you to build confidence and capability to welcome people with disability as employees, customers and stakeholders.

As part of our network, we’ll support you to build understanding and expertise, connect with others and check your progress on access and inclusion.

Save the date for our 12th Annual National Conference, which will be held at the world-class International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney on Tuesday 12 May 2020.

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