Disability inclusion must run through the whole employee lifecycle 

The latest UK Disability Survey (June 2021) found that only a half of persons with a disability felt that their employer was flexible and made reasonable adjustments, and only a quarter felt that they had the same opportunities as their colleagues. 

Meanwhile data from the US Department of Labor shows that in 2020, across all age groups, persons with disabilities were much less likely to be employed, with the increase in unemployment linked to the impact of COVID-19

Disability and the world of work:

Government launches National Disability Strategy

Guidance on employing disabled workers published

Building back better with disability inclusive policies

People with disabilities — that’s one billion people in the world — are often one of the most excluded groups in society, including for example in workplaces, social settings and public events.

Friday 3 December was International Day of Persons with Disabilities which raises awareness of visible or invisible disabilities as well as the impact that COVID-19 has had on mental health.

As employers and HR teams reflect on lessons from the pandemic, there’s an opportunity to assess whether working and hiring practices reflect the needs of individuals with disabilities, and ensure these policies enable current or prospective talent to achieve their full potential.

Many employers are still facing uncertainty as the fallout of COVID continues to be felt throughout society.

Now more than ever, a diverse base of employees with different skillsets and experiences will be crucial to overcoming unexpected challenges and adapting to a post-pandemic world.

That includes individuals with disabilities who can offer different perspectives and fresh thinking. To tap into this talent pool, there are key steps HR teams and employers can take to ensure that their return to the office, working from home or hybrid approach, and their recruitment and talent initiatives, are disability inclusive. 

Share experiences and learnings with other companies through external forums

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to disability inclusion and many businesses might not have the answers or get it right straight away.

Sharing learnings and experiences with other employers and HR teams, especially experiences from the pandemic, can help strengthen commitments, hiring policies, talent initiatives and more.

There are a number of forums that facilitate this such as the Valuable 500, a global movement that aims to put disability on the business leadership agenda. Signing up can help companies and CEOs exchange ideas and engage on how they can create an inclusive work environment for individuals with disabilities.

Leverage insights and ideas from employee resource groups

Employee resource groups can provide vital support networks while also offering an opportunity to increase visibility and raise awareness for issues around diverse backgrounds, including disability.

They have been vital to creating a sense of community and togetherness during COVID-19 and are well placed to understand the needs and challenges facing diverse groups. By working closely with leadership, they can share on-the-ground feedback from different people around the business and support wider efforts to foster a diverse workplace. 

For example, at National Grid, our ‘Enabling’ employee resource group has been a real driver in our membership of the Valuable 500 this year and in giving a voice to colleagues through, for example disability training sessions, to raise awareness of challenges facing individuals affected by their own, or others’, physical health, mental health or disabilities and shine a light on abilities within this group.

Ensure disability inclusion runs through all aspects of the business

In a post-pandemic world, HR teams need to make sure managers are equipped with tools and resources that can support team members at all levels who might need workplace adjustments – whether that’s working from home or in the office. 

This needs to go hand in hand with broader steps such as adapting website pages to assist people with dyslexia or visual colour issues to giving candidates extra time to complete specific assessment tasks, where relevant, in recruitment processes. Carrying out accessibility tours at sites to learn from the perspectives of those with disabilities can help drive vital changes such as ensuring door entry systems are accessible for wheelchair users and that counters in the canteen are at a suitable level. 

Whether it’s external or internal facing, virtual or in person, businesses need to review their business from top to bottom to ensure inclusion and accessibility runs through everything they do. 

Level the playing field for young talent through targeted talent programmes

Young people from diverse backgrounds will be vital to strengthening workforces so that businesses are ready to take on future challenges. For young people with disabilities, who are starting their careers, businesses can take steps to level the playing field and ensure they have the same opportunities as everyone else. 

Supported internships for example can help equip participants with skills needed for employment through learning in the workplace and working towards qualifications too.

These programmes provide a win-win situation, giving interns the opportunity to get real insight and experience through placements while giving businesses the opportunity to benefit from the potential of an untapped talent pool.

National Grid has seen success through its supported internship programme, 'EmployAbility' which has worked pre-, during and post-pandemic to help people with learning disabilities secure paid work. 

End-to-end employee life cycle

For many people with disabilities, the upheaval of the pandemic has meant navigating new working practices which have no doubt come with challenges.

As the workplace continues to evolve and adapt, businesses have a responsibility to embed disability inclusion throughout their full employee lifecycle – doing so will be key to reaping the benefits of different ideas, views and experiences of this talent pool. 

Lisa Waterhouse is egional diversity, equity and inclusion manager at National Grid

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