5 ways to effectively support employees with disabilities

John McNamara
Published on 26th June 2019
4 min read

One billion people in the world live with some form of disability, but their value is often unfortunately routinely ignored by businesses.

That’s the equivalent to disregarding a potential market the size of the US, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan combined.

It’s absolutely vital to ensure you’re actively recruiting and supporting employees with disabilities.

Employing people with disabilities means attracting more high-skilled candidates, increasing your talent pool, enhancing team performance, boosting productivity and becoming an employer of choice.

So, here are five things to consider in your organization to ensure you’re truly supporting employees with disabilities in your workplace.

1. Embed accessibility into every part of your recruitment process

Being an accessible recruiter goes far beyond simply stating on job specs that you can adapt your interview processes to meet different candidates’ needs.

A surprisingly large number of recruitment agencies aren’t approachable or accessible for people with disabilities, so look beyond recruiters you may usually work with when searching for candidates.

Ensure application forms and job descriptions are truly accessible; this may include providing documents in large print, Braille or easy read versions. You should also make sure any online documents are compatible with screen readers.

Try and focus the job description on essential criteria, rather than preferred. Small factors may inadvertently discriminate by setting out things that aren’t required in the role and deter some candidates with disabilities from applying.

Also use alternative methods to support candidates to help complete application forms, such as taster days or telephone interview.

Actively think about any participation needs people with disabilities might have on the day such as wheelchair accessibility, hearing loops or computer access.

Finally, monitor the outcomes from the application process in order to review your own policies and ensure they’re effective in recruiting people with disabilities, so you can adapt and evolve as needed.

2. Myth bust with managers

For some managers who may not have worked with someone, or knows someone in their personal life, with a disability, they could feel daunted by the idea of managing someone for the first time who has a disability.

They may be concerned about saying the right thing or making sure they provide adequate support.

Simply myth-busting can equip them with the confidence and knowledge needed to support employees. For example…

Myth: People with disabilities have a higher absentee rate

Truth: 90% of employers said they didn’t think employees with disabilities were any more likely to take time off, according to a study by Reed and Disability Rights UK

Explain to managers that they aren’t expected to be experts and encourage them to have open conversations with employees with disabilities to determine what support is needed.

Really, in progressive People Companies, managers should already be having conversations with each employee about what a great experience at work for them looks like, what support is needed, and what drives them. The same applies to all employees – regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

Equip managers to have these conversations with confidence.

3. Modify your working arrangements

It’s important to remember that not all conditions are physical and take this into account when modifying your working conditions to accommodate all employees.

Employees with neuro-divergent conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, and autism can find bright lights, loud noise and heavy patterns on the walls, difficult. Consider providing natural lighting, noise cancelling headphones and a quiet room they can retreat to or allow them to work from home.

Assistive technologies can be implemented such as screen readers to magnify the screen, voice recognition technology, hearing loop systems or amplified phones.

Beyond adjusting your workplace, think about the most convenient way for workers with disabilities to travel to the office. Is public transport accessible for them? If not, consider arranging transport or allowing them to work flexibly from home.

If you are meeting clients externally, or arranging events at an external venue, always ask beforehand if the property is accessible for your employees with mobility issues. This can avert embarrassment and give you time to seek another option.

It is essential that employees feel comfortable asking for adjustments to be made, rather than staying silent and suffering at work or leaving altogether. Remember, it is far costlier to replace an employee than it is to adapt your workplace.

4. Provide unconscious bias training for all employees

Employees without disabilities may often be unaware of the needs and support required for colleagues who may have a disability.

By training employees on the difficulties people with disabilities might face at work, you can open their eyes to things they should be considering.

For example, Fujitsu uses webinars to show what a typical day for an employee with disabilities looks like. The BBC uses virtual reality to demonstrate how difficult it is for someone with a neuro-divergent condition to concentrate when overwhelmed by sensory input.

Training can be ongoing and doesn’t always have to be formal – it could be peer-led.

It should include also encouraging staff to refrain from saying and doing many things that people without disabilities seem to have adopted in a misguided bid to be helpful, such as telling a colleague with disabilities that they are being brave, talking in ‘baby talk’, or helping someone without being asked to.

5. Pay workers with disabilities equally

This one should be obvious but, shamefully, in the UK the disability pay gap is at an all-time high at 15%. That’s a shocking £2,730 a year for someone working 35 hours a week.

Unfortunately, many people with disabilities are made to feel like they should be grateful to be given a job at all. This is immoral and demotivating for employees with disabilities, as well as inherently unfair.

It goes without saying to treat all employees fairly and pay employees with disabilities equally. Your reputation as a diverse and inclusive employer, as a result, will also attract talent and create a much more collaborative and engaged workforce.

It’s about great experiences at work – for all employees

As employers, it is your job to make sure you provide great experiences for all employees – and that of course includes employees with disabilities.

This isn’t just about making sure offices are accessible, it’s about knowing what’s important to them and designing experiences that they not only need, but want, and as a result – enabling them to not just to work but to thrive.

That’s the case for all employees in progressive People Companies that truly understand the value of their greatest asset: their people. Whatever their needs are.

How do you create great experiences for all employees that they’ll love? Download our research report ‘Why your workforce isn’t working’ to truly understand what drives your people.

How to effectively navigate HR issues this Christmas | Infographic

Browse more topics from this article

Diversity Workforce Experience

You're losing the war for talent