In the work of D&I professionals, one of the main goals is to help organisations create responsible workplaces that actively embrace inclusion, diversity and equality by hiring talent that may have otherwise been overlooked.
While this field continues to gain global traction and support, one area that is still very much side-lined is disability inclusion. We have to ask ourselves - what is it about disabilities that creates so much discomfort in individuals, organisations and society at large? And how can we get better at this?
We take a look at how we can move from this discomfort to a place where we can engage in meaningful dialogue to change the disability narrative.
What do we mean by disability?
GOV.UK describes Disability as a long-term condition, such as a physical or mental impairment that restricts one’s ability to do normal day-to-day activities.
These can be both visible and invisible to the naked eye, from wheelchair users and those visually impaired, to spectrum disorders and chronic pain. It is important to recognise that not all disabilities are obvious to the onlooker but can still limit daily activities.
Our focus is not on the disability itself, but rather on the attitudinal barriers and environmental challenges that are disabling, making it increasingly difficult to have an equal playing field in the workplace and in society. We want to look at the less talked-about social disabilities that people face when it comes to achieving everyday goals and the ways in which we can get better at challenging these.
Why is disability so hard to talk about?
Differences scare us: As human beings, we tend to gravitate toward things in our comfort zone, things that we are familiar with and therefore comfortable with. Anything different or unfamiliar tends to make us feel threatened and even anxious and we, therefore, typically avoid them.
It’s seen as a tragedy: Disability is heavily portrayed as a tragedy. While it is natural to be frightened of the unknown, by associating disabilities with something to fear, we perpetuate the dread and anxiety surrounding these long-term conditions. These negative attitudes can be a barrier to disabled people living the lives they want.
We don’t want to get it wrong: Many people struggle with the etiquette of disability. How do we support someone who is disabled without messing up? So often, non-disabled people lack the know-how to engage with the topic of disability meaningfully. When we make mistakes and use words that are not politically correct, or inadvertently commit offence when we communicate, the shame we feel can set us back from getting better – and braver - at inclusive dialogue.
The bottom line will suffer: “Labour Force Survey (LFS) data revealed that disabled people were over a third less likely to be employed than non-disabled people, with an employment rate for disabled people (aged 16 to 64 years) of 53.2% in 2019, compared with 81.8% for non-disabled people.” There is a spoken and unspoken fear of including disabled people in the workforce because of the many misconceptions that haunt them and their abilities. These range from the health and safety risks they present to their perceived lack of adequate skills to offer the organisation – and its ROI.
How do we move forward?
Disability is not inability. Disability is a person with a unique set of skills, experiences and therefore perspectives, and is therefore only a hindrance to a society that doesn't accommodate difference. By challenging our fear - and ignorance - around disability, we have a chance to do better when it comes to building more inclusive workplaces.
Below, we have listed 3 simple ways to engage with the topic of disability in a more progressive way:
Embrace your inner child: Young children are notoriously honest and straightforward about their feelings – a quality adults tend to find endearing. They tend to question disability openly without the insecurity and shame adults experience, seeing the disability without making judgement. Adults on the other hand, are often too embarrassed to broach the subject in the first place. What if we took this quality of curiosity and applied it to the disability narrative? The beauty of being straightforward and asking questions is that it gives us an opportunity to find better ways to communicate, which simultaneously breaks down stigma and changes our attitude as well as those around us.
Hire better: It’s now a given that diversity is good for the bottom line. Just look at McKinsey’s 2020 D&I report to see the benefits of hiring diversely. However, disability is often left out of this equation. In fact, the challenges disabled people face on a daily basis is typically much more significant than your average person’s, which means their problem-solving abilities and resilience tend to be much more refined. Aside from ethics involved, disabled employees are also good for the bottom line. Companies that hire disabled staff typically experience lower turnover, as employees tend to stay in their jobs longer.
Thankfully, there are now many inclusive recruitment companies, like Evenbreak, Page Group, APM and Remploy, who are working hard to change the dialogue and help organisations integrate disability inclusion into their systems. Hiring for your company? Make inclusive recruitment part of your system.
Change the dialogue: The way that we speak and the language we use can have a significant impact of reducing the stigmas associated with disability. Even the word ‘dis-ability’ associates disabled people with inability. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As leaders and organisations, we have a responsibility to find our words and use progressive language that is inclusive.
For more services and information related to inclusion in the workplace, get in touch with us.