How business leaders can create true inclusion for people with disabilities

People with disabilities are under-represented in the workplace

How business leaders can create true inclusion for people with disabilities

by Eleanor Brett, a consultant and trainer at worldwide diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global

People with disabilities are some of the most under-represented individuals in the workplace. Gender is often touted as a more important priority for diversity and inclusion activity – because more than half the population is female. But people with disabilities make up the next largest group yet they are often overlooked. And even when organizations do seek to include people who are differently abled, they often start with an occupational health assessment – telling people what they already know about themselves at a cost to the business.

Read more: LGBTQ+ network calls for more C-Suite diversity

Here are five practical tips and insights that can help business leaders progress towards true inclusion for people with disabilities:

1. Be aware that not everyone identifies with the term disability

Many organizations struggle to collect data on the number of people in their company who have disabilities. This is partly because not everyone who has a disability in the eyes of the law identifies with the term disability. So, in order to gather meaningful data to genuinely help you include people with disabilities, it can be more useful to ask people about their adjustment or accessibility needs. That way, you can understand how you can best support people to do their jobs and feel included.

2. People know their abilities and impairments best

Many organizations carry out occupational health assessments, or the equivalent, when asked for a reasonable adjustment by an employee. This can be helpful if someone has a new disability and is getting to know their own needs at work, but most of the time it wastes time, money, and trust. Most people will know the adaptions they need to do their job, so the best option for productivity and trust is to ask and believe them.

3. Benevolent bias can act as a barrier to people with disabilities feeling included

Research shows that one of the main reasons people with disabilities feel excluded from the workplace is the attitudes and behaviors of others. These unhelpful attitudes do not necessarily reflect negative intent. Often, they come from a desire to look after and protect people – for example, not giving someone the opportunity to present at a conference because you think it’s too much pressure for their mental health or that their disability will make it difficult for them to travel.

4. People with disabilities are only inspiring if they are inspiring!

People with disabilities are normal people with their own faults and achievements, but too often they are labeled as inspirational just for doing day-to-day activities. Yes, people with disabilities can be inspiring – but only if they have done something inspiring, just like anyone else.

5. Managers need to know about accessibility but don’t need to be disability experts

It’s important that managers understand how to create an accessible and inclusive environment for their team. However, pressure for them to be aware of the needs of different disabilities can lead to some managers feeling overwhelmed and avoiding hiring people with disabilities – or telling people that they know their disabilities better than them. It’s better for both the manager and the employee if they understand their responsibilities to create an accessible environment and know where to find information about different disabilities when they need it.

Read more: How to support LGBTQ rights at work

The golden thread throughout all of these actions is to remember that we are all individuals. When in doubt, don’t make an assumption on someone’s behalf – ask them the question and listen to the answer.

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