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How to support staff with disabilities

It is a disappointing but true fact that most people with disabilities worldwide continue to encounter significant barriers in the workplace in 2021.

The UN has found that approximately 386 million of the world’s working-age people have some kind of disability, yet the majority of this population aren’t being given an opportunity to work.

Whether they are barred from employment during recruitment or are forced to leave the workplace due to negative experiences, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is much higher than that of people without disabilities.

Considering disability as part of EDI:

Government launches National Disability Strategy

Disability needs to be higher on the D&I agenda

Building back better with disability inclusive policies

We need to start talking about the disability wage gap

Fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces opens your business up to invaluable diverse thinking. This can also make a significant impact beyond the office door, creating better professional lives for people from minority groups and driving change in society-wide inequalities.

So how can HR leaders attract potential talent with disabilities, and retain them through a positive employee experience?


Improve accessibility through remote working

Remote working is a term we’ve all become very familiar with over the past year. It’s allowed us to challenge the status quo when it comes to where, when and how we work best, proving that you don’t need to be chained to your desk for the nine-to-five work week.

Most importantly, it’s made work more accessible and inclusive by opening up a whole new world when it comes to hiring new candidates.

When you enable remote or flexible working at your business, you create the opportunity to improve inclusiveness and diversity within your business. Essentially, you are broadening your candidate pool and inviting everyone to apply, whether they’re located overseas, or simply unable to attend the office.

This approach can help reduce inequality by creating more equitable employment opportunities for those who may not have the opportunity otherwise.

People such as carers and people with disabilities, and those unable to commute to the office have often been excluded from the full range of career options.

Essentially, remote work can create a more diverse and inclusive workforce, which we know has many long-term benefits. Your business will perform better and more importantly you’ll be creating a more just future for all, no matter their background.

By removing the barriers to employment and the requirement for everyone to travel into one dedicated office every day of the working week, we can increase accessibility to employment for those living with a disability.


Establish a diversity council

Fostering an inclusive workplace culture involves more than simply building a diverse team of individuals.

It requires ongoing commitment towards policy implementation and behaviour management that allow employees to be their authentic selves at work. This can be quite a tough job for HR departments alone, especially when they are responsible for juggling other demanding tasks.

Diversity councils are an excellent resource to help monitor and accelerate a business’s D&I efforts.

They also ensure the onus for inclusivity does not fall on the shoulders of underrepresented groups within the workplace. Instead, they recognise it takes a collective approach to enact change within an organisation.

The role of diversity councils is to periodically evaluate a business’ level of inclusivity and professional development to ensure all members have equal opportunity to flourish.

Diversity councils are encouraged to get involved in the hiring, retaining and goal-setting processes to ensure underrepresented voices, including people with disabilities, are heard. They can also recommend any area in need of improvement and ensure ongoing commitment towards equality within the workplace.

Councils should be diverse themselves to represent your people. If this step is considered difficult due to a lack of diversity within the executive levels of your business, ensure all managers are well versed in inclusive leadership, behaviour, language and strategies.


Ensure diversity is reflected in your board

To source, attract and retain talent at board level, companies need to identify potential or underrepresented candidates such as people with disabilities, and provide resources to prepare them for the role. It’s critical to identify areas of opportunity to encourage, support and nurture diverse groups of people into board positions.

In positions of management and leadership representation matters. For executive teams to perform at a high level, they require people with divergent perspectives and various levels of experience.

For businesses, there are many ways to achieve this. One of the most critical being to appoint a diverse board of directors including people with disabilities and ensure a culture of diversity and inclusion in the boardroom.

A visible commitment to representation of disabled people and minority groups in the boardroom speaks volumes to your employees and customers.

Having a variety of perspectives can help organisations and their leaders recognise new strategic goals, and areas of opportunity that will provide value to the people they serve.


Take action

Employers can do lots of things to make the workplace more welcoming and inclusive to people with disabilities. Honestly examine your numbers.

Start by asking some tough questions of your business;

  • How many people with disabilities do we currently employ?
  • Are most of our employees with a disability in entry level positions? Are they receiving fair opportunities for growth?
  • What is the retention rate of our employees with disabilities?
  • Is there pay parity between staff members in the same position?

Consider putting some targets in place around all of these areas, and hold senior staff members accountable for reaching these targets.

This should lead to a company-wide understanding of the experiences and needs of people with disabilities, from employees to future recruits to customers. 


Alex Hattingh is chief people officer at Employment Hero