Chris Jay, Executive Chairman of the disability awareness charity, Enable Me, offers tips on how to be a more inclusive employer….
Many organisations are getting wise to that fact that offering an inclusive workplace enables them to tap into a vast talent pool of potential employees. However, there is more to being an inclusive employer than simply following legislation.
Raising awareness of disability
Whilst many employers do their best to make reasonable workplace adjustments, staff perception and awareness of disability in the workplace is equally as important- but commonly neglected. The truth is, even if a business provides the most inclusive working environment available- these adjustments are worthless if your existing team lacks an inclusive mind-set.
Some employers may feel that their staff are a friendly and considerate group and, therefore, do not require disability awareness training. However, you’d be surprised to learn that a recent Scope survey revealed that 67% of the British public actually ‘feel uncomfortable’ when talking to disabled people and ‘awkward’ about accidently being patronising or saying the wrong thing.
Workforces can be educated by breaking down these barriers and changing the way people perceive disability. A good staff training course will cover etiquette, communication, correct use of language, and inclusive behaviour, as well as legislation and adapting the business environment. If people with disabilities recognise that you are an employer who encourages staff awareness, you’ll immediately have their attention.
An inclusive recruitment process
One of the first hurdles many companies fall at, is the recruitment process and considering disability throughout. Firstly, make it as clear as possible on any job advertisement that the company welcomes candidates with a disability. Think about where the interviews will take place and if they happen to be on the third floor- have an alternative location in place for anyone that will have difficulty accessing this room. Consider parking, and make details about the location of spaces clear in any invitations to the interview that you send.
Think about any instructions and time allowances for tests. For example, it may be that a candidate has dyslexia, so allowances could be offered here. Consider all formats for documents such as application forms or job specs, and any other materials and make sure these are available in various document formats.
If your website isn’t already fully inclusive- now’s the perfect time to make that change. Make sure it can be read and navigated in a number of different formats to accommodate as many different disabilities as possible. Add accessible features such as a large print availability, dyslexia friendly options and plain text versions. Those researching or considering you as an employer will take note of these details.
If candidates must call to apply for the position but you have automated phone systems, remember that those with vocal limitations or loss of hearing may find these to be a huge barrier when they contact you. This is especially the case if you have interactive voice response systems, so ensure alternatives are available.
Know your limitations
If nothing else, simply be aware of the limitations that exist. Making as many adjustments as possible and continuing to build on these is always recommended, however if there are limitations that you are currently unable to change-always be aware and open about these, that way the person considering a position with your company can decide if you are the right employer for them.
Hidden disabilities- Encouraging disclosure
Currently 13.3 million people in the UK have a disability, and a vast number of those people have what are known as ‘hidden disabilities’ including sensory disabilities, a range of mental health conditions, brain Injury, epilepsy, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cystic fibrosis- to mention just a few. So, it’s highly likely that as a company, you already employ someone with a disability, that you don’t even know about. Furthermore, disability is something that can occur, in fact, only 17% of people are actually born with a disability, 83% acquire it later in life (780,000 people become disabled every year).
Raising awareness in the workplace encourages people to be confident and comfortable disclosing and discussing their disabilities, helping colleagues to be more understanding, and people with disabilities to gain the support they need to improve their working lives. Becoming seen and understood as an inclusive organisation, will mean your current employees that may have hidden disabilities, won’t fear workplace discrimination or worry that they may be treated differently or stigmatised. Encouraging disclosure through general workplace awareness will enhance staff retention for those who may already have a disability – and your commitment to it will exemplify to potential employees- that you are a fully disability aware workplace.
Shout about your accessibility!
If you don’t shout about your commitment to inclusivity- no one will know about it, so make as much noise as possible. Write blogs, add achievements to your web pages, issue press releases and be proud of your devotion and dedication. Candidates with a disability will only apply if you make your business appeal to them, so publicise your commitment to training and your openness to employing people with disabilities, and you will certainly enhance your appeal to a whole new audience of talented people.
Chris Jay is the Executive Chairman of the charity Enable Me, the specialised disability awareness training providers for businesses, sports coaches and teaching professionals. www.enablemeproject.org.uk