Disability in the workplace – don’t ignore it
24th November 2021
Did you know that 18% of the UK population has a limiting, long-term illness, impairment or disability? This equals around 14M people, and 19% of working-age adults.
When looking at Diversity and Inclusion, there are multiple areas that you must consider and address to truly create a workplace that can cater to all types of individuals.
Unfortunately, some disabilities fall under the “waterline of visibility”, leaving a large proportion of disabled people inadequately catered for and simply forgotten about, both from a talent attraction perspective.
We were incredibly lucky to have Cleo Thompson, Group Head of Inclusion & Diversity at M&S join us and host a roundtable on Disability Matters: Let’s Stop Ignoring It: all about disability in the workplace.
Cleo was able to share some incredible insights and examples from her career, working for global businesses – her knowledge left us all with food for thought on what we can and frankly should be doing.
Here are some key points from her presentation as well as some suggestions on things you could implement within your organisation to make it a more inclusive and welcoming place for those with disabilities.
Only 17% of disabled people were born with a disability. 80% acquire their disability between the ages 18-64
If we look through the lens of disability it’s easy to think that disability only accounts for those who are born with one, when in reality, any of us at any time in our lives could become disabled.
This statistic that Cleo shared with us demonstrated that we have to think holistically about disability rather than seeing it as an isolated part of Inclusion and Diversity. Once we start looking at workplace equality as a business strategy it becomes easier to understand, action, and hold each other accountable for.
“In order to be an inclusive organisation, you have to focus on your outcomes”
Disability is the overlooked family member
As mentioned, disability is rarely given a seat at the table when talking about Diversity and Inclusion, and although we absolutely agree that no part of D&I is “more important” than the other, it can be easy to stay blinkered and focus on gender, race, and ethnicity, when in reality, true inclusion and diversity is so much more than this.
Cleo highlighted this perfectly when talking about the “waterline of visibility” – those disabilities we can see and those that are invisible – this goes to show the depth that organisations must go to, to truly achieve an inclusive environment.
As we’ve mentioned in previous e-shots discussing D&I, it can feel overwhelming not knowing where to start. However, there are things that you can do in your organisation to acknowledge disability taking necessary, tangible steps to create actionable change.
Create a network or have ambassadors
Not every organisation will have the budget nor the bandwidth to have a team full of D&I professionals, and equally, putting the onus completely on HR and Talent Acquisition takes away from the fact that this has to be a shared initiative and effort across the whole organisation and individuals .
Having ambassadors or an internal support network/working group to talk about disability in the workplace will not only enable HR to get opinions, ideas and thoughts directly from “the source”, but also creates better awareness throughout the whole organisation.
Engage with specialists
D&I is complex and at some point, you will require external specialist expertise. Engaging with specialistswho can share the correct information in bite-sized chunks will enable you to create a culture and environment that acknowledges and caters to those with disabilities both internally as well as attracting people from a more diverse talent pool of some of the less well-represented groups.
Some excellent partners Cleo talked about that M&S are actively working with in this space were:
And finally, think about the less obvious (but still impactful) changes you can make…
Although there will be explicitly obvious changes that you must make, the majority of these can take months (or even years) to accomplish. Less obvious changes that are still impactful could be:
Ensuring there are subtitles on every video that goes out from your company
Reviewing uniform/business attire so it is inclusive for those who have specialist needs
Offering a variety of print options for paper documents, and making your website more accessible using a plugin
Getting copies of all documents in braille
Reviewing your office environment such as toilets, stairs, and other access points so they are accessible for all
Sending out an internal survey to ask employees their opinions on what you currently have in place and use this as a reference point
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