How do companies remove barriers to their workplace?
At How Do I? we believe in people and their differences. Our app makes workplaces more accessible through mobile technology.
As a company, we’re changing the narrative around disability and employment so it’s important for us to be an example of best practice. We practice what we preach.
Why hire with people with disabilities specifically in mind? Well, why not? Research shows people with learning disabilities perform as well as their counterparts, have less sick days and stay with a company on average 3 times longer. So if it makes business sense, and there is an amazing talent pool — as 94% are not in work — what’s stopping companies from tapping into this market of undervalued and underemployed people?
Firstly, a crucial influence is a company’s attitude to disability. The majority of workforces are already neurodiverse — neurodiversity being the different ways people think, process information, learn and behave. Our neurological differences can and should be as recognised and respected as any other inherent variance in human beings — however, most people haven’t shared this kind of personal information to their employers yet. This is probably due to not feeling that they are in a safe enough culture to do so, or because they don’t see the benefit of doing so.
An interesting read on this topic of ‘declaration’ and ‘disclosure’ of disability in the workplace is Secrets and Big News by Kate Nash OBE. Based on a two-year research project, the book details the reasons why people find it hard to share information and offers ideas for both employers and employees alike.
If you’d like to encourage your employees to tell you any personal information around disability you need to be transparent in why you’d like the information. This is especially important due to the current cultural spotlight on data — people are more protective of their information. However, this gives you an opportunity to create a safe sharing environment. Let your employees know why you want more information, what’s in it for your employees and what will be done with the data.
Another way of encouraging your staff members to tell you about any adjustments they might need, or special skills they have, is to ensure visibility of senior members of staff who are also neurodiverse, living with a disability, a mental health condition who are happy for this information to be shared. Representation at the top of an organisation creates a positive organisational attitude to disability, as does the development of a staff network.
Of course, smaller organisations who are beginning to grow, like ourselves, have the chance to get things right from the beginning. We embedded an inclusive ethos into our company culture from day 1. But that doesn’t mean large corporates cannot adapt. Microsoft have begun hiring people on the autistic spectrum based on their relevant strengths. A key thing for larger businesses is to involve people with disabilities in any process change. Do not make assumptions.
Another barrier is the job application process itself: finding the job listings, completing applications and interviewing. We have reviewed and assessed dozens of entry-level job descriptions and have found lots of jargon and essential requirements.
For our first hires earlier this year, we decided against writing a formal job description. Instead we opted for a video that let people know who we were, what we do and what kinds of work the job would entail. This allowed prospective employees to not be put off by a title and also attract people who were interested in the company and our work.
We then invited the majority of applicants to meet us for a tea or a coffee rather than a formal interview. This created a less formal interview environment which allowed us to naturally get to know our applicants better.
We were very fortunate to have alot of people interested and we found 2 outstanding applicants who joined the team at the beginning of April.
Once hired, all new employees need support in role.
Graeme Whippy MBE, a disability specialist working at Channel 4, describes inclusion as meaning “to create a friction free workplace”. Many people will be aware of the phrase ‘reasonable workplace adjustments’ but Graeme spoke about ‘workplace adjustments’. In dropping the word reasonable, we would also drop the stigma attached to disability and for somebody for requiring an adjustment to their workplace.
For more information on funding workplace adjustments you can go to the government’s Access to Work website.
If you are inclusive, you are able to accommodate all. A great example of how to do this effectively is Microsoft’s Inclusive Design toolkit.
The toolkit states: “Designing for inclusivity not only opens up our products and experiences to more people with a wider range of abilities. It also reflects how people really are. All humans are growing, changing, and adapting to the world around them every day. We want our designs to reflect that diversity.”
Applying this to our lives means we will be able to change the narrative on disability — and we need to. If the business and ethical cases are not enough to convince you, keep in mind that we are all likely to experience disability or impairment at some point in our lifetimes — whether permanent, temporary or situational.
To read more about How Do I? go to www.wearehowdoi.com
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