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Organisations should open their eyes and doors to disability inclusivity

As a parent of a child with disability, navigating a full-time career has raised an array of challenges. From attending doctors’ appointments to balancing the day-to-day complexities of my daughter’s life.

I have been fortunate that Ricoh has given me ongoing support, so I am able to balance my role as director of people and ESG as well as my role as a carer to my daughter Sarah.

Sarah’s condition means she will never be able to work, however, many people living with disabilities are ‘fit to work’ and it is important that businesses at large create and foster an environment which allows them the space to do so.

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A recent study revealed that while 90% of global businesses prioritise diversity and inclusivity, only 4% consider disability a key concern.

By not providing opportunities, organisations not only run the risk of alienating this group of people but are also missing the potential for growth and tapping into the productivity and innovation a diverse workforce brings.

This must change, so how can organisations open their eyes and doors to disability inclusivity?

Businesses need to create workplaces that are accessible to everyone, including people living with a disability. This could be anything from implementing step-free access, providing accessible toilets, and fitting automatic doors, to incorporating 'modified' office equipment such as height-adjustable desks and one-handed keyboards.

Provision of captions on videos and dictation tools, along with creating quiet break-out spaces to minimise potential noise and distraction can all make a huge difference to people’s working environments.

Another crucial step is improving inclusion and diversity training, either by increasing the frequency of courses for employees, or providing training highlighting how to combat disability discrimination. There are, of course, some disabilities that are hidden (such as heart problems and Crohn’s disease) which impact people’s daily lives, and this is where education is vital.

More companies are starting to recognise the wealth of skills and strengths that neurodiverse employees can bring to a business. While neurodiversity is not always a disability (although it maybe be for some people), it still requires careful consideration and adjustments.

A flexible working policy can make a real difference, giving the neurodiverse individuals the choice to work how and where they feel the most productive. For some, being surrounded by their colleagues in an office helps keep them on track (body-doubling), while for others the silence of home means they can focus with minimal distraction. They might be hesitant in asking for additional support, or you might not realise they are struggling as the effects of their condition on their day-to-day life are not as evident.

Making sure you continue speaking to this community of employees is a great way to find the best structure for them, and enable them to shine.

As all businesses are different there is no one-size-fits-all approach and achieving inclusivity should be specialised to your needs, meaning that whichever route an organisation takes, the overall focus should be on making the workplace feel more inclusive, considering the physical, mental and emotional needs of each employee.

The government’s Disability Confident scheme provides a helpful guidance for businesses wishing to take steps toward a more inclusive workplace. The Disability Confident Employer pledge, which Ricoh has committed to, covers all aspects of employment and forms an integral part of our diversity and inclusivity strategy.

We have also introduced a new Disability Affinity group, which provides our people with a disability and those caring for a friend or family member a safe space to discuss any challenges and issues they are presented with. We have found that offering support and providing a sense of community can boost employee morale, helps break down barriers and ultimately create a better workplace for everyone.

Offering flexible working patterns can be hugely beneficial for disabled and neurodiverse employees (or for those caring for someone with these conditions). At Ricoh, we have a flexible-first working policy which enabled me to initially work 3 days a week (and up to 4 now), without which I would not have been able to progress in my role.

By creating a fully inclusive environment, businesses can tap into a diverse pool of talent, foster innovation and productivity, and improve the overall wellbeing of their employees. It is imperative organisations have a greater awareness of disability in the workplace and open their eyes to the stigma still present within the workforce.


Rebekah Wallis is director of people and ESG at Ricoh UK